The following homily was preached by Archbishop Peter A Comensoli at St Patrick's Cathedral on Thursday 27 October, at a special Mass celebrating the 125th anniversary of the Cathedral's consecration in 1897.

On the 11th of this month, the Church celebrated the 60th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council by Pope St John XXIII. The first document of the Council was the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium. Yet the story of the reform of the liturgy, which Sacrosanctum Concilium called for, began many years before, in the liturgical movements of the late ninetieth and early twentieth centuries.

For more than six decades, the Church had gradually reflected on the form and style of her divine worship, culminating in the desire of the Council to embark on a fundamental reform and promotion of the Liturgy, so as ‘to impart an ever increasing vigour to the Christian life of the faithful; to adapt more suitably to the needs of [the] times; … [and] to strengthen whatever can help to call the whole of [human]kind into the household of the Church’ (SC §1).

This first teaching of the Council was a distillation of what had been fermenting for a long time. It was an apostolic confirmation that the liturgical life of the Church is always a living reality of Christ among us, shaped according to our human reality. As Pope Francis has recently written, referencing Pope St Leo the Great: ‘From the very beginning the Church had grasped … that that which was visible in Jesus, that which could be seen with the eyes and touched with the hands, his words and his gestures, the concreteness of the incarnate Word—everything of Him had passed into the celebration of the sacraments (Desiderio Desideravi §9). The way of the sacramental and liturgical life of the Church has always been one of adaption to the living reality of time and place, and always will be.

This particular house for the Church, St Patrick’s Cathedral, also began the journey to her consecration many years before. It was in 1850 that the foundation stone was laid by Archbishop James Goold, when the settlement was still known as Port Phillip. Over a period of more than six decades, and two false starts, the people of Melbourne would witness the emergence of this bluestone edifice on Eastern Hill. Eventually, she would be consecrated on 27 October 1897 by Archbishop Thomas Carr, in a ritual that would last for four hours. It was on the following day that the great mass of over 10,000 people would gather for the first time to celebrate the sacred liturgy in this place.

But while St Patrick’s was consecrated on this day 125 years ago, she has never been completed; instead, she has lived, and moved, and had her being, as we, Christ’s Body, have lived, and moved and had our being in Him. Year by year, from generation to generation, this neo-Gothic masterpiece, arguably the most striking outside of Europe, has grown along with the holy people of God who have come here. Windows and bells and organs have been added. Statues and paintings and icons have been introduced to adorn her. The sanctuary has been reformed and renewed. Spires have pierced the sky, and the forecourt and surrounds have sent an invitation to come in. But always, it is the living Christ who has reached out to be present among us. Everything of him, and of us, has passed into this place.

Mary MacKillop and Mary Glowrey worshiped here. Many unnamed saints have entered here through the great western doors. All of us sinners, we who have been found by God, have known and experienced Christ here, have tasted, touched and seen him here. The light that glows through the great nave windows is symbolic of the light of the Holy Spirit that has illumined the countless number of God’s holy and pilgrim people. From the first Irish settlers to an emerging Australian people, and from every nation and language under the sun, from old to young, rich and poor alike, the sure of life and the struggler, the familiar and the stranger, God’s people have walked, sat, kneeled and stood; prayed, cried and sung with joy in this Temple.

We are God’s building, as St Paul pointed out to the Church in Corinth. But the building he was referring to was not a noun, not a thing, but a verb, a living reality. The bluestone that holds up the fabric of St Patrick’s may seem a rock-hard and unchangeable monument from the past. Yet even the stones will cry out when Christ comes among us (Luke 19.40). What has come down to us from the faith of past generations is for us a location of hope for future generations.

So, may these stones continue to sing, as we take up the way of our forebears, worshiping here in spirit and truth, even young in the Lord. May we be strengthened and energised by that great Christian missionary, St Patrick, under whose patronage we call this place our home and refuge. And may the waters of grace flow from this sanctuary of St Patrick’s, to bring healing to us, and give life to this city.