The 4th Sunday of Easter
First Reading: Acts of the Apostles 4:8-12
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 118:1, 8-9, 21-23, 26, 28-29
Second Reading: 1st Letter of St. John 3:1-2
Gospel: According to St. John 10:11-18
One of the most important rituals associated with the building of a church is that of blessing the cornerstone. In a church, the cornerstone is important not only because of its purpose as the stone that must be set correctly in order that the structure will be built properly, but because of the symbolic nature of that stone in relation to the Risen Christ.
The image of Jesus as the cornerstone is one that the Church inherited from the Old Testament, most particularly in this weekend’s Psalm 118. But a more obscure reference to the cornerstone appears in the writing of the prophet Isaiah, where he warns the House of Judah of impending turmoil because they did not put their faith in the “stone that has been tested, a precious cornerstone as a sure foundation.”
In advancing the theme of Isaiah, St. Luke in his Gospel says that "everyone who falls on that stone will be dashed to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.” In St. Luke’s other writing, the Acts of the Apostles, St. Peter exhibits that same bluntness when he is being questioned by Annas, Caiphas, and the others of the Sanhedrin: “He [Jesus] is the stone rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone.”
The importance of an inscribed cornerstone for a Catholic church building has its ancient roots in these scriptural references. The cornerstone of a church has inscribed in it a cross as well as the year of the construction, always with the use of A.D. or Anno Domini, “in the year of the Lord.” Often a relic is placed in the cornerstone, just as one is placed in the altar stone. A fitting inscription may also be included. For example, in the St. Mary of the Assumption Chapel at Saint Ignatius the inscription reads Quem Levatio Fecit, “What Soap Has Made” – a light-hearted reference to the generosity of the Murphy Family of Murphy’s Oil Soap fame.
Ideally, as people enter a church they can see the cornerstone and are reminded of the image of Christ as the cornerstone, the one stone – of all the stones used to construct that building – that really, really matters. The image is compelling, yet goes almost universally unnoticed. The Catholic Church is made up of millions upon millions of souls, and each can be represented by all of the stones that make up a particular church building, yet there is the one stone, the cornerstone, around which all of the other stones must align themselves.
When St. Peter preaches the Good News to the Sanhedrin, he invites them to join those stones that already are a part of this new, yet Universal, Church: “There is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved.” If anyone wishes to achieve salvation, then they must align themselves with the Cornerstone, and become part of the Church of Christ.
Anyone who enters a church would do well to notice the cornerstone and to see it as a special reminder of the essential role played by the Risen Christ in the life of the Church. To extend that thought by imagining one’s own place in that structure can be very helpful since all have a part to play in the building up of the Church. And to play that part well, we must be vigilant so that our thoughts, words, and deeds are always aligned with the Cornerstone.