Cornerstones

Peregrinus Goes Abroad

Part 1: See America First; Chapter 17

 

“So glad you’re back,” cried the Antiquary, as the Swerve drew up before the Centerville Rectory. “You’re just in time for my cornerstone laying.”

 

“Like the kid whose father was a brick mason, who boasted that he laid so many hundred bricks a day,” laughed the Liturgiologist. “His chum, whose father was grand master of some lodge or other, met the boast by remarking, ‘That’s nothing, my old man lays a cornerstone every Sunday!’”[1]

 

“When is your party to be?” asked Fr. Maduro.

 

“As soon as the Bishop can find time to answer my letter asking him to pontificate,” replied the Antiquary. “I want to make a function of this for the sake of the people.”

 

Eccola!”[2] said the Antiquary, pointing to a large packing case which reposed on the grass near the foundation walls of the new church, which had risen surprisingly during the absence of the Liturgiologist and his companion.

The three Priests walked slowly towards the new building, the Liturgiologist remarking the while, "Strange how quickly a building seems to up when you’re not there every day to watch it!”

 

“And how slowly when you are,” answered the Antiquary with a smile. “A watched pot never boils, and a watched foundation seems to drag interminably. Well, what do you think of the stone?”

 

“Your cornerstone, dear Pere, is all that could be desired,” said the Liturgiologist gravely. “The inscription is, so far as my limited knowledge of the language goes, very good Latin; the lettering is beautiful; BUT you’re putting it in the wrong place!”

 

“Whatdoyoumean, wrong place?” cried the Antiquary. “Shouldn’t a cornerstone go in the corner?”

 

“Most assuredly,” replied the Liturgiologist, “but not in the front corner, and not near a doorway. Oh, I know that’s where you’ll see it in our American churches, but no liturgical writer approves of such a position. Indeed, the directions of the ‘Approved Authors’ are clean contrary to the custom. Schulte,[3] who is our authority in English for the ceremonies connected with the laying of the cornerstone, had not only a clear and unmistakable paragraph, but furnishes plans showing both the corner and the incorrect positions. He admits that neither the Ritual nor the Pontifical prescribes the precise position for the cornerstone, but claims that they indicate that it is to be located in the foundation near the place where the Altar of the finished church will stand, which place, I need not remind you, is indicated by the erection of a wooden cross which is placed the day before the function of laying the stone.”

Church cornerstone
Liturgiologist's diagram
Where a cornerstone should and should not be located in a church structure.
De Benedictione et Impositione
Engraving extracted from Pontificale Romanum
Bishop blessing the cornerstone
Engraving extracted from Pontificale Romanum
Blessing of cross marking high altar
Engraving extracted from Pontificale Romanum
Laying the cornerstone
Engraving extracted from Pontificale Romanum
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“Yes, yes,” interrupted the Antiquary, “I know about that, and it did seem odd that part of the function should take place so far removed from the location of the stone.”

 

“The stone, you see, is to be laid in a spot close by the cross where the Altar is to be. With the walls not yet begun, it is usually possible to put up a platform which will accommodate the Bishop and Clergy in the space destine for the Sanctuary, and this platform with also serve for the actual ceremonies of laying the stone, which, I gather from Schulte, should be performed from the inside, rather than the outside, of the enclosure representing the future building. Ah, here’s just what I want,” said the Liturgiologist, picking up a bit of smoothly planed board. With his pencil he then drew the following rough plans, which, of course, are after those given by the Rev. A.J. Schulte in his book Consecranda. [See the Cornerstones diagram in the image gallery above]

 

“You see,” continued the Liturgiologist, ostending[4] his work of art for the inspection of the Antiquary, “the places where you usually find cornerstones in our churches are those reprehended by the ‘Approved Authors’ and the places where they ought to be ain’t! Another example of topsy-turvyness!”

 

“Then I shall have to have my ‘outer block’ moved!” lamented the Antiquary.

 

Utique,”[5] assented the Liturgiologist. “But it’s worth the trouble to have things right. And I’m glad you have an ‘outer block’ for it’s so often omitted. But to return to our diagram—Here are the usual places for the cornerstone, both wrong, which I have marked N, for NOT! And here are the proper and correct locations, so seldom seen, which I designate by a C, for CORRECT.”

 

“What would you say,” asked Fr. Maduro, “of the custom, which seems on the increase, of laying the cornerstone on the same day that the finished church is dedicated, the place for the stone being left vacant until that time?”

 

“Of course,” replied the Liturgiologist, “such a procedure is clean contrary to the whole spirit of the Rite, yet there is nothing explicit against it in the Rite, probably because until very recent times, no one thought of doing such a thing. The whole point of having a cornerstone is that the structure of the church may be built upon it. It is the chief and first stone of the foundation (and by the way, should be IN the foundation, not above it) and though not necessarily in direct contact with mother earth or bed rock, should most certainly be above the ground line. And lest you should question my contention that most cornerstones are incorrectly placed, I’ll send you chapter and verse from the ‘Approved Authors’ as soon as I get home to my books.”

 

“Not necessary, dear Father,” replied the Antiquary quietly. “Of course you’re not infallible, and make mistakes sometimes. But your mistakes are never original! And if you must make them, it’s just as well to have an ‘Approved Author’ to quote for your mistakes as well as your sometimes startlingly surprising criticisms of current customs.”

 

“Nevertheless I’ll send you the list,” was the Liturgiologist’s dry rejoiner as he pressed the starter.

 

Here is the list he sent to his friend:

 

Martinucci, Lib. Vii, cap xv, n 4.

Baruffaldi, Tit. LXXI, n 32.[6]

De Herdt, Vol. III, sec. 298, n 10.

Van der Stappen, Vol. IV, Q 341, II.

 

Footnotes

 

1 The lodge and cornerstones references is intended to poke fun at the ritual of the Freemasons.

 

2 Italian for “here it is!”

 

3 Rev. A.J. Schulte, who compiled two useful manuals in English, Benedicenda and Consecranda, which both contain diagrams and the Latin texts of the rituals they treat.

 

4 “Ostending” is a pun on the Latin word “to show”.

 

5 Latin for “by all means”.

6 Hieronymo Baruffaldo, Ad Rituale Romanum Commentaria, a Consultor to the Office of the Holy Inquisition. The 1731 edition is available via Google Books.

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