According to the Second Preface of Apostles, God has granted that his “Church might be built upon apostolic foundations” - Quoniam Ecclesiam tuam in apostolicis tribuisti consistere fundamentis. Two New Testament texts in particular are referred to here. Towards the end of the Apocalypse, St. John has a vision of the Church. He calls her the Bride of the Lamb, and the holy City, the new Jerusalem. The walls of this City, he says, stand on twelve foundation stones, each of which bears the name of one of the Apostles of the Lamb (Apoc 21:14). The second text is found in the Letter to the Ephesians. There St. Paul addresses gentile Christians. You are no longer aliens or foreign visitors, he says; you are fellow-citizens with the holy people of God and part of God’s household. You are built upon the foundations of the apostles and prophets, and Christ Jesus himself is the corner stone (Eph 2:19-20).
Someone might ask how the twelve Apostles can be such strong foundation stones, when many of them left behind no writings. Many step out of obscurity into the pages of the New Testament, and then retreat immediately back into obscurity, apparently leaving nothing behind except their names. Yet these are the twelve men Christ himself chose as his privileged witnesses. They lived with him; they received his special teaching and instructions; they were formally constituted by him. After the Ascension and Pentecost, Jesus himself was no longer to be seen in human form: but his Apostles bore his authority, and spoke with his power. Their testimony to Christ is guaranteed as authentic, and true, and it stands as a perpetual reference point for the testimony of all their successors.
Other Christian teachers, not numbered among the Twelve, also spoke of Christ with authority. Often we have much more teaching from them than from the Apostles themselves. Think for example of St. Paul, or the Evangelists St. Luke and St. Mark, or St. James brother of the Lord. Their testimony too is authentic: but either it was directly commissioned by the Twelve, or at least it was accepted by them, and explicitly ratified as in perfect accord with theirs.
Yet other teachers, alas, have existed, and still exist, who claim to speak for Christ, but without the authority of the Twelve, and apart from their communion. These self-appointed pseudo-Apostles teach doctrine that comes from themselves, and is full of error. They are the blind leading the blind, and any structure raised up on them will be founded on shifting sands. Insofar as the foundation stones they lay are not in accord with the Apostolic Faith and teaching, which is the same as saying, not in accord with the faith and communion of the Catholic Church, it will have no power to draw us to life in Christ.
Recently we expressed the essential link between the Apostles and this monastic Church at Pluscarden. Our Bishop, who stands in the Apostolic succession and communion, anointed twelve consecration crosses on our walls. The oil he used was holy Chrism, which symbolises anointing by the Holy Spirit. This is the oil with which Christ was anointed by his Father at his Baptism in the Jordan; and the oil with which the Apostles were anointed at Pentecost. Chrism is used by the Church in baptism and confirmation and ordination, to signify that the same Spirit is still at work in the souls of the faithful. To anoint stone walls with Chrism at twelve key points is a way of proclaiming that in this consecrated place the Apostolic doctrine is taught, and the Apostolic communion faithfully guarded.
Today we single out for special honour one among all the Apostles, St. Andrew. The brother of St. Peter, Andrew is known as “the second called”. According to St. John, it was he who brought Peter in the first place to Jesus. Scotland has been proud to invoke him as Patron since his relics came to St. Andrews, and we hope he will have special care also of us who live in the valley called after his name.
The Second Preface of the Apostles continues: “You built your Church to stand firm on Apostolic foundations; to be a lasting sign of your holiness on earth” - ut signum sanctitatis tuae in terris maneret ipsa perpetuum.
The Church is able to be a sign of God’s own holiness because of the presence of the Holy Spirit acting within her. She is holy in her preaching, worship and sacraments; holy in her acts of charity and other good deeds; holy in the lives of her Saints. But also she has holy places, and holy buildings, and it’s important she does, because these places are a visible sign to the whole world. So Pluscarden also stands as a sign of God’s holiness. Here we find ourselves standing on holy ground. We are in a place that is set aside for God, for prayer, for the Christian mysteries. Within these consecrated walls holy things are done. Here God’s praises are sung, and the Christian faithful are nourished by Christ’s Body and Blood. Here faith is nurtured, love fostered, hope rekindled. Here many people experience peace, and many find their prayer comes more easily here.
With a history like ours, we know well that consecrated Church buildings need not last for ever. They can be damaged, and repaired; destroyed, and re-built. But the Church herself, we know, standing on her Apostolic foundations, is guaranteed to last until the Second Coming, and beyond. As for individual Christians: no external calamity whatever can prevent them from carrying their faith through to eternal life.
The Second Preface of the Apostles has a third point to make. “You built your Church to stand firm on Apostolic foundations”, it says; “to be a lasting sign of your holiness on earth, and to offer all humanity your heavenly teaching” - et caelestia praeberet cunctis hominibus documenta.
So our Church, the Church, points always beyond itself, towards heaven. It proclaims to an indifferent or unbelieving world that what you see is not all there is. We Christians have a great hope: firmly rooted, wholly rational, yet based on supernatural authority. This hope gives our life its direction and meaning. The world you see will pass away: heaven will never pass away. Today we ask the intercession of St. Andrew, that each of us may attain this heavenly goal, and that many others through us may come to believe the truth of the Gospel.