SOMETHING BEAUTIFUL FOR GOD
The pastor, associate pastor and people of St. Catherine of Siena parish in Largo were full of pride and joy Saturday night as their new Church was dedicated. Using the famous words of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, Father Kenneth Malley the pastor more than four years ago asked the people of the parish if they were willing to give back “something beautiful for God” in the form of a permanent Church. They replied then that they were willing to both contribute money and make the sacrifices necessary to undertake the construction and furnishing of a new Church. Saturday night belonged to God, St. Catherine herself and the people of the parish. I always say that next to the liturgy of ordination of new priests, the consecration and dedication of a new Church is the loveliest of liturgies. It engages all the senses. The ceremony begins in darkness as the sun is setting with only slight illumination on the altar and ambo (place where the scriptures are proclaimed) – just enough to get by. The Church and altar and people are sprinkled from the new baptismal font at the beginning of Mass. The Liturgy of the Word takes place in the darkening Church followed by a brilliant homily (ahem!). Then the actual dedicatory rite begins with the Litany of the Saints, the prayer of consecration of the altar and its entire top is wiped with Sacred Chrism by the bishop’s hands. Incense is then lit to incense both the altar and the people. Finally, a single candle is brought from the Easter (aka “Paschal”) candle in the front of the Church and everyone inside lights up the space with their own individual candles. When the Church is artificially illuminated by the thousands candles, its light are turned on from the first time signaling the journey from darkness into light which will be the daily task of the new worship space, the altar is dressed, flowers adorn the sanctuary and the Mass proceeds. Sight, touch, smell are all engaged in the blessing of a new Church.
The ceremony takes about two hours and thirty minutes depending on how long the bishop preaches and the pastor thanks. The bronze artwork in the new St. Catherine parish is stunning and all of it-statues and stations-are placed in a way in which God’s people may touch them. Two poignant moments for me, touching really, were when the second lector rolled her wheelchair up the new ramp, a drawer came forth from the ambo and she read from the Book of Revelation from the sanctuary/ambo which she could not have done in the old Church and worship space where even an aging bishop had trouble mounting the steps. The second moment was when a young man who was blind with his mother at his side brought flowers to the sanctuary. Now those are examples of an inclusive church which invites the participation of all in its ritual, liturgy and prayer. He was able for the first time to touch the fourteen stations of the cross and feel his way through the Lord’s agony, passion and crucifixion.
Unusual for a parish the age of Saint Catherine’s was the presence of its first and founding pastor, Monsignor John Scully who was greeted with thunderous, appreciative applause for his early missionary efforts in the parish. I think the parish is named after not only the saint but Monsignor Scully’s mother. The parishioners clearly love their present pastor, Father Malley, and their associate, Father Melchior who is completing the first year of his priestly ministry next month. I thank them as well for being good shepherds and stewards of God’s people in Largo and beyond.