Everyone involved in the task of completing the remodeling of our Cathedral of St. Jude the Apostle is acutely aware that today (Saturday, August 31) we are just twelve days away from D-Day (that’s “Dedication Day”). I am confident that we will be ready in time and I place my trust in our patron, the patron saint himself of what seems at times like lost causes.
The outside landscaping and paving should be finished by Friday of next week and inside the floor will be totally tiled and the marble applied. The number of crafts and workmen inside seem to be diminishing which is a good sign, especially if one has to lay floor. Final inspections are being given and hopefully a “certificate of occupancy” will be given by the end of the week. But, some people around me are on edge, nervous, worried, anxious. For me, it is “que sera, sera.”
I am often asked, well at least twice a year, what is the most beautiful and satisfying liturgical event at which a bishop presides. Ordinations have the first place in my heart (and mind) but dedicating churches is a close second. The liturgy of the Church for such an occasion, if it is done well, is absolutely stunning. All of the senses of the human body are attacked at one time or another from touch to sight to smell to hearing. I have always insisted that the dedications which I preside at of new or extensively remodeled churches be done at or near twilight. We can sometime sit in a dimly lit Church while major liturgical action unfolds before us. Let me lead you through the ceremony because the chances are you have never attended a dedication of a church and/or a consecration of a new altar.
If I am dedicating a totally new Church building, we always begin in the old worship space which is always massively cramped and close quarters. Here, after an introductory greeting, the architects present to the pastor and myself the drawings or plans, the contractor present the keys to the new building, and the bishop leads the people in procession to the new Church where the pastor unlocks the doors and invites the people inside. That may take fifteen to twenty minutes depending on size of the crowd and how long it takes them to find a seat in their new Church. Then the bishop enters and goes first to the baptismal font, blessing it and the water it contains. He then often with the assistance of the pastor and deacons, sprinkles the walls and the people with the water which should remind the latter at least of their day of initiation into Christ’s church. When he reaches the sanctuary, he blesses the bare altar with holy water for it has not yet been consecrated or used for Eucharist. Taking his seat the Gloria is sung followed by the opening prayer. At the end of the prayer, a lector approaches the bishop who presents him or her with the lectionary from which the Word of God is to be proclaimed. The Old Testament reading, responsorial psalm and New Testament reading are then either proclaimed or sung. The deacon of the Gospel then approaches the bishop for a blessing and processes with the Gospel book to what we call the “ambo” or lectern. Following the Gospel, there is a homily after which the ceremony, now performed in lengthening shadow and greater darkness begins in earnest.
The Profession of Faith (aka “Creed”) is said but there are no intercessory prayers because the Litany of Saints will be sung. A special prayer for the dedication is said or sung by the bishop which is a sign of the intention to dedicate the Church to the Lord for all times and a request for the Lord’s blessing. The bishop then removes his outer vestments and takes the Sacred Chrism which has itself been consecrated at the annual Chrism Mass on Tuesday of Holy Week and pours a copious amount of it on the top of the altar. Then using both hands, he spreads this precious and special oil over the entire top surface of the altar. The aromatic perfume which was added to the olive oil at the Chrism Mass can usually then be smelled throughout the entire Church. The altar then becomes for us a symbol of Christ who Himself was called the anointed one. Then joined by and with the assistance of the Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Vigano and by Archbishops Wenski and Favalora, we go out into the Church and anoint the walls in twelve places (three places for each one of us) where a cross has been placed on the wall and a candle lit, thereby signifying that this building is to be used totally and entirely for worship.
The altar and the entire Church is then incensed but only after the People of God are first incensed. We are still in semi-darkness and probably one hour and fifteen minutes into the ceremony. The women of the Cathedral will bring up the linen and will dress and prepare the altar for the celebration of the Eucharist. Flowers will be put into place where appropriate and all in attendance will be lighting individual candles (pastors usually hate this part because they envision wax everywhere on the new pews!) Servers will light the candles around the altar and with each person holding a candle, the church will be mostly illuminated by tiny flame until finally all the lights in the Church are turned on. The preparations are complete, the altar consecrated and it is time for the Eucharistic portion of the Mass to begin.
At the end of the distribution of communion, the bishop will take the remaining Eucharist in procession to the tabernacle for the first time where it will repose until needed the next day. Music, chant, reflections of the musical cultures of ethic groups living and worshipping in the diocese will guarantee that there is likely no moment when one is either not praying or praying by singing. Next week, in the final of these preparatory blog entries I will introduce you to who will be participating in this liturgy of dedication but again I remind you that if you are minimally computer savvy, you can watch the entire ceremony which will be live-streamed on the diocesan website.
So twelve days from now we will give back to our true love, the Lord our God, the fruit of the labor of many, the vision of a few, and a gift for the future. Stay tuned.