Within the liturgical calendar of the Catholic Church, the Dedication of a Church building holds a privileged place as a solemnity that virtually trumps all other celebrations. So important is such a festival that it is anticipated the night before with the celebration of Evening Prayer or ‘first’ Vespers together with Evening Prayer on the Solemnity itself, as well as the singing of the great anthem of Praise and Thanksgiving, the Te Deum, during the Office of Readings or Vigils. And so it was for the celebration of not only a new church building in the Diocese of Orange but a new liturgical mother Church, a new Cathedral.
With the anticipated completion of the long-awaited remodel and repurposing of the former Crystal ‘Cathedral’ in Garden Grove made famous by the televangelist, Dr. Robert Schuller, planning began almost a year ago for the solemn liturgical rites that would mark and designate this building as an episcopal domus ecclesiae for God’s people in Orange.
Under the able leadership of Lesa Truxaw, the Director of the Diocesan Office for Worship, various teams and committees were charged with the planning of various aspects of the dedication liturgies. With the impeding publication of the second generation ICEL translation of the liturgical text for the Rite for the Dedication of a Church, draft copies of this text were available as an assist in the development and shaping of the dedication liturgies. Though less than poetic in its slavish and turgid translation of the Latin text, the committees looked to opening up the rich symbols that would bespeak the meaning of these rites over and beyond a written liturgical text.
The committees were charged with shaping three principal liturgical moments in the rites of Dedication: Evening Prayer with the Relics of Martyrs and Extended Vigil; The Solemn Mass of Dedication and finally, an Evening Prayer of Thanksgiving, that would take place the following day. Because of the sophisticated video capabilities of the new Cathedral, the full Dedication Mass can be found below::
In this specific post, I would like to focus my attention primarily on the Solemn Mass of Dedication. This liturgy reflects the rich centuries-old traditions that surround the hallowing and consecration of a building for a sacred purpose. As the ‘house of the Church’ which is the Body of Christ, the rites are replete with liturgical analogies to Baptism, with its use of water and anointings with sacred chrism.
For those who were fortunate to be among the 2100 guests, including some 60 Bishops and nearly 300 priests, it was anything but a hurried affair at nearly 4 hours! The liturgy unfolded graciously in an unhurried and deliberate fashion so that each of the myriad of symbols that shape this ancient rite spoke with dignity and clarity.
While the Rite calls for the assembly of the faithful to gather outside the new building, the ability to do this with 1600 lay faithful was logistically impossible in the Southern California summer heat. Only the clergy were gathered outside for the initial rites at the threshold of the principal doors of the Cathedral.
The beginning rites call for the handing over of the plans of the new Cathedral to the Bishop by the architect together with acknowledgement of the good work and generosity of God’s people that have made such an historic endeavor possible. The representative of the Papal Nuncio, read the canonical brief that formally designated Christ Cathedral as the new Cathedral for the Diocese, replacing Holy Family that held this distinction since the inception of the Diocese in June of 1976. These rites concluded with the Cathedral Rector, Fr. Christopher Smith, who grew up in the shadow of the former Crystal Cathedral, opening the Festive Doors for the first time. The bronze doors, embellished with a magnificent bas-relief of the Creation and The Fall, pivot on a central axis, permitting passage on both sides. As the clergy entered in to the Narthex, they were greeted with the second iconographic bronze bas-relief of the Heavenly Paradise with the Lamb of God surrounded by the Cloud of Witnesses, the saints, of particular significance to the people of the Diocese of Orange, i.e., North American Saints, Saint Junipero Serra, Pope Sts. John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul II.
As the trumpets announced the formal procession of the clergy into the Cathedral for the first time, we prepared for the first major ritualization of the Rite of Dedication, the lustration or sprinkling of the Altar, walls and people with Holy Water. Ancillary ministers assisted the Bishop in the Rite of Sprinkling into the balconies of the Cathedral so that all were incorporated into this rite.
All the music for the Dedication liturgies was coordinated and selected by Dr. John Romeri, Director of Music Ministries for Christ Cathedral, working with his team. In a Diocese where four language are commonly used liturgically, English, Spanish, Vietnamese and Korean, the commissioning of special service music for the Dedication liturgies took place months before. The unifying language of Latin was used in a special setting of the Ordinary, composed by Normand Gouin. A professionally produced CD of the Dedication Music can be purchased at the following site: http://christcathedralmusic.org/commemorative-dedication-cd/christ-cathedral-dedication-cd
The proclamation of the Word of God for the first time, was ritualized with a special blessing of the reader prior to the proclamation. The ‘table of God’s Word’ or Ambo, is a prominent symbolic balance to the Table of the Eucharist, both crafted from marble quarried in Turkey and finished in Northern Italy.
The homily for this historic occasion was given by both Bishop Vann and Fr. Christopher Smith, Rector and Episcopal Vicar for the Cathedral.
Following the Homily, the Rite of Dedication proper began with the invocation of the saints in the litany. Before any great sacramental moment, e.g., Baptisms, Ordinations and the Dedication of a Church, the great cloud of heavenly witnesses who triumph now around the throne of the Lamb, are called upon to be present for this great act of the Church.
From the very earliest days of our existence, the role of Christian martyrs has played a prominent place in the lives of the faithful as exemplars of virtue and the triumph of the cross over death. Following the litany, the relics of the martyrs and saints who were venerated in Vigil the night before, were now reverently placed in the precious reliquary that is positioned under the massive marble altar.
Attention was now focused on one of the principal rituals in the Rite of Dedication, the Anointing of the Altar with perfumed oil or Sacred Chrism. As Christ himself was anointed Priest, Prophet and King through his paschal journey through life, death and resurrection, and as Christians are so anointed or ‘Christed’ in their own baptism, so too, was this Altar, the symbol of the Sacrifice of Christ in our midst, anointed with Sacred Chrism. The Anointing was preceded by the Prayer of Dedication that spoke of the many times in which oil was used as a sign of God’s consecrating presence in the Scriptures.
Following the Anointing of the Altar, 12 sections of the Cathedral walls were additionally anointed with Chrism as a symbolic representation that the Church, the Body of Christ, is built upon the witness and legacy of the 12 apostles.
Anointed with Sacred Chrism, the Altar is now a fitting place for the Sacraficium Laudis, the ‘sacrifice of praise’ to be celebrated upon it. As a dramatic symbol of this dignity, a brazier was place upon it and much incense was placed in it as a symbol of our prayers ascending to God above. Together with the censing of the Holy Table, the walls of the Cathedral and the Holy People of God were also incensed reflecting the dignity that is ours to stand circum altare– around the table offering our sacrifice of praise to the Lord.
Finally, the central rites of Dedication were brought to a close with the solemn lighting of the Altar and Dedication candles. All the candles including the custom Paschal Candle next to the Ambo were provided by Marklin Candle Design. From the Holy Table the light of Christ breaks through the darkness of this world with his unfailing mercy and grace.
All is now readied for the first Eucharist to be celebrated in this new House of the Church. Gifts of bread and wine are brought forward and reverently placed on the Table as the Great Prayer of Thanksgiving was proclaimed for the first time in this place now hallowed for sacred purpose.
The sacred vessels that are used in Christ Cathedral were specially commissioned by Talleres de Arte Granda in Madrid, Spain. The element of proportionality in a space holding 2100 people with long sight-lines, particularly from the transept balconies, was of paramount importance in the crafting of the sacred vessels. The Bishop’s chalice is of monumental proportion so that it can be seen clearly from the furthest parts of the Cathedral.
It was important that the fullness of the Eucharistic sacramental sign of ‘taking and eating’ and ‘taking and drinking’ were celebrated in the Dedication Mass in the Diocese where Eucharist under both the sacramental signs of bread and wine is normative.
As the Communion Rite came to a close, the Eucharist remaining was reverently taken for the first time to the Tabernacle in the Eucharistic Chapel to the East side of the Cathedral. The exquisite enameled Tabernacle by the renowned 20th century German liturgical artist, Egino Weinert, received the Eucharistic Lord for the first time and will now enshrine the sacramental presence perpetually so that it can be taken to the sick and homebound as well as be a place for private prayer and adoration.
With Altar and walls now blessed and anointed, with the Eucharist having been celebrated, the assembly was now dismissed to ‘be what we have celebrated.’ (St. Augustine)