Renewed, rededicated Cathedral is a symbol of and tool for deeper communion


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“I never weary of great churches. It is my favorite kind of mountain scenery. Mankind was never so happily inspired as when it made a Cathedral.”

— Robert Louis Stevenson

A vigil candle once again flickers through light and darkness.

The Blessed Sacrament stays present in renewed quarters, precious and imperishable.

Hints of incense and Chrism and candle wax linger.

Warm lights animate the artwork throughout the open, inviting, acoustically resilient enclosure.

As always, Christ is at the center.

“In this sacred space, we encounter the living God in the proclamation of the Word, in the celebration of the Sacraments, in the persons of the holy ministers, and in the sacred assembly — you!” Bishop W. Shawn McKnight articulated from the ambo of newly renewed and expanded Cathedral of St. Joseph in Jefferson City.

“It is in this place that God sanctifies us, and we bless God in response with hearts full of gratitude and thanksgiving,” he stated in his homily for the Mass of Rededication the morning of May 5.

Archbishop Christophe Pierre, Pope Francis’s official emissary to the United States, presided at the Mass and anointed the new altar with Sacred Chrism.

Concelebrating the Mass with him and Bishop McKnight were all of Missouri’s Roman Catholic bishops, including Metropolitan Archbishop Mitchell T. Rozanski of St. Louis and Bishop Emeritus John R. Gaydos, retired bishop of Jefferson City, along with the priests of this diocese.

It was the 49th anniversary of the original dedication of the Cathedral in the centennial year of the death of Jesuit Father Ferdinand Helias, the 19th-century Apostle of Central Missouri.

The Rededication Mass, filled with rituals, symbols and prayers harkening back to Biblical times, marked the near-completion of a comprehensive, 16-month renovation and expansion of the Cathedral to make it functional and timelessly Catholic for current and future generations.

“With holy water, Chrism, and the Eucharist, the liturgy of dedicating a church and altar for God’s service reveals just how important the physical structure of the Cathedral is to our faith and mission to evangelize,” Bishop McKnight pointed out.

Freshly-cast bells in new towers rang out glad tidings while archbishops, bishops, priests and deacons in brand-new vestments passed under the portico, across the threshold and through the greatly enlarged narthex.

The rain that had been forecast all week held back in favor of blue skies and a gentle breeze.

Bishop McKnight noted in his homily that Catholic churches stand as sacred symbols — “reminders to the whole community of the presence of God and the presence of the real Church that is you — the people who are the living stones of God’s holy temple.”

He spoke of the weaving together of classical, traditional and contemporary artistic styles throughout the renovated Cathedral “to manifest our communion with the one Church across the centuries.”

He pointed out the newly painted “IHS” mural affixed to the oculus at the peak of the Cathedral’s crown-shaped roof. Embellished with a cross and sunburst against a sky-blue background, those first three letters in Greek for the name of Jesus identify the assembly gathered below it as the body of Christ.

In that and so many other ways, the Cathedral functionally symbolizes and communicates the mystical union — known as communion — that all Catholics share, especially those of the same diocese.

“On the night before he died, Jesus prayed that we might be one as he and the Father are one,” Bishop Mc­Knight noted. “Our communion with one another in the faith of Jesus Christ and with his Church needs to be strong so that we may fulfill the mission he has given to us in our time and in our place.”

Like the resplendent but as-yet uncompleted Cathedral, this sacred communion remains under construction.

“We as individuals and corporately as the Church are still works in progress when it comes to our communion with God and one another,” Bishop McKnight acknowledged.

All are on a journey of conversion to living the light of Christ in a world that desperately needs it, he said.

Solid foundation

Donors are paying entirely for the renewal of the Cathedral proper, with Cathedral of St. Joseph Parish funding the rehabilitation of the downstairs Undercroft, now known as Cana Hall.

Completed in 1968, the Cathedral was originally designed with many of the ideals of the then-very-recent Second Vatican Council in mind. Among these are a circular configuration that highlights the importance of the assembled communicants and their active participation in the sacred mysteries.

The renovations embody even more of those ideals, including a conspicuously situated baptistery that highlights the dignity of the Sacrament of Baptism and the Universal Call to Holiness that flows from it.

Likewise, the bishop noted, “the pillars surrounding the assembly evoke the foundation of the Apostles, on which our Church rests.”

Furthermore, he said, “the gift of the Spirit that continues to be poured out on us through the ministry of the successors to the Apostles is symbolized in the new and large (repository for Sacred Chrism, the Oil of the Sick and the Oil of Catechumens) in the sanctuary.”

The new ambo, from which the Scriptures are proclaimed, gives prominence to the preaching of the Word and relates to the altar, the table of the Word Made Flesh.

“With the image of Christ crucified up front, and the mosaic of the resurrection and the gift of the Spirit from the Father and the Son in the background, we see in one view the whole Paschal Mystery,” Bishop McKnight asserted.

Below the crucifix and mosaic are the tabernacle, where the Blessed Sacrament is reposed, and the altar, the central focus of the entire Cathedral, “upon which the source and summit of our Christian Life is carried out.”

Bishop McKnight insisted that the rededication of the Cathedral marks not only the setting aside of a physical structure once again for sacred purposes — it also marks “our renewal of dedication to God through our belief in the teachings of the Catholic Church, through our charitable works, and through our sacramental life.”

“These three things are the way we mark our belonging to the Catholic Church,” he stated.

Water and the Spirit

At the Rededication Mass, priests and other representatives of each of the five deaneries in the diocese processed in behind their deanery’s banner, each adorned with an emblem from the diocesan Coat of Arms.

On behalf of himself and Bishop Emeritus Gaydos, Bishop McKnight welcomed everyone present, including Missouri’s bishops, and thanked Archbishop Pierre for the care and concern he has shown this diocese while serving as the Holy Father’s personal representative to the Church in the United States and as his official ambassador to the U.S. government.

Members of the Cathedral Renovation Commission and the architects, contractor and artists took part in a ceremonial handing-over of the Cathedral.

Chris Hentges and Lacy Green of Sircal Contracting Inc. presented Bishop Mc­Knight the keys to the Cathedral, symbolizing completion of their work on the renovations; Abigail Steck Flippin of The Architects Alliance Inc. presented him a copy of the architectural plans that have now been realized in the renovated Cathedral; and William Heyer, architectural consultant for the project, presented a program explaining the Cathedral’s renewed art and architecture.

“People of God,” Bishop McKnight called out, “I think they’ve done a wonderful job. What do you think?”

The people responded with protracted applause.

Archbishop Pierre blessed water and used it to cleanse the altar and to sprinkle holy water on the people with the help of several concelebrating bishops.

He placed the relics of 10 saints — St. Aurelius, St. Benedict, St. Clement, St. Francis de Sales, St. Iranaeus, St. Isidore, St. John Vianney, St. Martin de Porres, St. Rose Philippine Duchesne and St. Vincent de Paul — in a reliquary inside the new altar.

Afterward, he offered up the Prayer of Dedication, imploring the Father to help “your faithful, gathered around the table of the altar, celebrate the memorial of the Paschal Mystery and be refreshed by the banquet of Christ’s Word and his Body...”

“Here may the joyful offering of praise resound,” the nuncio prayed, “with human voice joined to the song of Angels, and unceasing prayer rise up to you for the salvation of the world...”

“Here may the poor find mercy, the oppressed attain true freedom, and all people be clothed with the dignity of your children, until they come exultant to the Jerusalem which is above,” he prayed.

Sweet aroma

Following the chanting of the Litany of Saints by the choir and congregation, Archbishop Pierre prayed the Prayer of Consecration. He recalled the altars that had been built by Noah, Abraham and Moses, as well as the table of the Last Supper and the cross — the altar upon which Jesus presented Himself as the perfect sin offering for humanity.

“Bless this altar built in the house of the Church, that it may ever be reserved for the sacrifice of Christ, and stand forever as the Lord’s table, where your people will find nourishment and strength,” the archbishop prayed.

He poured Sacred Chrism in the outline of a cross upon the altar’s center and four corners, then carefully spread with his hands the sweet-scented Chrism across the entire surface.

Archbishop Rozanski, Bishop James V. Johnston Jr. of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Bishop Edward M. Rice of Springfield-Cape Girardeau and Bishop McKnight then went forth to anoint the pillars, applying Chrism in the shape of a cross.

Anointing is symbolic of setting a person or place aside for a sacred purpose. In the case of a Cathedral, this anointing is also a symbol of Catholic unity within the diocese.

Sacred Chrism — named for Christ, God’s Anointed One, and consecrated by the local bishop each year during the Chrism Mass — is most often used to anoint Catholics during their Baptism and Confirmation, as well as priests and bishops when they receive the Sacrament of Holy orders.

Then, as a symbol of the multiple prayers that would ascend to heaven from the sanctuary and of the perfect, eternal sacrifice of Christ that is made present every time Mass is offered, the archbishop burned incense in a brazier atop the altar.

The deans of each of the five deaneries presented five thuribles filled with incense at the altar, then incensed the rest of the Cathedral and the people.

The smoke danced with light from the sun and the refracting mosaics.

Deacons, servers and members of the cathedral renovation commission then came forward to set the candles, flowers and altar linens in place.

As the candles were lit and the lights were turned on, the choir led the congregation in singing “Your light has come, Jerusalem; the nations will walk in your light. Alleluia!”

Archbishop Pierre prayed at the Offertory: “Make our prayers acceptable to you. May this building which we dedicate to your name be a house of salvation and grace, where Christians gathered together in fellowship may worship you in spirit and truth and grow together in love.”

After Holy Communion, while choir and congregation chanted “Tantum Ergo,” a traditional hymn of Eucharistic Adoration, Archbishop Pierre carried the Blessed Sacrament in procession to the new tabernacle behind the altar.

Spirit of renewal

In his homily, Bishop Mc­Knight called to mind how the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council exhorted the entire Church to be a leaven in a society being renewed by Christ and transformed into the family of God.

“The Council Fathers reminded us that the Church cannot take up an attitude of embattlement with the world, even though persecution has always been part of our experience in every age,” the bishop stated.

“No, our attitude is to be one that is more optimistic, that seeks out what is good in our culture, and open to the message of salvation, an attitude that tends to the values of hospitality and being a welcoming Church,” he said.

Pope Francis has refined that understanding through his teaching and the ongoing synodal process.

“He has shown us that the way to journey together is through communion, participation and mission,” said Bishop McKnight.

The Pope has put forth a pastoral vision of faithful, life-filled parishes serving all people in a geographic area, evangelizing through the proclamation of the Good News, growth in Christian life, worship and celebration of God, and the carrying-out of charitable works.

The parishes of this diocese are putting that vision into practice through their three-year pastoral plans, with the diocese collectively doing likewise in support of the parishes.

These pastoral plans apply the themes of promoting the spirituality of stewardship, the practice of co-responsibility, and the parish as a recognized center of charity and sanctuary of mercy.

“The renovations of this Cathedral reflect in a beautiful, symbolic and literal way the work we have been doing all along as the People of God here in this local church known as the Diocese of Jefferson City,” the bishop noted.

Toward greater communion

The renovation won’t be complete until all of the new stained-glass windows, the bronze doors and the new pipe organ are installed in the months to come.

Bishop McKnight said that while the true Church of God is made up of living stones, with Christ as the capstone, the Cathedral is nonetheless a necessary and effective means of evangelization.

“This Cathedral stands as both a sign and symbol of our communion in the Catholic faith in what we believe, in how we live as Catholics, and in the celebration of the Sacraments — especially the supreme Sacrament that is the Eucharist,” he said.

Jesus repeatedly emphasized the inseparable relationship between ritual worship at the altar and the recognition of the image and likeness of God in one another in daily life.

“Therefore, our capacity for evangelization depends upon whether we tend to one another with compassion, patience and mercy, especially in the practice of reconciliation and forgiveness,” said Bishop McKnight.

“Let us not delay our giving thanks to the Father for all the blessings he has bestowed and will continue to bestow on us through the various liturgical celebrations that will take place here in this shrine, this abode of God, this gateway to heaven,” he said.

“May we continue the hard work of journeying together on the path to greater communion,” he proclaimed, “inviting all to recognize this place as their spiritual home. Let us give thanks to the Lord!”

“To the heart”

On behalf of Pope Francis, Archbishop Pierre bestowed a solemn Apostolic Blessing upon all who were present, with a plenary indulgence for all who were truly repentant and had confessed their sins and received Holy Communion.

He commended Bishop McKnight for the good things that are taking place in the diocese, including the work of Catholic Charities of Central and Northern Missouri, which he had visited the previous day.

He said he enjoys traveling to smaller dioceses, spending time with the people and watching what they do.

“It’s simple but it speaks to the heart,” he said.