Cathedral is focus of unity - Catholic Courier

Cathedral is focus of unity

Question: What mother has children in all 12 counties of the diocese? Answer: Sacred Heart Cathedral, the “mother church” of the Diocese of Rochester.
 
While each of the more than 350,000 Catholics in the 12-county diocese belongs to a parish, each also shares a special relationship with the mother church of the diocese. Sacred Heart is the focus of diocesan Catholics’ unity with the bishop, the universal church and one another. At Sacred Heart, Bishop Matthew H. Clark welcomes catechumens and candidates on their faith journey to become Catholics, ordains new priests and deacons, and administers the sacrament of confirmation. The cathedral, which also is home to a vibrant parish, is thus a central gathering place for Catholics throughout the area.
 
From time to time, you may have heard diocesan officials using the term “mother church” in describing the cathedral and in discussions about the importance of renovating the 1927 edifice. Because it is the mother church, for example, diocesan officials have noted that Sacred Heart must follow the church’s liturgical guidelines and serve as a model for other churches in the diocese.
 
The origin of the term “mother church” is difficult to determine, according to Father Richard S. Vosko, liturgical design consultant for the Sacred Heart renovation project. Yet he noted that it is common for central places in the church to have the term “mother” in their name. Communities of women religious communities commonly call their headquarters “motherhouses,” for example.
 
The pope’s cathedral in Rome, St. John Lateran, has engraved on its fa√ßade “ the mother and head of all the churches of the city and the world,” according to Father Joseph A. Hart, diocesan vicar general and moderator of the Pastoral Center.
 
Today’s mother churches host numerous rituals that exemplify their unifying purpose, Father Hart noted. At Sacred Heart, for example, ordinations and the consecration of holy oils used by parish churches throughout the diocese take place. It’s highly important for such rituals to take place in the diocesan cathedral, Father Hart explained.
 
“There’s always the danger of congregationalism, which is to say, ‘My parish is really the church,’” Father Hart observed. In addition to emphasizing the unity of local parishes with each other and their bishop, the cathedral also symbolizes the unity of every Roman Catholic diocese under the Church of Rome, he added.
 
The cathedral also is the location of the cathedra, the Latin word for the bishop’s chair or throne. “The bishop is the symbol in our diocese of unity in faith and love,” Father Hart noted. No one but the bishop sits in the cathedra, he explained, so that even when the bishop is not present, people are aware of the cathedra’s importance.
 
Cathedrals have a long and rich history in the church. Historians note that these edifices became a prominent feature of church life from the fourth century onward, after Christianity became the official faith of the Roman Empire. As bishops came to wield more and more temporal power, cathedrals became more ornate and magnificent. The Middle Ages saw the golden era of cathedral architecture, as such notable structures as Notre Dame de Paris were erected. Cathedral schools, originally established to train clerics, also came into being, eventually forming the basis for the Western university system.
 
Catholics may not realize it, but a ritual they observe at every Mass highlights the important place mother churches occupy in the church’s consciousness, Father Hart noted. In the early Christian church, deacons would carry fragments of the eucharistic bread consecrated at the bishop’s church to the auxiliary churches in outlying areas. These fragments from the mother church would then be dipped into the chalices of the other churches, symbolizing the eucharistic unity of all churches. This act is echoed in modern liturgies when the priest breaks off a fragment of the host and dips it into the chalice, he said.
 
Today’s cathedrals still signify that eucharistic unity, Father Hart noted, and Sacred Heart Cathedral is its symbol in this diocese.
 
“It’s the mother church because all the other communities are sent out from this church,” he remarked.

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