When the winter issue of Church magazine arrived last week, I received a very pleasant Christmas surprise. In page after page, Rochester’s Sacred Heart Cathedral was pictured — in all its full-color glory — in a story about church renovation throughout the United States.
Nearly a year ago now, hundreds of people, including Cardinal Egan of the Archdiocese of New York and many of my brother bishops from New York state, turned out in the January cold to help us dedicate the newly renovated cathedral. It was a joyous weekend indeed, full of prayer and gratitude and many “oohs” and “aahs” from admirers. Even the Rochester Democratic and Chronicle‘s headline proclaimed, “Sacred Heart Glows!”
As the days have unfolded since the dedication, I still marvel at the sheer beauty of our cathedral, which emerged from its renovation shroud like a gem, polished and renewed by the skilled hands of dedicated artisans and workers. But being beautiful is not enough — a church building also needs to help us worship while it teaches us about our Catholic faith through art, design and structure.
In describing our cathedral and indeed all houses of worship shaped by Father Richard Vosko, the liturgical-design consultant for our cathedral renovation, the editor of Church says that it “welcomes, immerses, lifts the eyes and, worshipers report, the heart. It acknowledges the church’s societal role, accommodating the large public gathering as well as the lone individual seeking intimate shelter for private prayer.”
I find myself taking refuge in the quiet beauty of Sacred Heart when my heart is ready for prayer, burdened with troubles or full of joyful praise. Often I have been moved by the reflection of the carved oak crucifix of the rood beam on the surface of the font, calling me to remember that, in the waters of baptism, I died and rose in Christ. Through baptism into His death, I was reborn, given a family and called into ministry. No matter where my heart wanders in that sacred space, the gentle flow of the font’s water bubbling up mysteriously from the deep soothes and gentles my soul.
In prayer, my eyes sometimes gently trace the line of the nave moving from font to altar to ambo, where the death of the Lord is proclaimed in word and sacrament until he shall come in glory. In the renovation, the altar was moved into the nave because the altar is the heart of the cathedral — a symbol of Christ risen and present in our midst. How busy that altar has been this year!
Since the renovation, our diocesan family has gathered around that altar in many moments of joy and sadness. Hundreds upon hundreds of young people have come to Sacred Heart with their families and with boundless excitement to celebrate confirmation with their bishop. Many others came on special pilgrimages or to share in the ordination joy of the newly ordained. Still others came on Tuesday in Holy Week for the blessing of the Oil of the Sick, the Oil of the Catechumen and the Sacred Chrism. And who can forget the overflowing crowd that came to mourn the death of Pope John Paul II and, later, to pray for Benedict XVI after his election?
Recently, a delegation from the Diocese of Albany visited Sacred Heart Cathedral as they plan some interior work on their own cathedral. One of the women asked me, “What mistakes were made in your renovation? What would you do differently?” I told her that I wouldn’t change a thing.
From weddings to funerals, from ordinary daily Mass to elaborate Holy Week ceremonies, the cathedral works hard at making people feel at home. According to Father Vosko in the Church article, “the ultimate test (of a church design) is whether the congregation feels drawn into active, conscious participation in the worship rituals.” Sacred Heart passes the test.
People praise the sacred stillness and majesty of the new eucharistic chapel. They love the Marian shrine, with its approachable statue of the Virgin Mary and the infant Jesus with gentleness and love somehow crafted into the wood. They deeply appreciate the narthex, a gorgeous gathering space for all occasions. They like the fact that they can see and hear easily. But most of all, they love how the cathedral works for worship, with people drawn into an intimate community for the celebration of Eucharist.
Of course, our renovation really won’t be complete until the new Paul Fritts pipe organ is installed in the summer of 2008. But the pain of waiting was recently relieved. Fortuitously, the Eastman School of Music located a celebrated instrument — well-known in music circles for its rich sound — that is awaiting the construction of its new home at the University of California at Sonoma. Rather than being put in storage, this baroque organ has been installed temporarily in the apse at Sacred Heart, joining the choir, which had already been moved forward to end its isolation from the worshipping assembly.
If I sound like a father, proud of my cleaned-up and reformed child, I am. If you have not yet experienced the cathedral’s transformation, you must come. In fact, I cordially invite you to join me on Sunday, Jan. 15, at the 9:30 a.m. Mass, when we will officially celebrate the first anniversary of the dedication of Sacred Heart. Please join me in praising God for this wonderful blessing to our local church.
Peace to all.