Today was the dedication of the new Catholic cathedral in Houston. I watched the ceremony on TV, and saw lots of my former co-workers, employees, bosses, and young adults.
I was as frustrated as ever by the narration of Cardinal John Foley–he walked all over the liturgy just as he does with the Vatican broadcasts. Here’s a suggestion–if prayers are being said and scriptures are being read, the narrator should be quiet! These are the things that should be prominent, not your chatter!
It was quite a production, well-rehearsed, but with a few bloopers (as when DiNardo referred to “Henry Cardinal Keeler” of Baltimore).
It was a lost opportunity for the archdiocese–if I may speak now as the former chairman of the archdiocesan evangelization commission. Here was free publicity, with a major channel giving more than three hours of air time to a Catholic event. It could have been used to preach Jesus. It could have been used to invite people to faith in him. It was an opportunity wasted. Instead, it was all about how great we are, how great the building is, how nice the rich donors were, etc., etc.
The ritual for the consecration of a cathedral is elaborate. It includes the handing over to the bishop the plans and keys, blessing of the baptismal font and sprinkling of the building and the people with holy water (a sort of baptism of the building), dedication of the ambo (pulpit) through proclamation of the Scriptures, deposition of the relics under the altar, and the consecration of the altar through anointing it with chrism (olive oil and balsam). This latter action was done in a big way, with nearly a pitcher full of chrism poured onto the mensa (table top) in five places (symbolic of the five wounds of Christ); this oil was then rubbed all over the top by Cardinal DiNardo and Archbishop Fiorenza. Other bishops then assisted in anointing the walls of the building in twelve places (where there are brackets for candles that are lighted shortly thereafter and on the anniversary of the church’s dedication). The paschal candle is lighted, and all the other candles in the church are lighted from it.
It’s an impressive ceremonial, and it reminded me of this statement by Ellen White:
Many Protestants suppose that the Catholic religion is unattractive and that its worship is a dull, meaningless round of ceremony. Here they mistake. While Romanism is based upon deception, it is not a coarse and clumsy imposture. The religious service of the Roman Church is a most impressive ceremonial. Its gorgeous display and solemn rites fascinate the senses of the people and silence the voice of reason and of conscience. The eye is charmed. Magnificent churches, imposing processions, golden altars, jeweled shrines, choice paintings, and exquisite sculpture appeal to the love of beauty. The ear also is captivated. The music is unsurpassed. The rich notes of the deep-toned organ, blending with the melody of many voices as it swells through the lofty domes and pillared aisles of her grand cathedrals, cannot fail to impress the mind with awe and reverence.
I recalled also these words by Martin Luther from the Smalcald Articles:
The declaration of the Papists that human traditions serve for the remission of sins, or merit salvation, is [altogether] unchristian and condemned, as Christ says Matt. 15, 9: In vain they do worship Me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. Again, Titus 1, 14: That turn from the truth. Again, when they declare that it is a mortal sin if one breaks these ordinances [does not keep these statutes], this, too, is not right.
These are the articles on which I must stand, and, God willing, shall stand even to my death; and I do not know how to change or to yield anything in them. If any one wishes to yield anything, let him do it at the peril of his conscience.
Lastly, there still remains the Pope’s bag of impostures concerning foolish and childish articles, as, the dedication of churches, the baptism of bells, the baptism of the altar stone, and the inviting of sponsors to these rites, who would make donations towards them. Such baptizing is a reproach and mockery of Holy Baptism, hence should not be tolerated. Furthermore, concerning the consecration of wax-tapers, palm-branches, cakes, oats, [herbs,] spices, etc., which indeed, cannot be called consecrations, but are sheer mockery and fraud. And such deceptions there are without number, which we commend for adoration to their god and to themselves, until they weary of it. We will [ought to] have nothing to do with them.
I do plan on going to see the building. It’s an impressive work of architecture, as a work of man. And in today’s ceremony, that’s what was elevated, the work of man. Even Jesus, according to DiNardo, depicted on the cross, turns his focus to what he (DiNardo) is doing at the altar.
The archdiocese could have used this as an opportunity to proclaim Jesus to the city–and it lost it. And I would not have been shy to say this in my former role.