Visit your ‘mother’
by Edward J Long
On Nov. 9 the Roman Catholic Church celebrates the feast of the dedication of the Cathedral of Rome, not St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City but the Basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome, Italy, a short distance from the Coliseum. St. John Lateran, the pope’s cathedral, is called the mother and head of all churches. It holds preeminence over all other cathedrals and, in fact, all Catholic churches.
The word cathedral comes from the Latin word cathedra which means “chair.” The cathedra, from which only the jurisdictional bishop, the ordinary, presides, is prominently placed in his cathedral church. It is, in fact, where the bishop’s church acquires the name cathedral. This is where the bishop, who is the shepherd of the diocese, exercises his episcopal duty to teach, govern and sanctify his people. The chair itself is part of an even more ancient tradition of teachers who were seated while teaching and expounding on various subjects.
The cathedra emphasizes episcopal authority, a fact the Church celebrates on the feast of the Chair of St. Peter on Feb. 22. The bishop has his teaching authority from his ordination to the fullness of the priesthood and communion with the Bishop of Rome, the pope. All bishops are appointed by the pope, the Supreme Pastor, the Pastor of Pastors, to shepherd the people of a diocese. Bishops follow in the apostolic succession that goes back to the very beginning of the Church.
Each cathedral is the mother church of its diocese. The famous cathedrals of Paris and Chartres were named Notre Dame (Our Lady) to honor the Holy Virgin. These beautiful buildings have stood as symbols of safety, strength and protection to the local populace as well as centers of worship. In his book Heaven in Stone and Glass, Father Robert Barron writes of how, “from the end of the twelfth and into the thirteenth century the cathedrals were, almost without exception, named for the Virgin.” He goes on to say how these great “cathedrals of the Middle Ages were seen, in an almost literal sense, as the body of Mary, places of safety and birth.”
The theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar writes that “in Mary’s total acceptance of the will of God …Mary becomes the spiritual space in which all of our positive responses to God find their home. And therefore her attitude of acquiescence to God is the safety which is the church.”
The mother church of Syracuse, our Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, was named by our first bishop, Most Rev. Patrick Ludden in 1904, for the Blessed Virgin in her title defined in the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, Ineffabilis Deus promulgated by Blessed Pius IX just 50 years earlier. It was on the 50th anniversary of this Marian dogma that Bishop Ludden made Saint Mary’s the second cathedral of the diocese (the first cathedral was Saint John the Evangelist which closed in June 2010). On this occasion the cathedral was dedicated in great celebration. The centerpiece of this celebration was a brick from the Holy Door of Saint Peter’s opened for the holy year of 1900 on Christmas Eve of 1899. This brick was sent to Bishop Ludden by Pope Leo XIII as a token of his esteem for Bishop Ludden and to highlight the communion between the Bishop of Rome and the Bishop of Syracuse. It is now on permanent display in the cathedral.
Our cathedral was not consecrated at that time because of the huge debt it carried from its construction from 1874 to 1886. While initially expected to cost $125,000 it ended up costing almost $250,000. To consecrate a church or cathedral to the exclusive use of worship required that it be free of debt. It was the third pastor and first rector of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Father John Grimes, who paid off the debt and who, two years after the consecration, would become our second bishop.
This fall on Sunday Sept. 26 Bishop Robert Cunningham will celebrate the 9:45 a.m. Mass commemorating the 100th anniversary (which is on Sept. 25) of the consecration of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. All parishioners throughout the diocese are welcome and encouraged to attend. In the afternoon, from 2 p.m. until 4 p.m. there will be an open house with 18 informational stations throughout the cathedral with the parishioners of Cathedral explaining the many elements of the cathedral, such as the Mayer of Munich, Germany stained glass, the crypt of the bishops, the Holy Door brick from Pope Leo XIII, the magnificent Roosevelt organ, the relics of martyrs and saints and other unique treasures found in our diocesan mother church.
We especially welcome parishioners from throughout the diocese who have never visited their Cathedral before. Take a short trip on a beautiful fall day to visit your “mother.” Following the open house we welcome you to stay for our 5:10 p.m. Mass that fulfills the Sunday obligation. We also ask that those who can, bring a canned item of food for our Cathedral Emergency Services outreach to the poor.
Have any questions? E-mail me at ELong@syrdio.org.