Celebrating the Rite of Dedication
May 05, 2009
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Our new church Dedication Day, September 30, 2007, dawned sunny, breezy and warm. Parishioners of St. Clare of Assisi Parish scurried about through much of the morning, tending to last minute details. Several men were on parking lot duty; Hospitality Committee members set up water stations and made arrangements for the outdoor reception; our facilities manager did some final straightening up; and Art and Environment Committee members added finishing touches to the decorations.
Finally, all was ready! The celebration was to begin at 3:00 p.m. Parishioners began arriving more than an hour in advance and milled about on the grounds in excited anticipation. All were given worship aids that had been color-coded to indicate behind which colored streamers participants were to assemble. As the clergy gathered and the bishop appeared, the festivities began. After a prayer by Bishop Edward Braxton, representatives of various groups involved in the building of the church took turns presenting the bishop with symbols, indicating our handing over the church to him as the shepherd of the Church of Belleville (Illinois).
Then our pastor, Fr. Jim Deiters, ceremoniously opened the huge mahogany doors which had been crafted by workers from our sister parish in Guatemala. Trumpets blared forth Psalm 122, “Let Us Go Rejoicing” as group by group, the worshipers processed in behind dancers waving colored streamers and through the large gathering space into the sanctuary. Their faces beaming with delight and awe, the people dipped their hands into the waters of the font and gazed around at the majesty of the interior of the church. Reflected in the font were the ten-foot high Cimabue-inspired crucifix suspended above the altar and the brilliant Brother Sun stained glass window at the northwest end of the nave.
The rite continued with the blessing of the waters of the font. Clergy who had served in the parish and parishioners involved in the sacraments of initiation that year took the water throughout the church, blessing each part of the church and all the members of the assembly. The choir led the assembly in the triumphant “Glory to God!”
The Liturgy of the Word followed. The Scriptures spoke of the holiness of God’s people, and the fact that we are God’s temple, with Christ as our foundation. Bishop Braxton reinforced these ideas in his homily and quoted a sermon by St Augustine that focused on the building and dedication of God’s house within us.
The Solemn Rite of Dedication began with the singing of the Litany of the Saints. The beautiful Prayer of Dedication followed, rich with images about the Church as radiant bride, chosen vineyard, temple of living stones, and city set on a mountain. Then came the anointing of the altar and the walls. The bishop poured a large pitcher of fragrant chrism all over the altar and took time to lovingly spread it over every inch. To the accompaniment of a beautiful harp and flute duet, priests carried the oil to anoint all four sides of the church.
Seminarians then brought forward a large metal cauldron filled with aromatic incense and placed it on the altar. As the choir sang “How Lovely is Your Dwelling Place,” seven of our high school dancers approached to receive incense from the bishop. They gracefully descended from the altar platform and danced the incense around the space, hallowing the walls, but especially the people, the living temples of God’s Spirit. Next, members of our Altar Sodality wiped the mensa clean of the excess chrism and dressed the altar in linen cloth, handmade by the Poor Clare Nuns of Belleville, Illinois. Lovely floral arrangements were placed at the ambo and on either side of the altar platform.
The conclusion of the rite consisted of the lighting of the altar and the church. The Paschal candle was carried to the bishop, who prayed over it; then, after the candles were lit in the sanctuary, parishioners took the light to the lamps on the walls where the anointings had taken place.
We presented our gifts to the bishop for local, national, and global needs. We chose to gift our local food pantry, offer letters to our congresspersons about the need for affordable housing, and present donations for our sister parish in Guatemala. Emotions ran deep as we processed forward to receive the Eucharist for the first time in this holy place, singing our faith that we are the Body of Christ. After communion, the bishop inaugurated the Blessed Sacrament chapel by placing the Sacrament in the tabernacle for the first time and lighting the sanctuary lamp.
Our pastor then gratefully acknowledged the many people who had had a special role in making the building come to be. After the blessing, we ended our liturgy with the hymn “Lover of Us All.” A bountiful reception took place under tents on the parish lawn as a fitting conclusion to this joyous and monumental celebration.
Due to unforeseen problems, the actual baptismal font altar base, ambo and tabernacle that had been planned for our church were not ready at the time of Dedication. Since then, they have been completed and installed, made of the same stone and inclusive of the Gothic detail of the church architecture. Two of the Stations of the Cross, which have been commissioned by artist Meltem Aktas of Chicago, will soon be installed. The care and effort that was given in planning for our new church were well worth it. Parishioners and visitors alike are filled with awe and inspiration at its beauty and prayerful atmosphere. All agree that this is truly a fitting testimony to the God whom we worship and to the faith of the people of St. Clare of Assisi Parish and the Church in southern Illinois.
Photo credit: John Dempsey
Sister Carolyn McWattters is the Director of Music and Liturgy at St. Clare of Assisi Parish, O'Fallon, Illinois.
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