The hammers and power drills finally were silenced and the harmonies of a choir and the sweet sound of communion filled the Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral on Wednesday afternoon at a dedication Mass for the long-awaited building.
“Fantastic. Celestial. Heavenly,” said Marianne Starchville, who brought her daughter, Amy, to the three-hour service. The pair also snuck in a friend, Martha Favreau, who didn’t have an official ticket but didn’t want to miss the opening of the first Catholic cathedral in the U.S. in decades.
The trio also were also present for the dedication of the church they attend in Wake Forest, St. Catherine of Siena, a couple of years ago. The growth of their church and others throughout central and eastern North Carolina is why the Diocese of Raleigh felt the need to build a new cathedral, to serve as a mother church for the diocese and to handle regular services for the local parish.
The original cathedral, Sacred Heart, has been conducting 12 Masses each Sunday and still people stand on the sidewalk outside, straining to hear the homily.
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Holy Name of Jesus will start with seven Masses on Sundays, and space shouldn’t be an issue for a while. The new cathedral can – and did for the dedication – accommodate more than 2,000 people.
It’s a great physical structure, Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the apostolic nuncio to the United States, told those who gathered for the event.
“It should find a spiritual counterpart in your hearts.”
Pews and extra chairs were filled with worshippers selected from parishes within the diocese.
For cradle Catholics such as Linda Storm of Elizabeth City and her sister, Cindy Hartley of Holly Springs, the cathedral was as spectacular as those they had toured in Europe.
But this one is theirs.
“Oh, my gosh,” Storm said after taking her seat toward the back of the nave. “This is like a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
Guion Davis came from his home in Rocky Mount to see the dedication. Davis, a retired science teacher and lifelong Catholic, was there for the dedication of his home church, too: Rocky Mount’s Immaculate Conception, in 1942.
After the service, Davis said, “I’m flabbergasted. I’ve waited for a long time, and it finally got here.”
The dedication Mass was both a sacred and celebratory event, the culmination of eight years of dreaming, planning and fundraising. In keeping with a promise to build “the cathedral that God’s people will let us build,” the diocese scaled back its original plans and built a $45.7 million structure that was paid for by the gifts of more than 26,000 people.
Bishop Michael Burbidge, who presided over the project from its inception to its near completion before being assigned to be the new bishop of the Arlington, Va., diocese, returned to lead the dedication and give the homily.
It was a ceremony rich in tradition and symbolism, emphasizing the biblical concept of Christ as the cornerstone of faith and his followers as God’s temple.
The ceremony began with a procession of more than 200 people, led by the Knights of Columbus wearing satin-lined capes and caps with red, purple, green, yellow or white plumage. They were followed by members of parishes from across the diocese dressed in ethnic costumes: African, Native American, Mexican, Honduran and Asian. Dozens of priests from throughout the diocese followed, all in flowing robes, followed by church leaders from the diocese and beyond.
The group walked in as the Diocesan Choir and a 25-piece orchestra performed a hymn the cathedral’s music minister, Mike Accurso, composed for the occasion. The voices and instruments filled the space as thoroughly as the summer sunlight that poured through the cathedral windows.
During the three-hour service, Burbidge asked God’s blessing on the building. He sprinkled holy water on the congregation and on the pillars that held the building up around them. He anointed the altar and the walls with oil, and diffused smoke from a spicy incense.
In a prayer, he asked that, “Just as this church is filled with fragrance, so may your church fill the world with the fragrance of Christ.”
During the ceremony, church leaders gave Burbidge the keys to the cathedral, which he in turn gave to Bishop Luis Zarama, who has been appointed to replace him as leader of the diocese but has not yet been installed.
Throughout the day, Burbidge looked delighted. He smiled and laughed, greeted old friends and thanked those who helped bring the cathedral to fruition.
Speaking to the congregation, he said there had been many questions about the cathedral, starting with, “Can we really do this? Well, today, Diocese of Raleigh, you have answered that question,” he said, to great applause.
The cathedral, whose bells are said to be audible from a mile away and whose dome may be visible from even farther, is a grand symbol for the diocese. But Burbidge told those in the pews the diocese must not forget its mission: to teach the gospel, defend the sacredness and dignity of human life and “to serve those who need us the most.”