In Your Midst

Celebrating our Centennial

Xmas 2006

As we recall the day you filled this church with your glory and holiness, may our lives also become an acceptable offering to you

St James Cathedral 1907Each year, on the eve of December 22, something special happens at St. James Cathedral.  The priests and faithful gather together in the vestibule.  A procession forms.  Led by the cross, the entire group moves through the church together, lighting the candles mounted high on the wall at each of the entrances, twelve candles in all.  We sing with the psalmist:  “I rejoiced when I heard them say, ‘let us go to the house of the Lord!’”  Then all take their places for a solemn celebration of the Eucharist.

What’s the occasion?  It’s a birthday, of sorts!  December 22 marks the anniversary of the dedication of St. James Cathedral.  It was on a chilly Sunday morning, December 22, 1907, that Bishop O’Dea dedicated St. James with all the rites and ceremonies of the church, and for the very first time offered Mass within the consecrated walls of the new Cathedral.  Eighty-seven years later, on December 22, 1994, Archbishop Thomas J. Murphy rededicated the Cathedral following a major restoration and renovation. 

In St. Augustine’s Confessions, there is a telling episode in which Victorinus, a somewhat reluctant convert, accepts the doctrines of the Church but would rather be excused from attendance at public worship.  “Are Christians made by walls?” he asks.  Not by walls, the answer comes, but by community.  Because when Christians come together for prayer, they are more than the sum of their parts:  “where two or three are gathered in my name,” Jesus says, “there am I, in the midst of them.”  In marking the anniversary of the dedication of our church, we do not celebrate and honor a physical building, but a spiritual one.  “As we recall the day you filled this church with your glory and holiness,” says the Prayer over the Gifts for the Dedication of a Church, “may our lives also become an acceptable offering to you.”

And yet, buildings are important, too.  In a mysterious way, the consecrated bricks and mortar, stained glass and statuary, of our Cathedral church have the power to gather us, teach us, and inspire us.  The bells of the tower summon us to prayer; the ceremonial doors invite us to become a part of the great journey of God’s chosen people; the images of saints remind us of the cloud of witnesses, the holy people who not only inspire us by their heroic lives but help us by their prayer.  Our churches surround us with beautiful things, to remind us of the infinite beauty of God. 

 Throughout the coming year, 2007, we will celebrate the Centennial of St. James Cathedral (see the sidebar for some of the highlights).  While this may be the biggest birthday celebration the Cathedral has seen, it won’t be the first!  The year 1929 marked the Silver Jubilee of the Cathedral Parish, and the parish responded with a handsome publication, complete with a silver-embossed cover illustration of the Cathedral with the words “SILVER JUBILEE 1904 1929” streaming like rays of glory from the towers.  “For twenty-five years,” the Bishop noted, “the cross atop the Cathedral has carried a message of faith to the visitor here; for twenty-five years the doors of this parish’s church have been open to those who seek grace and heavenly solace.  How many have been healed and comforted in this holy temple of God!”

Three years later, when the time came to celebrate the silver jubilee of the Cathedral itself, the mood was considerably more subdued.  The nation was in the throes of the Great Depression, and the death of Bishop O’Dea on Christmas Day of 1932 dampened the spirits of the community.  The 25th anniversary of the dedication of the Cathedral passed almost unnoticed.

By the time the Golden Jubilee came around in 1957, things were looking up.  The economy was thriving, and the church in Western Washington was growing by leaps and bounds.  A glossy book, a series of liturgical and civic celebrations, and, of course, a fundraising campaign, marked the fiftieth anniversary of the dedication of St. James Cathedral.

Bishop Thomas Gill, pastor of the Cathedral, wrote:  “Like the mute message of the twin spires which from this hill-top by day and by night lift their noble height heavenward, the message written imperishably into these stones for posterity was and is an incessant urging that men lift up their minds and hearts and hands to the praise and to the works of the Lord, their God.”

Archbishop Connolly observed, in his own inimitable style, “the Golden Jubilee of our Cathedral is robed in the mellow glow of lingering and heart-warming memories—memories of frugal beginnings, of pioneer struggles, of unsung heroism on the part of bishop, priest and people alike—memories of growth, of heartaches, of tears; of sacrifice and steadfast loyalty.”

Nor did the 75th anniversary of St. James Cathedral pass unnoticed.  Special prayers and liturgies marked this important anniversary in 1982.  “The world changes, our perceptions change, the Church endures,” said the souvenir view book published on that occasion.  “St. James Cathedral is an eloquent expression of earlier generations’ whole-hearted commitment to that Divine truth.  Their legacy enriches our lives.”

During the coming year 2007, we will mark yet another significant milestone in the colorful history of our beloved house of prayer.  There will be plenty of prayers, plenty of opportunities to explore our fascinating past and to appreciate the artistic treasures old and new that surround and inspire us.

But that is not really why we mark the anniversary of the dedication of this house of prayer.  Archbishop Connolly says it best:  “Our Jubilee observance should be much more than a mere remembrance of the glories of the past.  It must be an hour of apostolic readiness and solemn resolution ‘to rebuild the world for Christ.’  We must be determined to live our faith in truth, to share that precious heritage with those about us, to work for its spread and advancement with the same resolute courage and tireless zeal that inspired and motivated those who have gone before us.

“Our Cathedral stands in the heart of a great metropolis for all the world to see as a perpetual, public profession of our Catholic faith and a constant challenge for us and for future generations to be ever worthy of our golden heritage.” t

Corinna Laughlin is the Pastoral Assistant for Liturgy at St. James Cathedral.  To find out more about the coming Centennial Celebrations, visit the Centennial Page.

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