Sunday, June 20, 2010

Back to Work

Sorry I haven't posted in SO long. I went from retreat to a really really bad flu, and I've taken my time recuperating. The 40 year old body -- oy vey!

I'm going to spend the rest of this week posting about the eucharistic prayer in translation, as I promised. But I wanted today to just tell you about a really neat liturgical moment I witnessed yesterday. I live next door to St. Francis Xavier parish, which the Jesuits have run since 1847. It's a very interesting church, lots of great statues and paintings; but until the last couple years it's been in serious need of repair. Dark, dingy, paint peeling, front falling off -- a real mess.

Yesterday was the rededication -- the unveiling, if you will, of the renovated church, which is mind-blowingly different. In fact throughout the Mass you could see people, including the Archbishop, craning their necks up to look at all of the details that had been so totally obscured, hidden really by dirt and darkness before the renovation. If you have ever visited our church, you have to come back now. It really will rock your world.

So, as part of the renovations, the parish decided to build a new altar, made out of the wood from the old kneelers of the parish -- a remarkable symbol in and of itself. And so within the rededication, the archbishop had to bless this new altar. And this is what he did: first, he took off his chasuble, and put on a sort of apron. Then, he was handed a full container of chrism -- not as big as a decanter, more like 2 or 2 1/2 times as big as a beaker. Which is a lot of chrism. (Chrism, again, is the sweet-smelling blessed oil the church uses at baptism, confirmation and ordination to the priesthood.)

The archbishop took this oil and poured it all -- all of it -- over the top of the altar, back and forth. Then, using his own hands, he rubbed it in. While music played in the background we simply watched as he slowly, quietly worked the oil into the new altar. It was so basic and fundamental, not about smells and bells, frilly prayers or garments, as like watching a carpenter go about his work. It somehow made the moment very physical for us watching, and very personal.

If you ever get a chance to go to the dedication of a church, or to see an altar blessed (at least by Archbishop Tim Dolan), I highly recommend it.

Back on track tomorrow.


Michelle said...


This reminds me of Kathleen Norris' wonderful essay Quotidian Mysteries: Laundry, Liturgy and Women's Work, where she reflects on watching the priest purify the vessels at the end of Mass. She notes how remarkable she finds it that after all the reverent festivity of the Eucharist, “homage was being paid to the lowly truth that we human beings must wash the dishes after we eat and drink. The chalice, which had held the very blood of Christ, was no exception.”

I think moments like this bless more than the altar -- it reminds me of the sacredness of the everyday, that if we were capable of realizing it, we are all gently tended by God in these lovely straightforward ways. I think of Jesus cooking on the beach and inviting the disciples to "Come, have breakfast" No heady theology in this, just an invitation to the sacredness of the ordinary.

And all I can say about recuperating when you're 40, is wait until you're 50!

Anonymous said...

Have you ever witnessed a Confirmation by Milwaukee Bishop Richard Slkba? Everyone gets very oiled, the last person has the remaining oil poured over them. At my first profession the presider poured oil (as I look at the picture, more than just a dab) over each of us, the gasp from the congregation was audible. It was a profound moment, one that is not easily forgotten.

I believe we all need such rituals, so simple yet so profound, to get/keep us in touch with God.

Jane Marie

Jim McDermott, SJ said...

The sacredness of the everyday -- that's it, exactly!

And I have witnessed Bishop Sklba's confirmations. In fact, my own family would like to meet him, as I've begun to do the same for baptisms of my nephews and nieces. (A number of them have subsequently lost all their hair. Sure did smell nice, though!)

Michelle said...

Given my oft-stated propensity for generously using sacramental matter, perhaps my family should be glad I'm not authorized to put my principles into practice!

kb said...

I had the privilege to be there for the dedication of the first Syro-Malabar Rite cathedral outside India (Mar Thoma in Chicago), and that was the moment that touched me most. Here's a picture that my friend David Hwang took of the rite: