Saturday, May 5, 2012

What Makes a Church a Cathedral?

I was alerted to an interesting article at New Liturgical Movement: “Cathedral: Home for Liturgy of the Hours” by Matthew Alderman. 

Mr. Alderman suggests that a question that should be asked in designing a cathedral is, “What makes a church a cathedral?”

Of course, there is the obvious answer that the presence of the bishop’s cathedra makes a cathedral, but there’s more to it than that. Mr. Alderman points to Westminster Cathedral as an example (my emphases throughout):

It is instructive to compare the liturgical milieu that informed Westminster Cathedral’s establishment in 1895, with that of a typical large American diocese. Part of the problem is of course a diminished sense of the differences between Mass as celebrated by a bishop (though it is still laid out in the Ordinary Form’s Ceremonial of Bishops) and a priest’s mass, but these are ultimately matters of degree rather than quality. The most significant difference, in my mind, lies in the inclusion or exclusion of the Liturgy of the Hours as prayed by a community.

…Cardinal Vaughn saw the Office as essential to the efficacy of “a live Cathedral,” a missionary presence at the heart of a very secular city, “functioning […] on behalf of others and winning them graces.” …[H]e argued that this public prayer was “the highest function of the apostolic calling.” In this regard, Westminster Cathedral started out not much different than our own standard American cathedral. Being a mission territory, America got out of the habit of having cathedral chapters capable of singing the Office…
Choir stalls: ideal configuration
for singing the Divine Office

I am not a historian by any means, but I think Mr. Alderman has made a very important point here regarding the Church in the US: “America got out of the habit of having cathedral chapters capable of singing the Office”. I have thought for some time that America got out of the habit of singing any Liturgy – especially the Mass! This would be understandable, especially in the history of the Westward expansion. 

For instance, consider the history of theDiocese of Baker. Long distances still separate parishes within the diocese; how much more those distances must have contributed to deterioration of the liturgy in times when travel was much more restricted! In sparsely populated Eastern Oregon, I’m sure there weren’t too many of the faithful who were trained to sing Gregorian chant propers at Mass. In addition, the Protestant churches springing up probably accomplished two things: pulling people away from their Catholic faith, and encouraging Catholics to substitutes hymns for the chants at Mass.

But the singing of the Divine Office in the cathedral parish could be of great benefit to the community. Mr. Alderman notes:

…besides the spiritual graces attendant on placing the full Office at the heart of a diocesan community, there is also considerable evangelical and apostolic merit to the practice…[S]uch a living, breathing exemplar of the movement of sanctified time could be a lightning-rod for an explosion of religious revival. It would also represent a tangible way of fulfilling the Second Vatican Council's goal of encouraging the faithful to regularly participate in the Liturgy of the Hours…The Council recommended:

Pastors of souls should see to it that the chief hours, especially Vespers, are celebrated in common in church on Sundays and the more solemn feasts. And the laity, too, are encouraged to recite the Divine Office, either with the priests, or among themselves, or even individually. (Par. 100)

If this is true of parish churches, how much more it should be of the cathedral church of every diocese!

I can’t speak for other dioceses, but the role of the cathedral church is something that seems to be severely neglected in the Diocese of Baker. St. Francis de Sales Cathedral seems to be more of a historic church than the active and “living” center of the Diocese. The last priestly ordination did not take place at the Cathedral, nor did Bishop Vasa's episcopal ordination. Bishop-elect Liam Cary’s will take place in a parish church, which, though large, was never designed with any kind of ordination in mind. And the anniversary of the dedication of our cathedral is probably only celebrated in the cathedral parish, and then only sporadically and without a bishop present.

Wouldn’t it be nice to see some semblance of cathedral-icity restored to St. Francis de Sales Cathedral?

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