A Church Dedication was the liturgical event I never knew I needed on my bucket list :)
So let me back up. After finishing undergrad, I signed up for a year of volunteer work with NET (as we all know by now). When I finished my tour with NET, I knew I wanted to get into youth ministry and I began my first "real world" full-time job as a junior and senior high youth minister at a parish.
When I walked up to said parish for my interview (back in 2004!) there was a hand-made painted billboard with a thermometer on it indicating where the parish was at in terms of raising funds to build a church. And when I walked into the parish center (I was early of course because that's how I do. I mean, it was an interview!) I asked the receptionist: "Where IS the Church?" She pointed towards the doors I was already facing...a hall more than a church made of cinderblock with detachable chairs, a cross, and a barely recognizable tabernacle inside.
I worked at the parish for three years before I decided to enter the convent. This place holds a special place in my heart. The parishioners were all so supportive of me and took my clueless 23-26 year old self under their wings as I tried to establish a ministry (and myself!) there.
This past week at the Workcamp, I ran into some of the parishioners from the parish. They told me their Church was FINALLY built and opening this week! They invited me to the dedication. A priest at the camp told me if I had never been to a Church Dedication before I really needed to go. Twist my arm!
The day of the dedication, I drove down the street I had driven down many times years prior and as I rounded the corner towards the Church, there were cars already being parked way down the street. The Church was enormous and I immediately knew this was going to be a cool event.
I saw people walking towards the old parish center, however, and then I ran into someone I knew. I asked him if the ceremony was beginning in the old worship space and he said that we would be starting there and then walking over to the Church together to hand the bishop the keys!
It took us all a while to file in. I had run into some of the teens I used to work with ( now college students and college graduates!) and one of the girls sat and hung out with me during the service.
She told me that 1,100 people had RSVP'd...and I knew I was not among the 1100 :) So there were way over a thousand people at this event and once we got inside this huge Church it was already packed.
I was so grateful to have the girl I was sitting with next to me. She had been pretty involved in the youth group when I was there, especially our Workcamp trips and meetings, and she had taught CCD at the parish for years. She was always just a fun, well-rounded kid but obviously grounded in her faith. I mean, here we were, two young adults hanging out for 3+ hours at a church service. And we were GEEKING OUT about it!
Before the Mass really got started, we were flipping through the program and squealing to each other: "Oh look! They are going to dedicate the relics of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta!" "OMG! They have to go around and bless the walls! So cool!"
I mean..geeking. out. In the true sense of the phrase.
But our rituals ARE so cool and so SYMBOLIC. I've been teaching Confirmation candidates and my Sacraments students for years how important the material of "oil" is symbolically. In the Old Testament, they would anoint a person king with it. It is obviously a symbol of strength since we maintain machines with it. We cook with it. It is a symbol of flavor and life!
The symbol of oil was a key player in this event as the Bishop anointed the altar with it and the priests placed it in the sign of the cross on all of the walls. This consecrates the Church to God just as Samuel anointed David with oil in the Old Testament.
After the bishop spread the oil on the altar, some of the parishioners chosen to be a part of the ceremony came and mopped it up with towels. This kind of reminded me of the scene of the Passion where the women took towels to wipe up the blood of Christ after his scourging. The altar is a symbol of sacrifice and so I just thought of all of this sacredness and history coming together before us at this moment.
Women were chosen to place the linens on the altar for the first time- just like women in the New Testament went to the tomb to wrap and anoint Christ's body after the Crucifixion. And after the linens were placed on the altar, it truly was like the Resurrection! Suddenly, people brought flowers out and started to adorn and decorate the altar. I am not doing the moment justice, but the girl and I looked at each other and seriously almost started crying. It was a cool moment.
I mentioned to the girl sitting with me several times, "if only we felt this sense of community and closeness to the Scriptures EVERY Mass." At this Mass the energy of the people was so evident. And the Scriptures and history of our faith unfolding before us, connecting us to it, was so clear. I know that we should feel this way at every Mass.
Similarly to how I had felt when at Ronnel's funeral, I felt this sense of family. The Church is my family. These young people that I worked with for years and now seeing grown up were like my kids. The parishioners of this parish are like distant relatives. At one point I said to the girl sitting next to me, "I love that you can appreciate these nerdy liturgical things like me!" To which she responded, "well, you raised me right!" Sniff!
(Though, let's be clear, I am only 9 years older than she. Raised is a stretch...)
I was just so proud of and grateful for all these families who had dedicated themselves to the Church for so long. Ones who had helped me with my ministry, but now I see, they just love the Church. And they really were the ones teaching ME all along.
If you ever get to go to a Church Dedication, it is LONG, but I highly recommend it! Even after all of my travels, it was probably one of the highlights of my summer.