Bishop Glen John Provost
Bishop of Lake Charles
Dedication of Immaculate Conception Cathedral
Saturday, August 31, 2019
Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception
Lake Charles, Louisiana
“I have truly built you a princely house and dwelling, where you may abide forever.” II Chronicles 6:2
Did Father Hubert Cramers call to mind that verse from Second Chronicles when he first stepped foot into his new church? I would like to think he did. Solomon observes the priests transporting the Ark of the Covenant into the new temple with great ceremony and rejoices that God now lives with His People. The sacred place is filled with the sound of trumpets and a cloud of incense. The Lord’s glory indeed consumes the house of God (II Chronicles 5:14).
The Letter to the Hebrews reminds us that we do not approach in fear a “blazing fire and gloomy darkness” (Hebrews 12:18). Rather we draw near to “the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem” (Hebrews 12:22). Above our heads “countless angels in festal gathering” spread their wings and fly about (Hebrews 12:22), much as they do on the ceiling of this Cathedral apse. Here, in this house of God, “the judge of all” presides, “the spirits of the just made perfect” find a home, and “Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant” abides (Hebrews 12:23-24). What was established in the earthly Jerusalem we see here and now in this artistic creation of the new Holy City.
While removing the acoustical tiles, which had covered the walls of this church for longer than anyone could remember, the workers discovered a treasure. There, under crumbling residue and stubborn adhesives, lay an inscription. Unlike the writing on the wall of Belshazzar’s palace, words appeared that needed no Daniel to identify (cf. Daniel 5). Nor did these words constitute a warning. Rather, they revealed a Catholic prayer, dating perhaps to the Fourth Century, proclaiming Mary’s sinless purity. Inspired by verses from the Book of Judith (15:10) and the Song of Songs (4:7), Tota pulchra es, “You are all beautiful,” had been on the lips of Catholics for centuries and lay hidden, awaiting discovery once again by worshippers at the church on the corner of Kirby and Bilbo.
“You are all beautiful, Mary.” You bore the Son of God. As we anoint the altar and walls, the antiphon will proclaim, “Behold God’s dwelling with the human race. He will live with them and they will be his people, and God himself with them will be their God” (Antiphon for the anointing of altar and walls from the ritual for the Dedication of a Church). God dwells with us through Jesus Christ. How is this possible? We look to Mary. “And the Word became flesh” (John 1:14), Mary’s flesh. “You are the glory of Jerusalem, you are the joy of Israel, you are the honor of our people, you are the advocate of sinners.”
This church is a living expression, in art and symbol, of a sacramental reality. When the crowds challenged Jesus about raising up the temple in three days (John 2:19), St. John tells us, “he was speaking about the temple of his body” (John 2:21). Everything in the Church is about the Body. Everything in this Catholic Church has Mary pointing to the Body of her Son. The nave thrusts us forward. We pass windows depicting God’s preparation for the Incarnation from the creation of Adam and Eve to Mary’s own life. Everything is a preface, including Mary’s Immaculate Conception. And finally we reach the historic sanctuary—the tabernacle, the Holy of Holies, standing sentinel over the altar of Sacrifice. Here God dwells with His People. Here the Eucharist is present. Here the Eucharist is celebrated. “My house shall be called a house of prayer,” says the Lord (Communion Antiphon for the Mass of Dedication). All that we do here is about prayer. When all is said and done, the planning and toil, the work and completion, are about our communion with God.
So, the Tota pulchra es concludes: “O Mary, virgin most wise, Mother most clement, pray for us, intercede for us with our Lord Jesus Christ.” Temple, house, presence, prayer—these are the words that come to mind when we dedicate a church. Father Cramers and the people of Lake Charles were like Zacchaeus. They climbed a mighty sycamore to catch a glimpse of the Lord. Then, the unexpected happened. The Lord stopped. He called them down and invited Himself in. They welcomed Christ into their new home while admitting their unworthiness. They made their dwelling His own. They wanted Christ present in their midst. And thus it was that salvation came to their house (Luke 19:9).
We talk a great deal today about multiculturalism and congratulate ourselves for being so progressive. However, diversity is not an original thought. Look at this church. Make note of the names on the windows—Anglo, Irish, French, Italian and German names. They decorate a church designed by New Orleans architects of French extraction in an Italian style, decorated with marble from quarries known to Michelangelo, with Stations of the Cross from Czechoslovakia, illustrated with windows by German craftsmen, built by local workers, both white and African-American, repaired and restored mostly by Central Americans. That is multiculturalism. And what is the center that holds it all together? The Catholic faith, whether they realized it or not, whether lukewarm or zealous, whether enfolded or not by its embrace. All of this was made possible because a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph said “yes.” All the brick and mortar, wood and marble, stained glass, plaster and terra cotta, fell into its pre-destined place because someone believed. They had faith. All has devolved to its climax in the present restoration because God wanted to maintain His dwelling among us. There is nothing accidental here, nothing superficial. It is all quite intentional and essential.
Mary, take our offering. Accompany it to the Father. In glorifying you, we honor the Incarnate Word. Let this church be a fragrant gift, returning to God, from all that He has given us, a humble token of our praise and thanksgiving. May this House of God shelter the sinner, inspire the worshipper, encourage the weak, and point us to your Son. For “You are the glory of Jerusalem, you are the joy of Israel, you are the honor of our people, you are the advocate of sinners,” who intercedes for us as we ask all this through Jesus Christ, your Son and our Lord. Amen.