Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Cathedral

We attended mass at the Auditorium of the Holy Name today. As most know by now, Holy Name Cathedral, the mother church of the Archdiocese of Chicago, suffered a from a string of bad luck over the last two years. Last year, pieces of the ceiling came crashing down early one morning. Fortunately no one was under them. The incident forced the parish to close the 134 year old church for several months for the restoration of the magnificent ceiling, unquestionably the most important architectural feature of the building. Services were held in the auditorium next door.

After many delays the cathedral was re-opened for a limited mass schedule last fall. Then this past February, a fire in the loft area in the north transept again forced the closing of the cathedral. Amid the terrible news, a near miracle occurred. Had it not been for the heroic actions of the Chicago Fire Department, the entire church may have been destroyed as this was a tremendously stubborn fire.

Pastor Dan Mayall assured parishioners and visitors alike today that the cathedral will open, "more magnificent than ever" in three weeks. Much yet needs to be done as the Pastor pointed out. As construction cleanup continues, the pews need to be put back into place as does the west rose window. From our own impromptu inspection, so do some of the massive doors. But I've been involved in a few construction projects over the years and have been amazed at how much can be accomplished as a deadline approaches.

After mass they were selling copies of commemorative books cerebrating the 100 and 150 year anniversaries of the parish, published in 1949 and 1999 respectively. I picked up a copy of the older book as it had a detailed history of the parish and archdiocese as well as several photographs of the church before its massive renovation in 1969. The photographs are a revealing document of the thoughtless desecration of Roman Catholic churches during the period following the Second Vatican Council in the early 1960s. In the name of liturgical reform, Holy Name was gutted, and the high altar was removed and replaced by a simple granite slab. As for the sacred artwork, all of the statuary, the paintings and stained glass were replaced with contemporary work which reflected the period. Only the ceiling and a few architectural details were spared. Today while the exterior is firmly set in the 19th Century, the interior screams 1960s and seems much more dated than the original which from the photographs anyway, seemed to have a timeless quality.

Yet I've grown quite fond of the interior as I have attended mass at Holy Name many times in the last 35 years, never having known the original. There is a simple elegance which I have come to appreciate. The light transmitted through the geometric stained glass windows is especially graceful and compelling. My feelings for the architecture are no doubt influenced by many fond memories such as the exceptional music programming, and by some truly great priests, especially Joseph Cardinal Bernadin and Father Bob McLaughlin, both unfortunately no longer with us. Probably most significant is the fact that this was the place where I rediscovered my faith, so many years ago.

Personally I look forward to the reopening of the cathedral, to the sounds of the massive Flentrop organ in the choir loft and the smaller Casavant antiphonal organ in the sanctuary. I look forward to the sights and smells of the incense wafting heavenward and hearing the magnificent choir singing the kind of music that evokes the sacred and eternal. And I look forward to that magnificent light.

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