Cathedral architecture 'a statement of Christian identity,' keynote speaker says at Bishop's Dinner

Friday, Sep. 16, 2022
Cathedral architecture 'a statement of Christian identity,' keynote speaker says at Bishop's Dinner Photo 1 of 2
By Marie Mischel
Intermountain Catholic

SALT LAKE CITY — The 2022 Bishop’s Dinner drew hundreds of people from through the Diocese of Salt Lake City to the Grand America Hotel on Sept. 8 in support of the Cathedral of the Madeleine.

Among the guests were the Very Rev. Rick Lawson, dean emeritus of St. Mark’s Cathedral; Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and his wife, Katherine; Khosrow Semnani, his wife, Ghazaleh and their son Taymour of the Semnani Family Foundation; Señor Jose Borjon, Consul of Mexico and his wife, Blanca; Laurel Dokos with the David Kelby Johnson Memorial Foundation; Tom and Mary McCarthey, representing the McCarthey Family Foundation; Msgr. Colin F. Bircumshaw, vicar general of the Diocese of Salt Lake City; Msgr. J. Terrence Fitzgerald, vicar general emeritus; and many clergy and religious of the diocese.

Msgr. Joseph M. Mayo, a former rector of the Cathedral, was the master of ceremonies. The Very Rev. Martin Diaz, the current rector, gave the opening prayer.

The gathering was “truly a blessing from God, to see church leaders and members from various faith denominations gathered together in a spirit of charity, friendship and fellowship for a common and noble cause,” said Bishop Oscar A. Solis, who gave the closing remarks. “Your support of the Cathedral of the Madeleine sends a very powerful message not only to this community but to our society and to the world, that of a partnership in our common mission to bring the love of God to everyone, and to help build together a better society and humanity.”  

In his comments, Fr. Martin Diaz said that the support of those at the dinner helps preserve the cathedral.

“As I like to tell Msgr. Mayo, we’re only in the second hundred years,” Fr. Diaz said, evoking laughter from his audience.  “The cathedral will be here a hundred years from now. It will be here because of your support. It will be here because you have come forward, as the people a hundred years ago came forward and built what we have, so one generation … to the next generation, building and building and building, preserving what we have and taking it into the future.”

The guest speaker for the evening was the Most Rev. Daniel H. Mueggenborg, Bishop of Reno, who spoke about the statements made by cathedral architecture.

The heritage of the Cathedral of the Madeleine goes back more than 1,700 years, to the first cathedral, the Basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome, Bishop Mueggenborg said.

A Latin inscription on the basilica “makes a very bold claim,” he said. “It is this: ‘The mother and head of all the churches in the city and the world.’ If this claim is true – and I believe it is – then every cathedral in the world inherits its identity from that ancient spiritual edifice ….”

 For the first 300 years of Christianity, members of the faith couldn’t own or develop property, so when they finally were able to build a cathedral, “they wanted their first place of public worship to be a statement of Christian identity in art and architecture, which distinguished them from pagan cults and help form them in mission,” the bishop said.

One of the ways they did this was by the basilica’s sheer size; in ancient Rome, temples were small because only the priest entered while the people remained outside. However, Pope Sylvester I wanted the basilica to be large enough to hold the community, he said.

Cathedrals are large today “because they must provide a space for everyone,” he added. “It’s part of their mission to be inclusive of both saint and sinner, to welcome and accommodate everyone being called by God and who is responding to that call. … When we exclude others, we are always less and never more.”

The early Christians also made a central entrance to the basilica, unlike Roman imperial temples, which had side entrances. A central entrance sends the message that “we are people on a journey, who look forward with hopeful expectation to a future reality we may never fully experience in this life,” Bishop Mueggenborg said.

That message is important in today’s culture, which emphasizes instant gratification, yet “we are here today, every one of us, because of generations who came before us and spent their lives working in hopeful expectation. … Just as we now enjoy the fruits for which our forefathers labored and sacrificed, so we are called to do the same for future generations,” he said.

Another difference between Catholic cathedrals and pagan temples was that pagan temples were heavily adorned on the outside, “but they were empty on the inside; dark, rank, hollow, corrupt rooms filled with little more than a lifeless statue of a deity,” he said.

By contrast, the original façade of St. John the Lateran was relatively simple, “but the interior was radiant, beautiful and glorious. … When flooded with light from the 20 windows on each side, the Lateran basilica was nothing less than a glimpse into the radiance of heaven itself,” the bishop said, and this came to be a symbol of the person of Jesus himself, “who appears to be humble and unassuming to those who pass by, but glorious to those who recognize in him the very presence of God.”

In closing, the bishop asked those present to recall these lessons when they see the Cathedral of the Madeleine: that its size is intended to offer a place for all people, that its long central aisle is a reminder of the journey of life, “and remember, it’s not what’s on the outside that’s most important, but what’s on the inside. That message should inspire us to put our intention and our efforts into becoming beautiful people, people of virtuous character, unwavering conviction and heroic integrity.”

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