At One Altar
“Therefore all should hold in great esteem the liturgical life of the Diocese…They must be convinced that the pre-eminent manifestation of the Church consists in the full, active participation of all God’s holy people in these liturgical celebrations, especially in the same Eucharist, in a single prayer, at one altar, at which there presides the Bishop surrounded by his college of priests and by his ministers.” Sacrosanctum Concilium
For centuries, cathedrals have been the scenes of some of the most solemn and joyful events in Catholic history. Saints in their lifetimes have worshiped and celebrated Mass and the sacraments in these churches, hallowing the stones on which they have knelt.
Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral will be the first Cathedral in the Diocese of Raleigh built intentionally as the seat of our Bishop. Once built, it will join the procession of Cathedrals throughout history which have manifested the growth and permanence of our one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.
The first Cathedral
The first Cathedral in Church history was on the site of what is known today as the Archbasilica of Saint John Lateran in Rome. It was originally a palace and chapel and was given to the Bishop of Rome by Constantine, the first Christian Roman Emperor. The official dedication of the church/palace was presided over by Pope Sylvester I in 324. It was declared to be Domus Dei or “House of God.” The papal throne, or cathedra, was placed in its interior, making it, as the Archbasilica is today, the Cathedral of the Bishop of Rome.
The first Cathedral in the U.S.
When a Diocese is created, a Bishop is appointed and the church where his chair (cathedra) resides becomes the Cathedral. The first Diocese in the U.S. was Baltimore, created in 1789. Its Bishop was John Carroll, S.J. From Bishop Carroll’s installation in 1790 to the dedication of the Baltimore Basilica in 1821, the Bishop’s “cathedra” was at Saint Peter’s Church, on the northwestern corner of North Charles Street and West Saratoga Streets. Saint Peter’s, then, was actually the first Cathedral in the U.S. It was torn down in 1841.
The Diocese of Louisiana and the Floridas was created in 1793, and Luis Pefialver y Cardenas of Havana was appointed its first Bishop with New Orleans as his See city. The new church, built on the site where a parish church stood as early as 1726, was dedicated as a Cathedral and put into service on Christmas Eve, 1794.
Today the Cathedral-Basilica of Saint Louis, King of France rightfully claims to be the oldest Cathedral in continuous use in the U.S. But it wasn’t the first Cathedral built in the U.S., since New Orleans didn’t become U.S. territory until the Louisiana Purchase in 1803.
Four more U.S. churches became “cathedrals” in 1808, when the Dioceses of New York, Boston, Philadelphia and Bardstown (KY) were created, and Baltimore was raised to an Archdiocese.
By this time construction had begun on the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, also called the Baltimore Basilica. The Basilica was the first Catholic cathedral built in the U.S., and was among the first major religious buildings constructed in the nation after the adoption of the U.S. Constitution. Construction of the Basilica began in 1806. It was consecrated on May 31, 1821.
This Cathedral hosted many of the 19th century meetings that shaped the Catholic Church in America, including seven Provincial Councils and three Plenary Councils. These led to the founding of The Catholic University of America and efforts to convert African and Native Americans to Catholicism. The Third Plenary Council, which was the largest meeting of Catholic Bishops held outside Rome since the Council of Trent, commissioned the famous Baltimore Catechism.
The functions of a Cathedral
A Cathedral is more than the seat of a Bishop. It is a home, the mother church and a gathering place for all the faithful of the Diocese.
In our Diocese, Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral will be large enough to fulfill the purpose described by the Vatican Council, participation by all the faithful “in the same Eucharist, in a single prayer, at one altar.” The great feasts of the Church year, the Chrism Mass and the Easter Vigil, Christmas Midnight Mass, ordinations of new priests celebrated by the entire Diocese, even the Installations and funerals of future Bishops will take place, as is proper, in our Diocesan home.
Cathedrals have also served, historically, as centers of the spiritual and cultural life of their Catholic communities. Concerts of sacred music, uplifting presentations by noted speakers and ecclesial conferences will also bring together faithful from throughout the Diocese.
Msgr. Gerald L. Lewis, Diocesan Archivist, noted the potential of the new Cathedral to unify the faithful. “Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral will change the way the people of our Diocese worship and celebrate together,” he said. “Having a single location to gather and pray as a people dedicated to Our Lord should be a reminder that we are building more than a new Cathedral: we are building a community.”