The Anniversary of the Dedication of the Abbey Church

April 9, 2024

The Anniversary of the Dedication of the Abbey Church was celebrated on Tuesday, transferred from its ordinary date on March 28 due to Holy Week. According to the Abbey’s longstanding tradition, this liturgical celebration is the only time the candles around the Church marking the places the Basilica was anointed with oil in its consecration–known as “consecration candles”–are lit.

This year, as the Dedication’s commemoration fell after the Easter Octave and the Annunciation, it marked the last solemnity in the ten days of elevated liturgy at the Abbey that began with Easter.

At Vigil, the second reading was an address from Abbot Leo Haid given at the laying of the cornerstone of the Church. It follows:

We have all ardently longed for this day.  [When . . .] all was dark . . . and uncertain, we threw ourselves into the arms of God, and Providence was kind to us.  Year after year the community increased and other buildings were erected, and besides working for our own needs, we looked [to other mission fields] . . .  The Benedictine spirit is not selfish but generous and self-sacrificing and endeavors to multiply its efforts to do good to all. . .  All along we worked and prayed that a still holier desire of our hearts should be realized. When David had built himself a palace worthy of his royal greatness, he longed to raise a temple to great Jehovah, worthy as far as human hands could make it of God, the fountain of all being. True we had and have no palace — yet when we compared the buildings which sheltered us with the poor little dwelling-place of our good God, we were ashamed and prayed and worked that He might enable us to build Him a temple. Today we begin to realize the fulfillment of our prayers — today we lay the cornerstone of the abbey church . . . and hence we are filled with gladness and will watch every stone and brick until we meet under its lofty arches to welcome our Redeemer in His real presence in its sacred precincts . . .

Yet for other reasons, too, the abbey church is dear, not only to the Catholics and their friends in the immediate vicinity but to the whole state. The Providence of God has destined this abbey and college to be the center of Catholicity in North Carolina . . .  But to me — a monk before I was either priest or bishop — this church is doubly dear because it will resound with the prayers of men dedicated wholly to God in the monastic state. Day after day, ere the sun guilds our mountain tops, the voice of prayer will be raised to God in this church; day after day when darkness and silence cover the earth the same voice will praise our good God! Some people only love and value or tolerate monks for what they can do in active life — as tillers of the soil, learned men, artists, teachers and pastors of souls. I love them more for what they do immediately for God — for their quiet lives of prayer and meditation.

This is the first and greatest ideal striven after by those who founded them — by the church who has nourished and loved them as her special, most dutiful children. If then all have reason to rejoice today, surely our joy – children of Saint Benedict that we are — should be greatest, because we know that our labor and prayers in erecting this abbey church will build a house of prayer especially for those whose lives are altogether dedicated to God.

May Heaven bless our work! Ut in omnibus glorificetur Deus is our motto. The initials are on the cornerstone. May God be glorified in all our lives, and especially in the church we begin to erect to Him this day. May our Holy Father Saint Benedict, whose children built so many grand edifices in the fourteen hundred years of their existence, look down with favor on our humble efforts. May our dear Lady — to whom this abbey and college are dedicated — Our Lady, Help of Christians, be our help and stay in the work we have begun today.

Fr. David Brown presided over the Mass of the day, reminding the congregants in his homily that the basilica is the house of God, who dwells within its walls in the Sacrament of the Eucharist, in the Proclamation of the Word, and in the assembly of the Body of Christ gathered together.

Fittingly, the closing hymn (Go Forth and Tell) urged the gathered congregation to bring the Gospel to the world, serving as a closing exhortation–not only to the Mass of the Dedication, but to the whole liturgical saga beginning with Triduum–to bring others to the joy of the mysteries made present in the Abbey Basilica through the Universal Church established by Christ after his glorification in his death and resurrection.

Mass for the day can be found on YouTube.

Vespers rounded out the celebration of the Basilica’s dedication with a beautiful Magnificat Antiphon drawn from Genesis 28:16-17 and composed by Fr. David Brown:

O how awesome is this place! Truly this is none other than the house of God and the gate of Heaven.

The Church was dim; it was a rainy, cloudy day. The consecration candles warmly lit up the dark nave while incense, symbolizing the prayers of generations of monks, students, professors, and guests who have prayed at the Abbey, drifted upward towards Heaven.

And truly, our humble church, built by monks over a century ago, is the house of God.

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