Thomas O'Neill gives an amazing bequest
The location of the new Cathedral
Ground is broken for the cathedral
Pope Pius XII issues a decree that affects the naming of the Cathedral
The cornerstone is laid on the first Feast of Mary Our Queen
The new Cathedral is consecrated
Pope John Paul II visits cathedral
Consecration of the Cathedral
On the morning of October 13, 1959, a few days past the fifth anniversary of the groundbreaking ceremony, the Cathedral was solemnly consecrated. In an elaborate ritual that dates back, in part, to primitive Christianity and was flavored richly by the Old Testament, Baltimore's Auxiliary Bishop, Jerome D. Sebastian, dedicated the regal building to divine worship.
||After a day of strict fasting, the bishop began the lengthy service using rites that, to some extent, parallel the ceremony of Baptism. The exterior of the empty building was purified with holy water, prayers were spoken against evil influences, and the bishop took possession of the place for God's kingdom, by knocking on the doors and calling for the King of Glory to be admitted.
||Then, to the accompanying chant of a choir of priests, the prelate traced the Greek and Latin alphabet in ashes, which had been strewn across the nave floor in the form of a cross. This represents the union of all nations in the reconciling cross of Christ, as well as the basic elements of our faith imparted to adults awaiting Baptism. The interior of the church was then purified with a mixture of water, salt, ashes and wine. This rite of purification was specifically centered on the altar, walls, and floor of the building.
||Since the church exists for the altar, at least one altar -- preferably the main one -- must be consecrated along with the church. Hence, at this point, a triumphal procession transported relics to the main altar, which would be sealed into the altar table. This use of saints' relics recalls the words of St. John's Apocalypse: "I saw under the altar [of God] the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God" (Rev. 6:9).
In a more literal sense, these relics summon up remembrance of the ancient catacombs, where Masses were celebrated by the persecuted Christians. Since the altar is a symbol of Christ the Rock, the insertion of relics into it symbolizes that all saints are "members of Christ."
The five crosses cut into the altar table stand for the five wounds of the Savior. These crosses were anointed by the bishop with several sacred oils that had been consecrated at the Basilica by the archbishop on the previous Holy Thursday. Holy Chrism, the most sacred of these oils, and the one whose name is related to the very name of Christ, was then used to anoint the twelve carved crosses that encircle the interior walls, representing the Apostles. Ever after, these crosses have a candle burning before them on each anniversary of their consecration.
Returning to the altar, Bishop Sebastian burned incense at each of its five crosses. The altar was then wiped clean and vested so that the bishop could conclude the ceremony by offering the Mass for the Dedication of a Church.
The other twelve altars were consecrated two days later, on October 15th.
In the words of the dedication Mass, this awesome place had indeed become, until it crumbles into the dust, the gate of heaven and the dwelling place of God with us!
Years later, Pope John Paul II would visit the Cathedral and remind us that this gate is for all. He said: "Maryland holds a special place in the history of American Catholicism, indeed in the religious history of the nation. It was here that religious freedom and civic tolerance were enshrined in the American experience, just as in recent times Maryland has been a pioneering area in ecumenical and inter-religious dialogue."