|America’s First Cathedral commemorated its bicentennial anniversary and the completion of the restoration with a Grand Reopening celebration on Saturday, November 4, 2006. A week of tours, open houses, special events, and other festivities followed the reopening, culminating with a procession of America’s Catholic Bishops into the Basilica for a special celebratory Mass of Thanksgiving on Sunday, November 12, 2006. Below is a brief recap of each of the events:
Grand Reopening Celebration
The Basilica Choir was joined by soprano Beverly Williams, in singing the National Anthem and other patriotic standards. Mrs. Williams also performed a truly moving rendition of the Ave Maria.
During the program, speakers included: Michael J. Ruck, Sr., Chair of the Basilica of the Assumption Historic Trust, Inc.; Dr. Marie-Alberte Boursiquot, Chair of the Bicentennial Committee; Professor Allan Weinstein, Archivist of the United States; Reverend George William Rutler, Pastor of the Church of Our Saviour in New York City; Alan M. Hantmann, Architect of the United States Capitol Building; Farar Page Elliott, Curator and Chief of History and Preservation for the United States Congress; and George Weigel, Senior Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, and NBC Vatican Analyst. Cardinal William H. Keeler, Archbishop of Baltimore, concluded the speaking portion of the program with his own remarks.
Mark J. Potter, Executive Director of the Basilica of the Assumption Historic Trust, introduced “The Procession of the Ages.” From afar, music could be heard, as the U.S. Army Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps and the Fort McHenry Regimental Guard rounded the corner onto Cathedral Street from Mulberry Street. They processed onto the portico steps and stood at attention as three 19th Century horse-drawn carriages rounded the corner. Each carriage stopped in the front of the Basilica. Actors portraying various important people in the life of the Basilica emerged: Archbishop John Carroll, Benjamin Henry Latrobe, Thomas Jefferson, Mother Elizabeth Ann Seton, Father Michael J. McGivney, Mother Mary Elizabeth Lange, James Cardinal Gibbons, and Theodore Roosevelt.
With great fanfare, Cardinal William H. Keeler announced that the Basilica was official reopened. The Basilica’s Bells tolled for the first time, and a cannonade salute from Fort McHenry could be heard by all. His Eminence and local children opened the great doors of the Basilica, and welcomed visitors for the first time in over two years.
Altar Dedication Mass
The Basilica was honored to welcome Cardinal J. Francis Stafford, Major Penitentiary and Special Envoy of His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI, as the main Celebrant of this special Mass. Cardinal William H. Keeler served as homilist.
The Dedication of the Altar, a solemn ritual, began with the Deposition of the Relics. Cardinal Stafford placed the relics of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, Saint John Neumann, and Blessed Luigi Guanella into a specially prepared aperture in the back of the altar. George Wilk and Vincent Rubera, craftsmen who worked on the Basilica’s restoration, then sealed the aperture. Following the Prayer of Dedication, Cardinal Stafford anointed the altar with the sacred Chrism. Chrism is the scented oil, blessed at the Chrism Mass and used for anointing in Baptism, Confirmation, and the conferral of Holy Orders. Incensation of the altar and the people followed, then representatives of various communities within the Archdiocese came forward to wipe the altar clean of the Chrism and cover the altar with linens. Lastly, Cardinal Stafford handed a lit candle, symbolizing Christ’s light, to the Deacon. The candles at the altar and around the church were then lit, including the candles at the consecration crosses on the walls, which indicate where walls were anointed when the Basilica was consecrated. The altar dedication was now completed, and Mass continued with Communion, prayer, and song.
Organized by Mrs. Teresa Ayd Knott, and her Concert Committee, a Bicentennial Concert was offered featuring the Morgan State University Choir under the direction of Dr. Eric Conway. Other performers included the Peabody Children’s Chorus, Irish Tenor Mark Forrest, vocal soloist Sherry Hunt, and members of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. Narrated by renowned actor and Fulbright Scholar, Edward Herrmann, the musical selections ranged from traditional hymns and gospel, to patriotic standards.
The concert’s finale, The Battle Hymn of the Republic and Amazing Grace, was performed by both Choirs, Mr. Forrest, and Ms. Hunt. The Basilica resonated with beautiful music, providing a truly special evening.
A CD of the Bicentennial Concert is available in the Basilica’s Gift Shop.
Cardinal William H. Keeler opened the service with a welcoming introduction and closed with remarks and a prayer. Music was provided by the St. Bernardine Church Choir of Baltimore, under the direction of Mrs. Sandra Brown. Worshippers of all faiths from all over the Baltimore metropolitan area attended the service.
Four other religious leaders participated in the service with readings and reflections: Rabbi Elan Adler, Rabbi, Moses Montefiore Anshe Emunah in Baltimore, and Immediate Past President of the Baltimore Board of Rabbis; Imam Earl El-Amin, Resident Imam, Muslim Community Cultural Center of Baltimore; Very Reverend Archimandrite Constantine Moralis, Dean, Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Annunciation in Baltimore; and Rev. Dr. Frank Reid, III, Senior Pastor, Bethel AME Church in Baltimore.
Worshippers from all four places of worship, as well as the Basilica, attended the service.
Votive Mass of the Virgin Mary, Seat of Wisdom and a Tribute to France
One goal of the restoration was to complete the original plans of Archbishop Carroll and Benjamin Latrobe, which called for a devotional chapel in the undercroft of the church. The Society of St. Sulpice, a French order of priests to which both Archbishop Ambrose Maréchal and Archbishop Samuel Eccleston (third and fifth Archbishops of Baltimore, respectively) belonged, brought Carroll and Latrobe’s dream to a reality through their funding of the new Our Lady Seat of Wisdom Chapel. The Chapel is dedicated to the patroness of the Sulpicians, Our Lady Seat of Wisdom.
To thank the contributions of the French to the building and heritage of the Basilica, Cardinal William H. Keeler welcomed Consul General Jean-Pierre Allex of France.
Following a tour led by Cardinal Keeler, the dedication of the chapel, was celebrated by Very Reverend Lawrence B. Terrien, S.S., Superior General of the Society of St. Sulpice. Cardinal Keeler served as Presider.
Upon completion of the Mass , the guests proceeded to the portico, where a special Tribute to France was held. The Archbishop Curley High School Concert Band, and the Men’s Ensemble, performed the French and American National Anthems. Remarks were offered by Cardinal Keeler and Consul General Allex. At Noon, Eastern Standard Time (6:00pm French Local Time), the Basilica’s bells tolled simultaneously with the bells of Cathédrale Saint Jean Baptiste and the Basilique Notre Dame de Fouviére in Lyon, France.
Youth Mass and a Tribute in Light
Over 1,000 young people from across the Archdiocese gathered at the Basilica for a special Mass in their honor. The Mass was celebrated by Bishop W. Francis Malooly, Bishop of the Western Vicariate, with Cardinal Keeler presiding. Representing the youth of the Archdiocese was World Figure Skating Champion Kimmie Meissner, from Bel Air, Maryland; and as it was also Veterans’ Day, Iraq War Veteran Marine Sgt. Christopher P. Funk was invited to represent veterans. The Mass served as a spiritual and moving opening to what turned out to be a spectacular evening. At the conclusion of Mass, the young people filed out out of the church, and joined with hundreds of others awaiting the illumination of the Basilica.
>More than 130 years ago, as part of the Silver Jubilee for Pope Pius IX in June 1871, the Baltimore Cathedral was temporarily lit by gas jets attached to the portico columns and pediment and to the entrance and windows on the southern (Mulberry Street) façade. In celebration of the Basilica’s Bicentennial, the Basilica would once again be illuminated, this time, permanently.
A tribute in light to freedom of religion preceded the illumination of America’s First Cathedral, which was dramatically set to music.
Before the outdoors ceremony, a Youth Mass with Cardinal William H. Keeler was held in the Basilica. The Mass was followed by remarks from Cardinal Keeler and a countdown to the illumination by Miss Meissner, an Olympic skater from Bel Air, MD, and Sgt. Funk, an Iraq War veteran from Reisterstown, MD, who will be representing all veterans on this Veteran’s Day.
“Just as the Basilica was a symbol of our country’s newly proclaimed freedom of religion 200 years ago, the November 11 illumination will symbolize the light of freedom and faith,” said Mark Potter, Executive Director of the Basilica Historic Trust. “With young people filling the streets to celebrate this historic event, America’s First Cathedral will be illuminated and open to all as it begins its next century.”
At 4:40pm, the Bishops began their procession from the Enoch Pratt Free Library, across Cathedral Street, into the Basilica for the Mass. It was an extraordinary sight, as the Knights of Columbus Color Guard lined the pathway of the procession.
This Mass was the largest gathering of Bishops in the Basilica, since the Third Plenary Council, held in 1884.