By Ann Carey
NOTRE DAME — On Aug. 15, 1888, dignitaries from all over the country gathered at the University of Notre Dame to celebrate the dedication of the new Sacred Heart Church. On Aug. 16 of this year, a special Mass was celebrated at 4 p.m. in the church, now known as Sacred Heart Basilica, to observe the 125th anniversary of that dedication.
Again, dignitaries, along with Notre Dame’s friends, staff, faculty, alumni and students filled the basilica to help the priests and brothers of the Congregation of the Holy Cross celebrate the rich liturgical history of the building, which is the congregation’s oldest and principal church in the United States.
The main celebrant of the Mass was Bishop Daniel R. Jenky of Peoria, a Holy Cross priest and formerly rector of the basilica. Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades was on hand to concelebrate the Mass with him and dozens of Holy Cross priests, all wearing matching white vestments.
In his homily, Bishop Jenky traced the history of the building, pointing out that the school outgrew its first church building, so Notre Dame founder, Holy Cross Father Edward Sorin, started the current building in 1868. It took 20 years to finish the church, which was constructed from local materials that included bricks made from the clay at the bottom of Saint Mary’s Lake on the campus. The dedication of the church Aug. 15, 1888, occurred on the 50th anniversary of Father Sorin’s ordination to the priesthood.
Bishop Jenky explained that Father Sorin shared the vision that “Nothing is too good for the glory of God,” so he chose beautiful furnishings and art as intentional and instructional, to make the church a “vivid depiction of God’s house in heaven,” he said.
“Catholics — in spite of some temporary bouts of iconoclasm or passing moments of spiritual amnesia — intentionally build glorious churches like this one,” Bishop Jenky said. “Catholic Christianity is sacramental and Incarnational. That’s the reason for this place.”
He explained that down through the centuries and with all the various changing art and architectural styles, “Our churches are outward signs, material icons of inward, spiritual realities where the physical signifies the metaphysical. Glory and beauty are divine attributes, so believers in both the Eastern and Western traditions of Catholic Christianity have always tried to build churches as glorious and as beautiful as possible.”
Bishop Jenky noted the uncountable number of sacraments that have been celebrated in the church over the past 125 years, as well as funerals, jubilees, Adorations, special events, and prayers and conversions “that this holy place invites.”
He continued: “What goes on inside these walls — and inside the other more than 63 chapels of Our Lady’s school — is all for the sake of what should always be witnessed outside these walls: That is, living the Christian life of love, prayer and service.”
In ending his homily, Bishop Jenky emphasized that the basilica images the Communion of Saints; images God Himself and His holy Church; and images heaven, for “Our destiny is to see God face to face in the eternal splendor of heaven. …”
“How awesome and terrible is this place,” Bishop Jenky concluded. “Truly this is the house of God and the gate of heaven.”
A celebratory banquet took place after the Mass. In remarks at the dinner, Bishop Rhoades called the basilica a “monument in stone, glass and painting of the Catholic faith,” attributes that make it a “landmark” not only for Notre Dame, but for the diocese as well.
“The Basilica of the Sacred Heart is at the center of the Notre Dame community because the Heart of Jesus and the Heart of Mary are at the heart of this university. And also because the Holy Eucharist, celebrated in the basilica now for over 125 years, is the heart of our Christian life and faith,” Bishop Rhoades said.
“We thank God for the countless graces bestowed in the sacraments celebrated in the basilica these past 125 years, as well as the many blessings bestowed on those who have visited and prayed there,” he said.
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