OLYMPIA – A little child said it all: “Oh, wow!”
That reaction drew laughter from the nearly 1,100 parishioners who gathered at St. Michael Church November 5 for “the big reveal” — their first look at their remodeled worship space, followed by a solemn but joyful dedication Mass celebrated by Archbishop J. Peter Sartain.
“Sacred architecture truly is meant to invoke that [reaction] in us every time we enter into a church such as this, to say, ‘Oh, wow,’ because this is what we offer to God: the fruit of our labors, the best of our handiwork, the voices sung to him in prayers,” Archbishop Sartain said in his homily. “And what does he give us? Everything.”
For most of those attending, it might be the only time in their lives they witness an altar being dedicated, the archbishop said.
“I have the privilege of doing one of the most beautiful sacred actions that the church offers us in our liturgy, when I will anoint this altar with holy chrism,” he added.
The anointing turns the altar from a beautiful piece of stone into something new — the symbol of Christ in the church, the archbishop said.
“Because this altar will be the place where the sacred sacrifice of Jesus on Calvary will be celebrated, because this altar will be the place from which you will be fed with what you need, we give it the greatest of care.”
Father Jim Lee, pastor of St. Michael Parish, extends thanks to all those who made the renovation of the parish church possible. Photo: Horizon Photo
Transforming more than a building
The dedication Mass was the first opportunity for St. Michael parishioners to see the completed $4.25 million renovation of the church building.
Besides transforming the sanctuary, the project created an ADA-accessible entry with a covered waiting area, a new kitchen next to the gathering space, expanded and updated bathrooms, more storage spaces, and the Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati room for welcoming new parishioners and faith sharing. It added a new audio/visual system (with a hearing loop system) in the church.
During the months of construction, parishioners received progress reports through a series of videos on the parish website by Father Jim Lee, St. Michael’s pastor. The project was about more than transforming the worship space, he said in one of the videos.
“It’s mostly about the transformation of … we the people of St. Michael Parish, who are called to be the living stones, this church of God that goes forth into our community, that welcomes others in, to bring them to salvation, to bring them to a relationship with Jesus Christ,” he said.
Archbishop J. Peter Sartain spreads chrism oil over the top of the new November 5 marble altar during the dedication rites at St. Michael Church in Olympia. Photo: Horizon Photo
Blessing with chrism
Parishioners began arriving more than an hour early for the dedication Mass, waiting with anticipation in the large gathering space outside the sanctuary. Curtains had been hung in front of the windowed entry doors to conceal the view until the appointed time.
Then a procession of the archbishop, priests, deacons and ministers moved through the center of the crowd, with the parish’s relics of Sts. Lucy and Felicity (from its previous altar) carried on a bier, inside a box called a feretory.
After the curtains were lowered and the sanctuary doors were opened, parishioners slowly streamed in, some seemingly awe-struck by the soaring, golden-hued Italian tile mosaic on the wall behind the new marble altar, a new backdrop for the crucifix.
Parishioners packed the pews, while the rest of the overflow crowd sat in the gathering space, where they got close-up views of the Mass via the church’s new audio/visual systems.
The dedication rites followed the profession of faith. They included Archbishop Sartain placing the saints’ relics in a small opening in the back of the altar, and a stone mason sealing the opening with a piece of marble.
After the prayer of dedication, the archbishop poured chrism oil in a cross in the center of the altar top and at each of its corners. As adults and children raised smartphones to capture video of rite, the archbishop rolled up his sleeve, using his open palm to spread the chrism, covering every inch of the altar’s surface. Afterward, he blessed the four corners of the church with chrism.
‘A corner of heaven’
For parishioner Mary Frances Brennan, deciding to attend the dedication Mass was easy.
“I mean, anointing the walls — how glorious is that? We’re making this into a corner of heaven,” she said. “We love Father Jim. He’s a spiritual father to so many of us,” Brennan added. “I wanted to come and honor his love for our parish.”
Shelley and Dominic Moritz brought their 20-month-old daughter, Brynn, to the dedication. Shelley, who was baptized at St. Michael Church and married to Dominic at the parish’s Westside Chapel, said she wanted to share in the excitement of the dedication service and hear her niece and nephews sing in the children’s choir.
Priests with long connections to the parish were also present for the Mass. Father Lee gave special acknowledgment to Father William Treacy, who was pastor at St. Michael’s in the 1970s and will be celebrating his 75th anniversary of priesthood this year.
Father Matthew Oakland, who grew up at St. Michael’s and is pastor at Holy Rosary Parish in West Seattle, said he was happy he could attend the dedication — his first one, since they are usually held on Sundays when a priest has obligations to his own parish.
At the end of Mass, Father Lee thanked all those at St. Michael’s who helped in large and small ways to bring the project to fruition.
“Your presence here tonight and each and every time we gather is what truly transforms a mere building into the Domus Dei et Porta Coeli, the House of God and the Gate of Heaven,” he said.
St. Michael's hosting multi-choir concert
To celebrate the reopening of its renovated main church, St. Michael Parish is hosting a dozen South Sound interfaith choirs for an evening of song at 7 p.m. November 14.
Tickets are free, but RSVP online.
St. Michael Church is located at 1208 11th Ave. S.E., Olympia.