This is the house of the Lord, firmly established

A group photo of all the sisters and attending priests and deacons after the consecration of Abbess Cecelia Snell on September 10. In the center from left to right are Abbess Cecelia Snell of the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles, Abbot Phillip Anderson of the Benedictine Monastery at Clear Creek, Hulbert, OK, Bishop James V. Johnston, Jr. of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, and Bishop Robert G. Morlino of the Diocese of Madison, Wis. (Megan Marley /Key photo)

By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Associate Editor

GOWER — An announcement earlier this summer from the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei brought great joy to the Benedictine Sisters of the Priory of Our Lady of Ephesus: The priory was to become Our Lady of Ephesus Abbey and the prioress, Mother Cecilia Snell, was to be consecrated as its first abbess. And, the priory church nearing completion would be dedicated as the Abbatial Church of Our Lady, Queen of Apostles.

The new Abbatial Church stands on a rise at the abbey, snugged next to it yet commanding attention. Designed by William Heyer, the Columbus, Ohio architect who designed all the Abbey buildings, the church built of Kansas limestone by Straub Construction is reminiscent of Our Lady’s house in Ephesus, Turkey. On a sunny Sunday morning, Sept. 9, the sisters were joined by Bishop James V. Johnston, Jr., Bishop Robert Finn, former ordinary of the Kansas City-St Joseph diocese, diocesan priests and deacons, Benedictine monks from Conception Abbey not far away, and clergy, religious sisters, friends and family from near and far as they gathered to dedicate and open Our Lady, Queen of Apostles Church. Bishop Finn served as principal celebrant and consecrator.

The Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles were established in 1995 in the Diocese of Scranton, Penn., as a small religious order of nuns. Originally called the Oblates of Mary, Queen of Apostles, the sisters began following a monastic hours schedule defined in the Rule of St. Benedict, and chanting the Divine Office in Latin, according to the 1962 Breviarium Monasticum.

In 2006, with the intent of increasing vocations to the priestly and religious life, Bishop Robert Finn, then of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, invited the Oblates of Mary to relocate to northwest Missouri. They accepted his invitation and moved to this diocese as a Public Association of the Faithful, now named the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles.

As part of their prayer life, the sisters sing together daily for about five hours. In 2012, the sisters released their first album of traditional Advent carols. It and the second CD made it to the top of the traditional music charts. Since then they have released 5 more CDs, the three most recent self-published, of music arranged by Mother Cecilia. The sisters eventually were able to acquire land near Gower and begin building their monastery. The funds raised from the sale of their CDs goes to improve the monastery and reduce the debt. The sisters also handcraft priestly vestments as part of their charism.

In November 2014, the order was raised to a Religious Institute of Diocesan Right.

And now, in a solemn, traditional Latin Rite ceremony full of symbolism, the completed church was dedicated. The program of the dedication explained the symbolism.

Beginning with the Eve of the Dedication, Bishop Finn and the sisters observed a day of fasting in preparation. Also on the eve of the dedication, the relics of the saints which were to be placed within the altar were placed under a tent near the church for two reasons: first for convenience to the church and because they could not be put inside the church until it had been consecrated and secondly, the altar symbolizes Jesus Christ, and the relics of the saints are placed within the altar to show their union and incorporation with Jesus in heaven.

The Twelve Crosses and Candles. Twelve crosses placed on the walls of the church and candles placed at the heads of the candles signified the 12 Apostles who carried the light of the Gospel and the doctrine of the cross throughout the earth. The candles were lit before the ceremony by order of the bishop to make it understood that the church would be consecrated and dedicated as a result of the mission of the apostles.

The Sprinkling of Holy Water. Three times the bishop sprinkled the exterior walls of the church with holy water to purify them and to prevent demons from approaching and harming the temple built for the glory of God ad for sacred use. The bishop knocked three times on the church door before entering and the guardian of the church opened it only after the third time. This was to make it understood that it was not without resistance that the demon was despoiled by Jesus and cast out from the empire where he had so long wielded over men.

The Entrance of the Bishop. This signified the entrance of Jesus into heaven after overcoming the powers of hell. The bishop entered the church accompanied only by his ministers in order to begin the dedication with more freedom of movement. But the ceremonies of dedication of the church and altar were not completed until the relics were carried in and the people had entered the church.

The Greek and Latin Alphabet. The bishop wrote with the end of his crozier in ashes spread upon the floor of the church in the form of a St. Andrew’s Cross signified that through the cross Jesus united all the peoples of the earth formerly separated by language, custom and religion. While he was writing on the floor, the Benedictus was sung in thanksgiving for the Incarnation of Jesus Christ.

Servers spread ashes in the form of a St. Andrew’s cross, in which the bishop wrote both the Latin and Greek alphabets as part of the dedication of the church on September 9. (Megan Marley/Key photo)

The Water, Wine, Salt and Ash. The bishop blessed and mixed water, wine, salt and ashes to sprinkle on the walls of the church and the altar, which symbolized Jesus Christ, dead and risen. The water is the figure of Jesus’ humanity, the wine his divinity, the ashes symbolize death and salt symbolizes incorruptibility.

The Five Crosses on the Stone of the Altar. Five crosses, one at each corner and on in the center of the altar over which the bishop made the sign of the cross with water, the Oil of Catechumens and with Holy Chrism, symbolize the five wounds of Jesus. The altar was anointed and entirely rubbed with the Oil of Catechumens and with Chrism, which symbolized the Holy Spirit.

The Diverse Chants. Kyrie Eleison (Lord Have Mercy) was chanted continually by the people as the bishop accompanied by the casket of holy relics, processed around the exterior of the church, symbolizing that we should follow the Saints in this life under the direction of Jesus, represented by the bishop, and that we can only enter heaven by an act of mercy of God, whom we should implore constantly. Canticles of joy were chanted when the relics entered the church symbolizing the joy of the church in heaven when the faithful enter.

The Relics of the Holy Martyrs. The usage of enclosing relics of holy martyrs dates back to the beginnings of Christianity. Before placing the relics in the altar’s sepulchre, Bishop Finn anointed it and the altar stone with Chrism. Relics of St. Maria Goretti, Pope St. Pius X and St. John Neumann were placed within the altar and the covering slab sealed with blessed cement.

The Incensation and the Candles. The altar was incensed continually by a priest circling around it until the dedication’s conclusion. On each of the five crosses inscribed in the altar, the bishop placed five grains of incense in the shape of a cross and on each cross he placed a wax cross with wicks at each end. These were lit and the crosses of incense burned, symbolizing the prayers of the faithful rising to heaven as a pleasing fragrance.

The entire crowd gathered for the dedication of the church on September 9 listens as the schola chants psalms. (Megan Marley/Key photo)

The Titulary of the Church and the Altar. The church and altar were consecrated in honor of God and also in honor of the Blessed Virgin and the saints to show their intimate union with Jesus Christ.

The dedication and consecration of the Abbatial Church was completed by the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

The church follows the floor plan of Mary’s house in Ephesus. The south Transept contains a loft for visiting priests, as Mary’s dormition and Assumption traditionally occurred on the south side of her house. The north Transept, for the laity, corresponds to the north wing of the house where her helper stayed. The choir for the sisters is in the center of the church just where Mary’s hearth and chapel were in her house. The choir stall was gifted by Mother Cecilia’s family. The oak pews throughout the church came from the Shrine of the Blessed Sacrament in Pennsylvania and were formerly used by St. Katherine Drexel’s Sisters.

The choir ceiling medallion designs are Turkish and the stenciling recurring throughout the church is based on a stone frieze from the ruins of Ephesus and were painted by the Sisters. Olive branches flank the stencil design, representing the olive trees along the path to Our Lady’s house in Ephesus and also a traditional Benedictine symbol. Corinthian columns were customarily used in churches dedicated to virgins and to the Blessed Virgin. Many other symbols are displayed in the church.

Abbess Cecilia was consecrated first abbess in what the sisters say is the very first consecration of a Benedictine Abbess in the old rite in American history. The traditional Latin ceremony was held Sept. 10, with Bishop Robert G. Morlino of the Diocese of Madison, Wis., celebrating Mass and officiating. The consecration ceremony began at the conclusion of the Gradual, when Mother Cecilia entered the sanctuary and knelt at Bishop Morlino’s feet on the top step of the altar. There she read her oath of fidelity to God, the Saints, her community, the Church of Kansas City-St. Joseph, and to Bishop Johnston and his successors. After kissing the Gospel text, she rose, genuflected and descended the steps to the Gospel side of the sanctuary where she lay prostrate during the Litany of the Saints followed by Bishop Morlino singing the Our Father and two more prayers in Latin. She rose and knelt at the foot of the altar steps. Bishop Morlino chanted the Preface, placing his joined hands on Mother Cecilia’s’ head partway through. A moment of singing then he removed his hands and finished singing the preface. Four more prayers asking God to grant Mother Cecilia dignity and to use it well, joy and the leadership of other women to her. He then handed her the Holy Rule and placed the abbatial ring on her finger. Abbess Cecilia rose and went to her place in the sanctuary. The Mass continued.

In his homily, Bishop Molino spoke of the community, and also announced during the homily that a daughter community of the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles will be forming in the Diocese of Madison.

Sister Anne Marie of Our Lady, Star of the Sea shows Bishop Robert Morlino her signed chart of profession, before showing it to Abbess Cecilia, as she made her First Profession Sept. 10. (Megan Marley/Key photo)

After the homily, Bishop Morlino sat in the faldstool in front of the altar and called forth the professurae. Carrying candles, Sisters Anne Marie of Our Lady, Star of the Sea and M. Agatha of the Sacred Heart entered the sanctuary and knelt. He asked them “You have left the world and turned to God. What then do you ask?” They answered him “the Mercy of God and the company of the Sisters serving in the monastery under the yoke of Christ.” Bishop Morlino replied, “May Almighty God grant you a share in the company of His elect.” All answered, “Amen. “Veni Creator” was sung, prayers said and then he admonished the sisters that they had learned and prepared as novices. Now they must decide did they want to pursue their vocation? Both answered I do. Each novice stood before the bishop and read her chart of profession, then signed and kissed the chart. Each kneeling showed the signed chart to Bishop Morlino then to Abbess Cecilia. The abbess took the novices hands into her hands as they knelt before her. The charts were slipped under the altar cloth where they would stay until Mass ended. The bishop blessed their black veils, sprinkled them with holy water and said to each novice, “Accept this holy veil…” Each novice kissed the veil as she received it and Abbess Cecilia placed the veils on the novices’ heads. The newly professed gave their candles to the bishop and returned to the choir of the nuns. The candles were placed on the altar where they would burn until after Communion.

The Mass continued.

After Communion, the four postulants, Sisters Anna Margaret, Julia, Catherine and Maria, dressed in wedding dresses, entered the Sanctuary with Abbess Cecilia and her assistant and knelt. After prayers for the postulants, each knelt before Abbot Phillip Anderson of the Benedictine Monastery at Clear Creek, Hulbert, OK. and he cut their hair. They then left the sanctuary to change into the tunic. Upon returning, the Abbot prayed and handed the postulants the cincture, the scapular, the wimple, the white veil and a candle as he prayed.

Abbot Anderson blessed the new novices with holy water and Mass continued. In the final rites, Bishop Morlino took the Abbess’ right hand and led her to the seat prepared for the enthronement. He made her sit and said clearly without chanting, “Receive the full and free power of ruling this monastery and its congregation…” He then intoned the Te Deum and Abbess Cecilia returned to the nun’s choir where the professed sisters renewed their obedience.

Abbess Cecilia Snell greets her sisters one by one after receiving her abbatial crozier. (Megan Marley/Key photo)

The abbess’ coat of arms was hand-carved and presented for the blessing by the Benedictine monks of Clear Creek Abbey. The abbess’ wooden crozier, carved by Paul Sirba of Minneapolis, centers around an Italian hand-carved Gothic image of Our Lady, a gift of sub-prioress Sister Emmanuel’s family. The gold cross made in Spain bears 12 amethysts and diamonds, representing Our Lady, Queen of Apostles, and contains relics of Sts. Cecilia and Ursula and scrolls of the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, imitating St. Cecilia who kept the gospels over her heart. The antique French silver cross, a gift of the Bovi family, contains the relics of St. Benedict, Pope St. Pius X, St. Francis of Assisi, St. John Vianney, St. Anne, St. Agnes, St. Teresa, St. Margaret Mary, the Abbess St. Ermengarde and a scroll with the Gospel of St. John cut from the margins of Abbess Cecilia’s chart of Marian Consecration. The Abbatial ring contains a blue topaz, for Our Lady and as Abbess Cecilia’s birthstone (her birth, investiture and monastic profession were all in November).

Receptions in the lower level of the church followed the dedication Sept. 9 and the Abbess’s Consecration, the First Professions and Investitures Sept. 10.

To learn more about the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles, visit www.benedictinesofmary.org

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Thursday
November 15, 2018
Newspaper of the Diocese of Kansas City ~ St. Joseph