Cathedral Liturgy in Savannah, Georgia

The Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Savannah, Georgia is the mother church of the Diocese of Savannah.  It is also an iconic symbol of the French Gothic in the American South.  Recently I was privileged to visit here for Sunday Mass.  The grandeur of the ornate interior is impressive, making the church one of the finest in the region.  The cathedral was recently named a basilica in 2020 by Pope Francis, a rare distinction, holding now the title of both cathedral and basilica.  Each year about 300,000 people visit to admire the architecture and participate in the liturgies, a definite foretaste of heaven.  

Sung Mass in the EF was offered here every Sunday until recently.  With a splendor worthy of a cathedral chapter in Europe, the rites were accompanied by an excellent choir and powerful organ; a Noack, Opus 108, dating from 1987, with 37 stops and 46 ranks.   The vaulted ceilings and detailed interior resonated with the music, creating an ambience the Latin Mass is well-known for, with ethereal chants reverberating through the soul.  

Attending sung Mass in the front row offered us up-close and entranced views of a stunning cathedral liturgy, bringing to mind images of celestial regions beyond the earth, of the heavenly banquet amid choirs of angels made visible through the thick, smoking clouds of incense. It is precisely liturgies like this, with one foot in the dream and mystery of the invisible divine reality, that the mystery of Christian liturgy is regained and discovered anew by modern man, making the Classical Rite particularly potent as an evangelization tool. 

The Church in her mystery has an earthly epiphany ("mystery") that is accessible to all in the Latin Mass.  Through beauty the Classical Rite conveys truth and has done so for centuries.  In the words of Henri Charlier, "It is necessary to lose the illusion that the truth can communicate itself truthfully without that splendor that is of one nature with it and which is called beauty."    

Historically the cathedral parish community traces its roots to a time when French Catholic émigrés settled in Savannah at the end of the eighteenth century.  In 1799 the tiny community was granted use of the present location on Liberty Square where they built a small frame church across the street from a park.   The park remains today an elegant space on the edge of downtown with a beautiful European-style fountain, resembling a scene from France - the perfect location for parish picnics. 

After Pius IX established the diocese in 1850, construction began on the current cathedral in 1873.  It was completed in 1876.  The brick spires were added in 1896, when the exterior was completed with a coating of stucco and whitewash. The monumental interior of the Neo-Gothic edifice was rebuilt after a fire in 1898 - it took nearly 15 years to redecorate the interior.  The stained glass windows date from 1904.  

Meanwhile, subsequent renovation projects took place over the years for repair and maintenance.  In preparation for the Holy Year 2000, the original interior color palette and stenciled decorations were restored and refurbished during the last major embellishment of the main body of the church.  The sanctuary is an excellent liturgical space.  The marbled high altar and altar rail have thankfully been preserved.  

Many thanks to the local ordinary, rector, the celebrant (a kindly Benedictine monk), the servers, choir, and all the volunteers and members of this wonderful community of believers who gave us such a beautiful and other-worldly experience.  And the picnic in the park afterwards was a bonus treat.  

Dear friends: keep the Faith amid this time of trial and cancel culture.  In a time when no one is going to Mass, Masses are being cancelled.  Why?  That is another question.  

Given the current persecution, we look to Vatican II where it defended the Latin Mass in the year 1963, calling for rites to be preserved and fostered: "Finally, in faithful obedience to tradition, this most sacred Council declares that holy Mother Church holds all lawfully acknowledged rites to be of equal authority and dignity; that she wishes to preserve them in the future and to foster them in every way" (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, 4).  

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