Silently the new church instantly lit up.
The assembled emitted a hushed, brief gasp at a moment meant to remind them that Christ, as Scripture says, is a “light to enlighten the nations.”
The dramatic illumination, which followed the lighting of the altar, was among several time-honored traditions celebrated on Tuesday, May 4, 2021 at the dedication of the Church of Our Lady of the Assumption at the new St. Michael’s Abbey in Silverado Canyon.
The long-awaited dedication, delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic and two major fires in 2020, marked a cherished milestone after more than 15 years of planning, design and construction of the nearly $120 million St. Michael’s Abbey, a seminary and home to the Norbertine Fathers.
Unstable land and a growing community of Norbertines forced the relocation of the abbey from its original location just nine miles away in Trabuco Canyon. Private donations made the new home possible, and ground was broken on March 18, 2018.
“We are gathered here with joy to dedicate a new church by celebrating the Lord’s sacrifice,” Bishop Kevin Vann said at the start of the dedication in the courtyard of the 40-acre main complex, which includes a monastery, convent, administration building, and a cemetery with a chapel. The new abbey was designed by French architect Jean-Louis Pagès.
“Let us take place in these sacred rites with loving devotion listening to the word of God with faith,” Bishop Vann said. “We advance in the love from on high.”
900TH ANNIVERSARY YEAR
St. Michael’s Abbey was founded in Orange County in 1961 by seven Hungarian priests who fled communist oppression. Today, there are 50 Norbertine priests and 35 seminarians who serve the dioceses of Orange, Los Angeles, San Diego, San Bernardino, and Fresno.
The dedication of the new church, which sits on a 327-acre site where 88 percent of the land has been set aside for permanent conservation, came during the 900th anniversary of the founding of the Norbertine Order by St. Norbert of Xanten, one of the towering giants of the 12th-century Gregorian Reform movement.
St. Norbert’s conversion came on May 28, 1115 when he was thrown from a horse in a violent thunderstorm and heard God’s calling.
The Norbertine Fathers live a monastic life of prayer and oversee numerous community ministries, including outreach to hospitals, prisons, and convents.
Although St. Michael’s Abbey is not a parish church, it will offer daily Mass to the public, in addition to eventually hosting retreats, providing adult educational opportunities, and serving as a regional center for music, history, culture, art, and literature.
The 3 ½-hour dedication ceremony began outside the church with a procession on a sunny morning as bright-orange California poppies bloomed on land ringed by canyon ridges.
Leading the procession was an icon of St. Norbert, commissioned by Abbot Rev. Eugene Hayes, that depicts St. Norbert in a central panel surrounded by 12 scenes from his life. It was followed by a Reliquary Ark, carried by five prelates, their red and gold silk damask copes gently rippling in the breeze, that contained sacred relics that later were placed inside the altar — including a portion of the rib of St. Norbert.
Abbot Hayes delivered the homily during the dedication Mass inside the church, built in a Roman basilica architectural style with colorful and bright blown stained glass. The jewel of the art in the church will be a bright Venetian mosaic of stone, tile, and glass depicting our Lady of the Assumption (17 feet tall) on the Triumphal Arch, yet to be installed but projected onto the proscenium as an image for the dedication.
During his homily, Abbot Hayes read a letter from Jos Wouters, Abbot-General, who was unable to attend the dedication.
“What we are all gathered here to celebrate is the dedication of a house of prayer — so while this is the house of our prayers, we ourselves are the house of God,” Abbot Hayes said from the letter, which quoted St. Augustine, one of the two saints the Norbertines honor as a holy father, who uttered those words at the beginning of the fifth century at a dedication of a church.
As part of the ceremony, the altar was anointed with chrism oil and blessed with holy water, as were the church walls.
Incense rose to the dramatic vaulted barrel ceiling that soars 70 feet high – a height only surpassed by the bell tower (100+ feet), which includes a peal of four bells made in France, their joyous ringing marking the beginning and end of the ceremony.
St. Michael’s Abbey is located at 27977 Silverado Canyon Rd., Silverado. Weekday and Saturday Masses are held at 7 a.m. and Sunday Masses are held at 7 a.m. (Conventual Mass), 9:45 a.m., and 11 a.m.