After ten years of hoping, planning and praying, parishioners of Blessed Sacrament Parish in Burlington saw their dreams realized Sunday, June 5, 2011, with the dedication of their new church building located at Hanford Road in the Alamance County community. The dedication was celebrated by the Most Reverend Michael F. Burbidge with key members of the Conventual Franciscan Friars joining Father Robert Benko, O.F.M., Conv., V.F., Pastor of the parish in concelebrating the Mass. They included Provincials Father Justin Biase and Father James McCurry. Also concelebrating were Msgr. David D. Brockman, Vicar General of the Diocese, and Father Scott McCue and Father Edward Burch.
The parish, which numbers just under 3,000 families and approximately 10,000 people, was in dire need of a new facility, having outgrown its former 450-seat church. The new building seats 1,200. In expectation of a full church for the dedication ceremony, an additional 200 chairs were set up. They were quickly filled, with several hundred having to stand around the large interior while another several hundred listened to the service from the gathering area. It was estimated that just under 2,000 people attended the Mass.
The new building, which cost approximately $6.4 million, is the first of a three step building project planned for the parish. The second stage will be a fellowship hall with offices, and the final step will be construction of a new school to replace the current one located near the old church. Father Benko said no timeline has been set for the follow up projects.
Prominent in the sanctuary is a large San Damiano Cross, which Bishop Burbidge spoke of in his homily. "It is divine providence that we dedicate this church on the Feast of the Ascension, one of the glorious scenes depicted on the San Damiano cross," Bishop Burbidge said in his homily. "As the Lord returns to His Father, he entrusts the carrying out of His mission to His followers. He tells them to 'go forth and make disciples of all nations' while making this promise: 'Behold I am with you always until the end of the age.'"
A Church dedication is rich in symbolism and tradition. The gallery of pictures at the end of the story will reflect many of the rituals, beginning with the presentation of the key to the church, which was presented to Bishop Burbidge, who gave it to Father Benko to unlock the door with the faithful gathered around for the entrance procession. The Bishop began the service in the church with the blessing of the baptismal font. Then he and Father Benko blessed the church with holy water. Bishop Burbidge anointed the altar and the walls with Sacred Chrism, followed by the incensation of the altar and the church.
Parishioners prepared the altar for the celebration of Mass by dressing it with an altar cloth. The Bishop then handed a lighted candle to a member of the community to light the candles. Following the celebration of Eucharist, Bishop Burbidge inaugurated the tabernacle before placing the Blessed Sacrament inside.
In his homily, Bishop Burbidge noted the significance of each step in the ceremony. “In the Prayer of Dedication we say, ‘The Church is the dwelling place of God...founded on the apostles with Jesus Christ the corner stone,’” the Bishop said. “This is a reminder that Christ is the One who sustains us and holds us up. Authentic witnesses make sure that nothing of this world ever has priority over Him.”
Bishop Burbidge closed by praying, “As we dedicate this church, may we also rededicate our lives and this parish to the Lord our God. As beautiful as this church is, the Feast of the Ascension reminds us that we cannot stay here. We must go forth as authentic witnesses and proclaim in word and deed our belief that by His holy cross Jesus Christ has redeemed the world, and that He is alive and with us now and forever. Amen.”
Father Briant Cullinane, O.F.M. Conv., who was pastor when the planning process began for the new church and now retired and in residence at Blessed Sacrament Friary, said the former church will now have a new name, the Chapel of St. Clare. It will provide Mass during weekdays, social gatherings and be available for weddings and funeral.
Above: Father Robert Benko, O.F.M. Conv, Pastor of Blessed Sacrament unlocking the door before the dedication Mass of the new church.
Above and Below: Overflow gathering of approximately 2,000 people attending dedication of new church with seating capacity of 1,200.
Above: Bishop Burbidge with members of the Conventual Franciscan Friars and Diocesan priests, including Msgr. David D. Brockman (right), Vicar General, at dedication Mass of Blessed Sacrament Church.