Richard S. Vosko

Musings on religion, art and architecture

Cathedrals as Symbols

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The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Albany, NY was rededicated by Bishop Howard J. Hubbard, D.D., on Sunday, November 21, 2010. The event provided our Diocese with an opportunity to focus on the meaning of a cathedral in the 21st century. This  article was the first of three written for the parishes and institutions of the Diocese of Albany.

Did you know that the Pope’s cathedral is not St. Peter’s Basilica but the Basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome? This building, once a palace owned by the Laterani family, was consecrated in the year 324 CE and has served as the location of the official chair of the pope ever since. The word cathedral is taken from the Latin word cathedra, which is translated as “chair.” There is a cathedral in every Catholic diocese throughout the world. Because of the“chair” each cathedral is a symbol of the unity between the local diocese and the leader of the global Catholic Church. The chair is also a symbol of the local bishop’s ministry as a teacher and pastor. Bishops preside from the cathedra during all liturgies and when they make statements affecting the life of the diocese entrusted to them.

Further, according to The Ceremonial of Bishops, the local cathedral “is a symbol of the spiritual temple that is built up in souls and is resplendent with the glory of divine grace.” (Ceremonial No. 43.) What does it mean for us, the members of this Diocese, to understand our Cathedral as a symbol of who we are? In scripture we read that we are the living stones that build up the spiritual temple on earth (1 Peter 2). In doing so we advance the kingdom of God already here on earth even though it is incomplete.

The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception is a symbol of the people of God, all the members of the Diocese of Albany. Every baptized person is, in some way, spiritually connected to the Cathedral. Spiritual temples, however, are empty if they are not places where the work of God is evident.

The symbolic and real identity of a Cathedral is energized when all members of a Diocese participate together in the work of Jesus Christ. Even though our Cathedral is far away from many parishes in this Diocese, it stands as powerful reminder of the calling each of us has received from God to put our faith into action.


Author: Richard S. Vosko

Richard S. Vosko, Ph.D., Hon. AIA, is an internationally known sacred space planner. He is a presbyter in the Diocese of Albany who enjoys the classroom as much as the pulpit. On Sundays he presides at worship at St. Vincent de Paul Parish, Albany, NY. For more information on Vosko’s background, his projects, publications and speaking engagements please go to his website. For his homilies and occasional musings about religion, art and architecture go to his blog. Comments, questions and suggestions are always welcomed there.

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