Ministering to the World

The Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament in California’s capital is aptly named. After all, the name Sacramento refers to the same thing.

When Spanish explorer Gabriel Moraga founded Sacramento, Calif., in 1799, he named it with the Spanish word meaning “Eucharist,” as a sign of honor to the Blessed Sacrament.

And how right it is that the cathedral bears that same name, now anglicized. And how insightful were its founders to locate it within easy view of the state Capitol. It thus serves as a permanent symbol to state legislators that civic government must never lose sight of spiritual values.

The cathedral’s mission statement reflects these aspirations: “We the people of God of the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament parish, guided by the Holy Spirit, are called by Christ to proclaim the good news of the Kingdom of God through prayer and sacraments, and to witness the Gospel values of love, forgiveness, service and justice for all.”

The parishioners live out that mission statement. Their outreach among the city’s half a million inhabitants (and more than two million in the metropolitan Sacramento area) is expressed in so many ways.

One well-known religious service takes place every Good Friday when, at 8:45 a.m., parishioners assemble at Crocker Park, preparing to reenact the Way of the Cross.

They process from there to the Capitol steps and central downtown area, then return for the final station in front of the cathedral. Anyone who has witnessed the devotion reenacted in cities by World Youth Day participants will understand the impact it has on onlookers, regardless of their faith.

The organizers have described it as uniting “the Way of the Cross with the heart of the city, where people carry their daily cross, most of the time dreadfully alone. ‘If God exists, he has nothing to do with my daily life.’ This is the true cross of every day, the cross of a person abandoned only to himself in his most inner need for a never-ending love, truth, beauty and justice. We need the presence of ‘God with us,’ Jesus, every day.”

While the stations are in progress, another group of parishioners make door-to-door visits to homes in the downtown area, offering information on the Catholic Church. Once the Stations are completed, the regular Good Friday liturgy takes place in the cathedral at noon.

Presence of the Holy Spirit

This cathedral stands on the site it was founded on in 1889. It’s a mere eight blocks from Sacramento’s historic Old Town section, which makes city tour itineraries very accessible.

In 2003, the cathedral was closed for major renovations. The original interior dome had been dismantled in 1932 and a saucer-shaped covering put over it, lowering the interior height by 50 feet. Renovations were aimed at restoring the original lofty design of the dome. The makeover lasted until the reopening of the cathedral in November 2005. It was awe-inspiring when completed.

The center aisle is adorned with artistic mosaic tile. The entire ambience differs somewhat from most California churches, which tend to be what I term “mission white.” In contrast, the cathedral features a great deal of rich wood finishes. A huge dove representation with a wingspan of over 17 feet is suspended from the dome, symbolizing the presence of the Holy Spirit, especially during the celebration of the Eucharist. Also, a huge wooden crucifix reminds worshippers of Christ’s sacrifice on Calvary.

The cathedral’s beautiful glass window of the Last Supper is flanked by depictions of the Nativity and the Ascension. The church’s décor also depicts the Four Evangelists and the four great doctors of the early Church — Jerome, Augustine, Ambrose and Gregory the Great.

On the sides of the pillars in the church, the seven sacraments are represented. The story of the Eucharist is told on 16 roundels, each bearing a scriptural reference to the nourishment supplied by God to his people — e.g. the miracle of the loaves and fishes and the Passover feast. The Chapel of Martyrs features a painting of the risen Christ, inspired by Perugino, Raphael’s teacher. Alongside are depictions of those who lost their lives for Christ. Giotto inspired a second church mural.

Living Face

This cathedral, with more than 3,245 families registered, has eight Masses on the weekend, two of them in Spanish and one in Chinese. Sacramento’s Bishop Jaime Soto is in residence here. The cathedral holds devotions to the Divine Mercy and has a relic of St. Faustina.

Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament is held every weekday afternoon of Lent. This parish has about 15 diversified ministries, including a ministry of bereavement, a vocations committee, a course in the liturgy, classes for Catholics considering a return to the sacraments, and a Sodality of the Blessed Virgin.

Recognized for its outreach in the Sacramento community, the cathedral has been involved in a program for the homeless through its St. Vincent de Paul Society since 2005. Over that time, the program has helped more than 115 people living on the streets. In fact, they were living on the steps of the cathedral when it was closed for renovation.

Long-term affordable housing has been found for more than 50% of these homeless. Others have been helped to secure employment (even being supplied with bus passes so they can get to job interviews) or find aid at social service agencies.

The defense of life is also a priority for Blessed Sacrament. Every year the Helpers of God’s Precious Infants group combines with the Forty Days for Life organization to holds a Rosary procession to the Planned Parenthood clinic, followed by a Pro-Life Pot Luck Supper in a nearby park.

Interwoven with all this activity, Blessed Sacrament supports a diocesan youth and young adult convention and Camp Pendola, a summer camp run by the diocese for children ages 6 to 17.

The Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament is the living face of a God who loves and cares for his people in this, California’s seventh-largest city.

Lorraine O’Donnell Williams writes from

Markham, Ontario, Canada.

The Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament

1017 11th Street 
Sacramento, CA  95814 
(916) 444-3071

Planning Your Visit:

Sunday Masses are at 7:30 a.m., 9 a.m. and 11 a.m., 1 p.m. (Spanish), 3 p.m. (Chinese), 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. (Spanish). There is a Saturday Vigil Mass at 5 p.m. Daily Masses are Monday-Friday at 12:10 p.m. and Monday-Thursday at 5:10 p.m., as well.

Getting There:

The Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament is located on 11th Street, between J and L Streets. The California Capitol is two blocks away. The nearest airport is the Sacramento International Airport. Guided tours of the cathedral are available on Sundays at 10 a.m. and noon and on Wednesdays at 12:40 p.m.