"A barrier removed, a parish engagedSt. Cecilia Catholic Church enjoys a huge and dedicated congregation."
June 9, 2008 · Updated 3:51 PM
"On a Friday morning, some 30 communicants kneel in prayer, breathe in the incense and sing chants that would not have been out of place a millennium ago.To Roman Catholics, the eucharist is not only the central ritual of faith, but a link to timeless and universal tradition.We come together daily as a faith community, said the Rev. Dennis Sevilla, pastor at Bainbridge Island's St. Cecilia Catholic Church. The eucharist is a doctrinal adoration of Christ.The eucharistic service is a re-enactment of the Last Supper, where, according to the Bible, Christ enjoined his followers to eat bread and drink wine in his memory. When bread and wine are blessed and distributed to communicants, we believe in the real presence of Christ, Sevilla said.And while languages may differ, the substance of the Mass is the same around the world.The universality is appealing, said Jim Decker, Sevilla's pastoral assistant. Anywhere you go in the world, you can find a Catholic church, and you will know what is happening in the Mass.The weekend Masses - one on Saturday evening and two on Sunday morning - include communion, but also communal prayer, Bible readings and a sermon, which Catholics call the homily. Music is provided by two choirs - one traditional and the other contemporary, with guitars, violins and a mandolin. The parish also has a Filipino choir that performs at some of the Masses.With 820 enrolled families, St. Cecilia is one of the largest, if not the largest, of the island's churches. Decker estimates average Sunday attendance at roughly 600, and Sevilla says 25 or 30 parishioners come to the weekday masses.For centuries, the parishioners were essentially spectators. The priest's back was to the audience, the Mass was in Latin, and communicants would receive communion on their side of a rail physically separating the altar and the congregation.But that was changed in 1967 by the second Vatican Council. Latin was out, the priest faced the congregation, and the laity was brought into the service both symbolically and substantively.It was an effort to improve the way we worship, Decker said. There is no more altar rail - no separation of the congregation.Substantively, the lay members were empowered to take a greater role in the religious life of the church.The second Vatican council created a greater awareness among the laity of their baptismal covenants and bearing their own priesthood, Sevilla said. Being baptized people, they are empowered to bring the good news and also the sacraments into the community.Lay involvement is a distinguishing characteristic of the St. Cecilia parish, according to Sevilla.There is a great pride in ownership of activities here, he said. People are involved in the liturgy, in faith formation and in extending the ministry.Sevilla is a native of the Philippines who has been attached to the Seattle archdiocese since 1977. He has served a number of congregations in Seattle, and has spent most of his time at congregations on the Kitsap Peninsula. On July 1, he will observe his first anniversary at St. Cecilia.Saint of musicThe Catholic Church was not a prominent presence during Bainbridge Island's pioneering days. While records show that Mass was celebrated at various spots in Port Madison and Port Blakely during the 19th century, the first permanent Catholic parishes on the island weren't established until the early part of the 20th century.St. Andrew's Church was built on Blakely Hill. The Catholics of Winslow bought the old one-room school house and moved it across Madison Avenue to where the local health club now stands. The Winslow parish was named St. Cecilia, for the patron saint of music.In 1949, the parishes were consolidated at the present site on High School Road and Madison Avenue, where it was located in what had been units of a World War II housing project.The new facility corresponded with a period of sustained growth. In 1949, the parish rolls showed only 100 families, compared to 820 families today.By the 1980s, the church was facing a space crunch. After significant study, the parish decided to build a new sanctuary building and separate meeting hall, and to convert the former church building into classroom space - work completed in 1987.Further changes are on the horizon. Our dream is to build a parish life center to meet the ever-growing needs of our members and the wider community of Bainbridge Island, said Sevilla, noting that many community groups use the church facilities.Also on the horizon is a school. This fall, the Mustard Seed school will open a preschool and kindergarten facility, which Sevilla says may ultimately grow into an elementary school.While the church may sometimes seem unresponsive to contemporary popular thinking on such matters as divorce and family planning, some adherents take comfort in that constancy,The church is not about doing what is easy, but doing what is right, said Decker. There is a lot of faith in this church. "