As I write this letter, the liturgical design team is preparing to begin work to install the new altar. In our original plans, we were only going to modify the altar, enlarging the mensa (the top). As we progressed it became apparent that would not be feasible. The liturgical designers, the original design company who manufactured the liturgical furniture for the church, our marble supplier, and several other companies, looked literally around the world and could not find any stone that would prove to be a suitable match to our stone. It was actually funny that during the search some of the various people called some of the same sources looking for the stone! As it happened, it was decided that it would be best to move the matching pieces from the Church to the Chapel and keep the set together. As the pieces were re-located to the Chapel everyone was pleased with how well they fit the space and looked like they were made for the space.
In the process of trying to figure out what to do next, the Building/Design Committee made up of parishioners (Sofia Fonseca, Don Meeks, Steve Pierce, Gerry Meneilly, Caroline Albee and Pete and Kathy Gandolfo) and our consultants (Rohn Design Associates, Turner Duran Architects) settled upon a solution that seemed like divine intervention. On the parish pilgrimage to the Holy Land, a number of pilgrims noted how similar the native limestone in some of the Churches in the Holy Land was to the Texas/Mexican stone that we were using in our Church. We mentioned this to our marble supplier in Italy and then the race was on. They were able to find the stone in Israel, in a quarry just outside of Jerusalem. Samples of this “Jerusalem Gold” were obtained and shipped to Houston and Carrara, Italy to be examined. As it turned out, this beautiful Jerusalem stone was found to be a beautiful fit for our Church. The new liturgical furniture (altar, ambo, tabernacle throne and baptismal font) are all constructed with this stone quarried just a few miles outside of Jerusalem; the physical location of the Last Supper/First Eucharist and the Death and Resurrection of Jesus.
You will notice that as these pieces go in, we will use the ambo (pulpit) and the tabernacle throne and the baptismal font. We will not use the new altar. We will continue to use the portable temporary altar that we have used during the remodeling and construction. The reason for this is that a permanent altar should not be used until it is consecrated by a bishop. We will have the altar dedicated and blessed by Cardinal DiNardo on the Solemnity of the Annunciation of The Lord on Saturday, March 25.
The Church prays and believes that Christ is “the priest, victim and altar of sacrifice”. The Letter to the Hebrews asserts that Jesus is not only the victim and priest of sacrifice but that he is also the living altar of sacrifice to God the Father. The Church teaches that Jesus offered the sacrifice of his body and blood on the “altar of the cross” at Calvary and on the night before, at the banquet of the Eucharist. The altar is a table of sacrifice and the paschal banquet. In every Catholic Church, the altar is a sign of Christ, it “is the center of the thanksgiving perfected in the Eucharist” and the focal point for the life of the community. Within the altar, the Church, as a sign of honor and respect for God’s working in the lives of his followers, also encourages that relics of the martyrs and saints be placed in the altar when possible. It is not the relics that makes the altar special, it is the sacrifice that takes place on the altar. Yet, the relics give testimony to the witness of the sacrifice of the saints who joined their lives to the sacrifice of Christ, crucified. The relics of the saints for the new altar will be placed in the altar during the Rite of Dedication in March; which saints’ relics has not yet been decided.
During the Rite of Dedication of the Altar, you will notice that there are familiar actions that take place. The altar will be washed with Holy Water, it will be anointed with Sacred Chrism and then it will be incensed and clothed with “sacred clothing”, adorned with candles and flowers and finally, the Eucharist celebrated. These actions should remind one of the Rites of Initiation of a Christian (Baptism, Confirmation and the Eucharist). They should also remind us of our journey with Christ throughout our pilgrimage with Him.
More to come! Keep praying and be holy!
In Pace Christi,
Fr. Troy Gately