Sunday, November 28, 2010

Get Thee To the Church: The Blessing and the Big Reveal

We almost didn't go. Moe was tired and so was I. Joe wouldn't be home from work in time, either to go with us or stay home with the boys so I could go by myself. Larry and Curly complained, saying they wanted to stay home and why should they rush to eat dinner and dress up nice and show up an hour early to a two-hour long Mass that wasn't even required? Never mind that their teachers had been talking about it the whole previous week and didn't assign homework so they'd have the evening free. It wasn't as if we'd never seen the bishop before. Was it really all that important for us to be there when he anointed the altar and Father R. anointed the walls and the new organ would play for the first time? The church would be blessed with or without us. I was thinking some of these things, too.

Despite their protests and my just not really wanting to deal with it, we went. Knowing we might not ever get to see something like this again, I let Larry bring a Harry Potter book with him to read during the hour we waited for Mass to start, and I gave Curly and Moe my phone so they could take turns playing video games on it. (We NEVER let them do these things in church, EVER.) The first reading was from 2 Chronicles, Chapter five, when Solomon's temple was finally finished and the Ark of the Covenant was brought in and placed in the Holy of Holies and trumpets were played and Solomon blessed the temple and all the people. And then this passage from Hebrews: You have not approached that which could be touched and a blazing fire and gloomy darkness and a storm and a trumpet blast and a voice speaking words such that those who heard begged that the message be further addressed to them. No, you have approached Mount Zion, and the city of the Living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and countless angels in festal gathering, and the assembly of the firstborn enrolled in Heaven, and God the judge of all, and the spirits of the just made perfect, and Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and the sprinkled Blood that speaks more eloquently than that of Abel. (Hebrews 12: 18-19, 22-24)

The gospel was one of my favorite stories growing up, the one from the nineteenth chapter of Luke about Zacchaeus and how he climbed a sycamore tree to get a better look at Jesus as He was passing through Jericho, because Zacchaeus was short and couldn't see above the crowd. No one liked Zacchaeus because he was a tax collector, and when Jesus saw him he asked him to come down from the tree and invited himself to Zach's house for dinner. Zaccaheus was so moved that he promised to give half his money to the poor, and to repay those he had cheated four times over.

After the readings and the intercessory prayers (during which I stepped outside with Moe because he wasn't feeling well. Joe was home from work by this time and I called and had him come and bring Moe home and put him to bed) we prayed the Litany of the Saints, and the real festivities began. First, the bishop placed a relic of Saint Leonie Aviat, foundress of the Oblate Sisters who run our parish school, in the altar. Then he poured chrism oil on the top of the new marble-topped altar, and then he rubbed the oil all over the top. While the bishop was anointing the altar, Father R. anointed the four walls of the church. (Actually our church has more than four walls due to its irregular shape. I was outside with Moe during this, and even though there were wide-screen TVs outside for those who couldn't get in the door--I heard someone call them the "Jumbotrons"--and you could see everything the bishop was doing, I missed the blessing of the walls. There is a candle and a marker on two walls near the front of the church, and two near the back. One person told me those candles would always burn until the day the church is demolished.) Then cloths were brought and the top of the altar was wiped clean. The altar was then covered with a clean linen, and the altar cloth was placed on top. Children brought flowers into the church and placed them in front of the new altar. This, I was told, represented the anointing of Jesus' body after He was crucified, and the cloths represented His burial linens. When the children brought the flowers, it was particularly moving because I could imagine children and Mary and John placing flowers around Jesus' body after they laid Him in the tomb. The highlight was when the bishop offered the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass on this brand-new altar for the very first time.

There were at least dozen other priests there (besides our own priests and the bishop, of course), most of whom I didn't recognize. Father K, who was assigned to our parish for a couple of years until last summer, joined the celebration, and Father R's brother, Father R (ha ha) flew in from his parish in Nebraska for the occasion. The choir sang, trumpets and violins and timpani were played, and of course throughout the Mass you could hear soft tones of the brand-new pipe organ. At the end of the Mass the organist let loose with Vidor's Toccatta. (Watch a video of this being played here, at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Newark, NJ.) It was then that I wished I had invited my parents to come, because this is one of my dad's favorite organ pieces and it sounded amazing. Afterward there was a reception, which Larry and Curly were more than happy to stay for since there was food involved. I asked them if they were glad they went, and they both admitted that they were.

This crucifix hung at the front of the church before the renovation. Father R had it moved to the parish hall.

My friend Mr. C told a funny story about this crucifix: apparently an older gentleman was confused and thought it was an artifact from the third or fourth century, and that our church had the honor of having it in our possession. He was angry that it had been moved to the parish hall and replaced with a new one (scroll down to see the new crucifix). Father R calmly explained that it was a cheapo crucifix, and it was made in a factory in the 1970's.

Right after Easter the front of the church was blocked off for the construction of the new sanctuary and the addition to make room for the organ pipes. For a couple of months Mass was celebrated in the back of the church (click here and see Quick Take #6 for more photos).

Finally the front was opened up

and we began facing the front again for Mass. The under-construction look was only temporary, we knew, and despite the portable air conditioners, the church was sweltering all summer.

This fall it started looking like a real church again.

The priests celebrated Mass on the old altar for a while even after the new one was put in. (Here the top of the new one isn't finished; it still looks like it's made of plywood.)

The day of the blessing, luminaria were placed all over the church grounds.

Chairs were set up outside for overflow.

The front doors were adorned with magnolia leaves and ribbons.

The old confessionals, which had been converted to bookshelves for hymnals years ago, were opened up to make shrines to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and St. Jude. This statue stood at the front of the church before the renovation.

St. Jude's statue had stood off in a corner near the back of the church. I liked how Father R incorporated the old grating, which made a fairly unattractive decoration behind the altar. It looks much better as a backdrop for the shrines. (I think the official term is "oratories.") You can see some of it in my first photo of the altar in the back of the church.

Father R. wanted the crucifix and statues to reflect the moment when Jesus said, "I Thirst." Mary is directing our attention to her suffering Son (as she always does), and John is looking out at the people wondering who Jesus is addressing. He is speaking to us, of course. He thirsts for our love and our souls.

The twelve pillars under the altar represent the twelve apostles. The four supporting the ambo (on the left) represent the four gospels, and the three on the baptismal font (on the right, to the left of the Easter candle) represent the Holy Trinity.

Father R. painted the twelve saints on either side of the crucifix. He isn't quite finished with them yet, and they're already amazing; I can't wait to see what they look like when he's done. Underneath the support beams are the archangels Gabriel and Michael. On either side of the altar you can see the reliefs of St. Peter and St. Paul, and their eyes are focused on the altar.

Today is the first Sunday of Advent. Now there is an advent wreath in front of the new altar. I can't wait to see how the Nativity scene that Father R made several years ago looks in the new church, or how beautiful the church will look all decorated for Christmas.


  1. I am so glad all of you went to this special celebration, even if Moe did go home early! I was in 6th grade and still remember when our parish consecrated our new altar after the renovations in church where finished. Experiencing this as a kid, I realized how miraculous this place really is! I know all of you will remember this!

  2. Beautiful! We had ours a year ago, the first Sunday of Advent. I didn't go, opting for the 5 p.m., and wish very much that I had.

  3. Hello, Maureen and Kalynne! I knew if I didn't go to ours I would always wish I had. Thanks for the comments! We are blessed to have Father R as our pastor. And I'll have to say the church looks much better and brighter than when we first moved here.


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