Altar is like a family table and is a ‘gateway to heaven’, Cardinal says at dedication of Waldorf church altar – Catholic Standard
Washington Cardinal Wilton Gregory’s January 23 Mass and the blessing of the new altar at Our Lady Help of Christians Church in Waldorf, Maryland, marked a milestone in the parish’s four-decade history and helped the parishioners to reflect on the importance of the altar for worship and for their lives. During Mass, he said the altar is like a family table and is a “gateway to heaven.”
“This morning, the parish family of Our Lady Help of Christians gathers to bless a precious vehicle and place for a special form of prayer that has no rival. We are here to dedicate a new altar to this place of prayer” , said the cardinal in his homily.
The Archbishop of Washington noted how people rightly argue that churches aren’t the only places they can pray. He noted that people can pray at home, at the beach, in their backyard, even on the golf course. None of these, he said, is “comparable to the altar of the Lord around which the family of God is gathered”.
“The altar is where the prayer of the Church – the perfect prayer, the liturgy, is offered,” the cardinal said.
Cardinal Gregory emphasized that people gather as a family of faith around the altar, where the words of Christ are repeated and where his sacrifice on the cross at Calvary is made present.
“The altar is the place where all hearts are united in Christ. This is why the altar is consecrated, smeared with sacred chrism – the oil of Christ himself,” he said.
Altars can be built in different designs, the cardinal said, noting that they can be ornate and large or small and simple, and can be constructed of stone or wood. But he said that no matter how they are built, altars are sacred places where God the Father hears the prayers of his people.
Referring to the first reading at Mass from the book of Genesis describing Jacob’s dream of a stairway to heaven, Cardinal Gregory said, “We bless the altar because we believe it is truly the place which can and should be called the very doorway of God.”
The reading of the Gospel for this mass of Matthew pointed to a special instruction that Christ gave regarding altars, the cardinal said.
“If you come to the altar and remember that you have something against your sister or your brother, leave your gift at the altar and seek reconciliation with your brother,” Cardinal Gregory said, repeating the message from the Christ taken from this Gospel passage. “It is not acceptable for us to approach the Father around the altar while harboring a grudge, hatred or bitterness against any of his children.”
Continuing on this point, the Cardinal said, “The altar is therefore more like a family table where the Father will not tolerate any quarrel or rancor. The altar is the place that belongs to all of us and where we must be a family in peace.
Cardinal Gregory said that like a family with a new piece of furniture, people should admire and watch carefully over their new altar, but also promise that they will be a better family because the place where the Father hears their prayers has been improved. and made more beautiful.
“We dedicate a new altar to this parish family, because the house of the Church must always be renewed, its people transformed and therefore this sacred table must be sanctified,” the cardinal said. “The family is the same, the faith is the same, the Father is the same, but we as members of the family must be renewed.”
An honor guard of eight Knights of Columbus led the procession to open the Mass, which was concelebrated by Father Alain Colliou, the parish priest; and Father Art Mallari, a retired priest who serves there. The range of parishioners from different backgrounds who gathered there included the elderly and families with young children, all of whom wore face masks in accordance with COVID-19 safety guidelines.
The new oak altar with a marble top was designed by members of the parish and handcrafted by a parishioner who wishes to remain anonymous, and the altar was funded through the generosity of two parishioners who also chose to remain anonymous. On the side of the sanctuary is a striking portrait of Mary as Our Lady Help of Christians, patroness of the parish.
The Eastern Province of the Salesians of Don Bosco donated two relics for the altar: a relic of Saint John Bosco, the founder of the Salesian order who had a special devotion to Mary Help of Christians; and a relic of Saint Mary Mazzarello, who together with Saint John Bosco founded the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians, known as the Salesian Sisters. An essay by Father Colliou in the parish bulletin noted that today the Salesians are the second largest community of religious in the world with more than 15,000 members of this order, and the Salesian sisters are the largest community of religious in the world. world with more than 11,000 sisters. Locally, the Eastern Province of the Salesians of Don Bosco sponsors Don Bosco Cristo Rey High School in Takoma Park, Maryland along with the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington.
At the beginning of the Mass, Cardinal Gregory blessed the altar by sprinkling it with holy water. After the Bible readings, the homily and the recitation of the Creed, the cardinal dedicated the altar in an elaborate rite.
The sung litany of saints included prayers to Our Lady Help of Christians, Saint John Bosco, Saint Mary Mazzarello and many other saints, including two famous contemporary saints after the founding of the parish of Our Lady Help of Christians in 1980: St. John Paul II and Saint Teresa of Calcutta. After the litany, the cardinal placed the relics of Saint John Bosco and Saint Mary Mazzarello on the altar.
Standing with his arms outstretched above the altar, Cardinal Gregory then offered a dedicatory prayer which highlighted how Old Testament figures Noah, Abraham and Moses built altars to pray and offer sacrifices to God, and how Christ, through his sacrifice on the cross, enabled a new covenant to be made between God and mankind.
The cardinal prayed that the altar would be a table where people ‘could gain new strength of spirit for new paths ahead’ and that the altar would be ‘the center of our praise and thanksgiving’ to God, “with Christ the High Priest and living altar.
Cardinal Gregory then anointed the altar, pouring the sacred chrism in the middle of the altar and at each of its four corners. A few moments later, praying: “Let our prayers rise, O Lord, like incense to your eyes…”, the cardinal incensed the altar.
Then, after the top of the altar was wiped down with towels and a waterproof cover was placed over it, the altar was adorned with an altar cloth and candles.
After the Cardinal prayed, “Let the light of Christ shine on the table of this altar, and let those who share the Lord’s Supper shine with his light,” Parish Deacon Richard Dubicki lit the candles on the altar.
In 2020, Cardinal Gregory celebrated Mass at Notre-Dame-Auxiliatrice Church, helping the parish mark its 40and anniversary, and on the spot, he blessed the new bell tower of the church and its chapel of Adoration.
After Communion at Mass on January 23, Father Colliou noted that the parish had embarked on a year of Eucharistic renewal, and he said they would take the Cardinal’s words to heart from that day on. Masses are celebrated there on the new altar.
In the columns of the parish bulletin before the consecration of the new altar, the priest wrote that “the altar represents Jesus Christ at every mass”, and he noted that the Catechism of the Catholic Church (no. 1383) declares: “The altar, around which the Church is gathered in the celebration of the Eucharist, represents two aspects of the same mystery: the sacrificial altar and the table of the Lord.
The Notre Dame Auxiliatrice pastor wrote that he hoped the dedication of the new altar would “strengthen the unity of our parish and deepen our understanding of the Mass,” and after the liturgy he said, “I pray that it helps us to continue focusing on the Eucharist.
Parishioners were invited to pray a novena to Saint John Bosco from January 22 to January 30.
Before mass, some members of the Notre-Dame Auxiliatrice parish council reflected on what the church’s new altar meant to them.
Sharon Caniglia, founding parish member, said: “When they took the fabric off this morning I almost cried, it was so beautiful.”
Caniglia, a longtime principal of St. Mary’s School in Bryantown who retired in 2020, said it was especially meaningful to her that the altar contained a relic of St. John Bosco, the patron saint of the youth.
Fellow parish council member Larry Sutton said the new altar means a lot to the church, and “it symbolizes all the years of faith for our Our Lady Help of Christians community.”
Steve Fisher, parish council chairman, also reflected on the new altar at Our Lady Help of Christians Church, who noted that during the design and construction process, parishioners learned more about their Catholic faith.
“From my point of view, it is an opportunity to refocus on what is most important in the Mass. It is (the altar) the centerpiece, it is where we celebrate the Eucharist,” did he declare.