The altar at Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish in Bowmansville received a dedication courtesy of Bishop Richard J. Malone, in which he spoke of the meaning of the altar in Catholic churches, the then-coming Christmas season and the ways in which both are important to Catholics. Bishop Malone gave the church's new wooden altar, adorned with a depiction of the Last Supper, a special blessing on Dec. 5.
"We see all kinds of beautiful symbolism as we anoint the altar with sacred chrism, just the way we're anointed at baptism, confirmation and ordination. We will bring incense alive and, as the smoke rises, it is a sign of our prayers going to heaven," Bishop Malone said, taking a minute to thank those present, including the pastor, Father Joseph Klos, and calling upon all of the saints during the sacred moment.
"What a beautiful moment it is, that we're going to dedicate and consecrate this altar right now, after we have the litany of the saints. It's not often, during Mass, that we have a litany of the saints. We do it at the ordination of a deacon or a priest or a bishop, and we do it at Baptism and at Eastertime," Bishop Malone also said. "When we celebrate the Eucharist, we're talking the whole Church, the Church alive in the world now, the Church triumphant with God in heaven and all of the saints, and of the Church that's in us."
In his homily, Bishop Malone said the coming of the Lord is a matter of history, mystery and glory, and called the dedication of the altar a "beautifully rich ritual in our tradition." He reflected on the words, "Come, Lord Jesus," and said there are three different comings of the Lord in the Catholic tradition, which include the history, mystery and glory, all of which play a different but important role in the faith.
"At Christmas, we celebrate the historical fact that the Son of God became flesh and was born for our salvation. That's the history. We relive that. We celebrate Christmas. It happened, and it affects us still. He comes in glory at the end, and we talk about that all the time in the words we pray right after the consecration of the Mass," he said. "But it's that middle line we focus on as we dedicate this altar: he comes in history, he comes in glory, he comes in mystery. You know that when we use the word 'mystery' in the life of the Church, we're not talking about Agatha Christie or murder mysteries, or a problem we solve."
Bishop Malone called the mystery a "beautiful word of the Eastern churches" for sacraments, including the Ukrainian Catholic Church, in which they refer to the sacraments as the sacred mysteries. Bishop Malone called this a word for "realities that are so great, so grand and so awesome" that people "really can't find words to describe them." This is indicative of Jesus' spirit continuing to dwell with the population of Catholics alive today, as well as the rituals of the newly blessed altar, in coming to His people.
The bishop called upon the congregation to think of all the ways the Lord comes to them, including their prayers, reaching out to someone in a moment of compassion and in confessing sins in the sacrament of reconciliation, which Pope Francis is encouraging everyone to do in the Jubilee Year of Mercy. According to Bishop Malone, this is even more the case in the instance of the Eucharist at the altar, and Pope Francis reminds Catholics that every baptized Catholic is considered a missionary disciple of Jesus.
Additionally, every time a Mass concludes, there is dismissal of the congregation in what he referred to as a gracious and prayerful way, either to "Go, and announce the Gospel of the Lord," or "Go in peace, glorify the Lord by your life," but all of this begins with the altar, the centerpiece of a church.
"The source of all of that for us, of course, is what happens around this altar, at the Eucharist," Bishop Malone said. "The celebration of the Eucharist is the very heartbeat of every Catholic's life and the heart of our faith. Without the Eucharist, the heart of our faith begins to weaken."
"The Vatican Council tells us the Eucharist is both the source and the summit of our whole Catholic lives. Think of a source, think of a fountain flowing. Everything that we're about as Catholics, as about Christians, flows from the Eucharist. Benedict says, also, the Eucharist is the summit. It's the peak; it's the mountaintop. We have altars in our churches for one reason, really. It is because of the Eucharist. Here it is that the sacrifice of Christ on Calvary is continued in our midst."