Archbishop Blesses New Altar at Manhattan Church

Jocelyn Thomas In the Headlines

NEW YORK — The new altar at St. Francis of Assisi Church here was dedicated by the Most Rev. Roberto Gonzalez, OFM, archbishop of San Juan, Puerto Rico, at a liturgy on Nov. 23, the feast of the Solemnity of Christ the King. Many parishioners and visitors attended the special Sunday morning Mass, at which Roberto emphasized the significance of the altar and the church.

The altar is “the table where we are fed God’s body and blood,” he said. “This is a place where God’s holy people may pour out our prayers and adhere to our faith and devotion.”

He added that by pouring oil on the altar, “We try to share in the divine mystery,” and noted that Jesus is the cornerstone of the altar.

A Community Celebration
Among the ministers of the liturgy were Provincial Minister John O’Connor, OFM, Jerome Massimino, OFM, pastor of St. Francis of Assisi Church, and Stephen Mimnaugh, OFM, of Maryland, who served as deacon. They were surrounded in the sanctuary by a dozen friars as well as one affiliate, Ralph Perez of Create agency.

Also participating in the service were Meredith Augustin, the parish’s director of music ministriesm Jin-Ok Lee, music director of the Korean Community, organist Brian Zuar, cantors Nell Snaidas and Liam Mulligan, and the St. Francis choirs.

After the homily and the singing of the Litany of the Saints, the archbishop blessed the altar using several distinct rituals. The rites of anointing, incensing, covering and lighting the altar express, in visible signs, aspects of the invisible work that the Lord accomplishes through the Church in celebration of the divine mysteries, according to the Ritual for the Dedication of an Altar.

The anointing of the altar with sacred Chrism consecrates the altar as a symbol of Christ, “the Anointed One,” said Timothy Shreenan, OFM, the parish’s director of liturgy and communications, adding that many people remarked after the Mass on “how thoroughly the bishop seemed to do the anointing, making the effort to complete this ritual.”

After the anointing, a large ceramic bowl was put on the altar, and the archbishop incensed the altar. “Incense is burned on the altar to signify that Christ’s sacrifice, perpetuated there in mystery, ascends to God as an odor of sweetness. It also signifies that the people’s prayers rise up to the throne of God,” Timothy said.

Jim Peccorelli of Baker Liturgical Art presented the bishop with the relics of the saints from the previous altar, which were subsequently placed in the new altar.  In addition, a cloth and four candles were presented by members of the parish.

“The covering of the altar indicates that the Christian altar is the altar of the Eucharistic sacrifice and the table of the Lord,” Tim said.  “The lighting of the altar teaches us that Christ is ‘a light  to enlighten the nations,’ whose brightness shines out in the church and through it upon the whole human family.”

The new altar was added this summer as part of the restoration of the West 31st Street church.

12-3-08-Blessing-of-the-alt1Words of Gratitude
At the celebration the Sunday before Thanksgiving, the Provincial Minister thanked the archbishop for taking the time to come to New York despite a busy schedule, and thanked the congregation “for being here today.” Roberto, a native of New Jersey, has been archbishop of San Juan since 1999. The archdiocese serves more than 1 million Catholics in 154 parishes.

John told the congregation that he brought greetings from all the Franciscans of Holy Name Province on the East Coast.

He added:  “Archbishop Gonzalez reminded us, in his homily, that the Church is much more than candles and a building. It is the challenge to go out and touch the lives of others.”

“We give thanks for the many years this parish has been in existence,”  John said.

Visitors to the church were able to sign the names of deceased loved ones in a Book of Remembrance that was available during the month of November.

After the Mass, friars and friends of the parish enjoyed a brunch in the friary dining room down the street.

— Jocelyn Thomas is director of communications for  Holy Name Province.