Bishop Nelson Perez was the principal celebrant at a Mass on Dec. 4 during which the new altar in the Manresa Chapel at the Jesuit Retreat House in Parma was dedicated. Father Ken Styles, SJ a member of the JRH board, and Father Matt Roche, SJ JRH spiritual director, concelebrated. Father Mike Woost, from Borromeo and Saint Mary seminaries, assisted the bishop.
The altar and lectern were crafted from black walnut by local artisan Norbert Koehn. He said the wood came from the Mahoning Valley.
“Thank you to Bishop Perez for joining us for this life-changing moment,” said Rick Krivanka, director of the Jesuit Retreat House. He also acknowledged some people who helped make the new worship space and altar possible. The Manresa Chapel is located in the newly opened addition at the retreat house.
Father Brian Paulson, SJ provincial of the Jesuit Midwest Province, was unable to attend the event, but sent a letter saying he was present in spirit.
In the homily, Bishop Perez talked about the significance of the altar.
“The altar is more than just a table to say Mass at,” he said, adding that sometimes a folding table, a dining room table or even a rock can be used as an altar. The bishop said he’s celebrated Mass in many places, including hotels, homes and at scout campouts.
“You take a table and make it look ‘churchy’ for the Mass, then put it away,” he said. The bishop also talked about the significance of altars in the temple, noting that they were places for sacrifices.
“The table at the Last Supper was an altar,” he said, adding, “and the cross is the ultimate altar.”
He said that during Mass, Christ’s sacrifice – the Eucharist — is offered on the altar, which is a very sacred place.
“Priests have the awesome privilege of standing in Jesus’ person during Mass. I still get overwhelmed. The priest offers the sacrifice in the first person and the priest disappears during the sacrifice,” he said, adding that “Jesus dies and is risen over and over again each time Mass is celebrated.”
“The bread and wine cease to be that when the sacrifice is offered,” he said. And while other denominations may have something similar to a Mass, Bishop Perez said it is not the faith that was handed to us – the mystery of transubstantiation.
“A mystery is just that; it’s meant to be contemplated, not understood, like the sacrifice on this altar,” he said.
He explained that during the dedication, sacred chrism is used on the altar – the same sacred oil that is used during the sacraments of baptism, confirmation and holy orders. Once consecrated, he said the altar will be set aside and used for no other purpose. “It’s not a place to ‘put stuff,’ like glasses or a bishop’s hat. Only things related to the sacrifice should be on the altar.”
He said priests kiss or reverence the altar at the beginning of Mass, but since the new altar had not been consecrated, that did not occur. Once the dedication and consecration were completed, the altar was changed into “a table of joy – a place where we encounter Chris,” he said.
“The altar is the most important place in the church. It is an honor, a blessing and a privilege to bless this table that becomes the altar of sacrifice,” he said.
During the consecration of the altar, the bishop poured and rubbed sacred chrism on the wood, then lit incense and read a series of prayers. Afterwards, the oil was wiped off and the altar was prepared so Mass could continue.
The new JRH addition was dedicated in September. The Manresa Chapel is named after the town in Catalonia, Spain, where St. Ignatius of Loyola stopped to pray. It contributed to the formation of his Spiritual Exercises.
The JRH, rooted in the spirituality of St. Ignatius, provides a sacred setting for outreach, retreats and programs of growth and development for people in the contemporary Church and society. Located at 5629 State Road, Parma, it encompasses 57 acres and dates to 1898. The JRH is the first and longest continuing place in the country providing retreats for the laity and for religious and clergy, as well.
Visit jrh-cleveland.org for more information or call 440-884-9300.