Bishop Dedicates New Altar at St. Vincent Pallotti Catholic Church

By LORETTA FULTON

“My brothers and sisters, you are witnessing history this morning.”

With those stirring words, Bishop Michael Sis of the Catholic Diocese of San Angelo emphasized the significance of the dedication Mass for a new altar at St. Vincent Pallotti Catholic Church. The Mass was celebrated Dec. 26, which meant that members of the Abilene congregation got a special gift the day after Christmas.

The $40,000 altar was built in Rome and shipped to Houston. From there, it was picked up by employees of the F.C. Ziegler Company in Tulsa, Oklahoma, who delivered it to Abilene and assembled it. 

“It is a one of a kind altar,” said the Rev. Emilio Sosa, priest at St. Vincent since July 2018. 

Left to right in the top left photo, Father Emilio Sosa, Bishop Michael Sis, and Deacon Victor Ramirez celebrate Mass of dedication for a new altar at St. Vincent Pallotti Catholic Church Dec. 26. The photo at top right is the mosaic lamb. At bottom right, Bishop Sis prepares for the recessional. Photos by Loretta Fulton

The altar was purchased with the proceeds of the sale of houses that a parishioner left to the church, Sosa said.The white carrara marble altar, specially ordered from Rome, measures 84X48X40 inches. The most striking feature is a byzantine mosaic of a lamb on the front, representing Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God. 

The altar is the crowning touch of a complete renovation of the church, directed by Sosa. A gifted artist, Sosa chose the designs for three new stained glass windows behind the altar and a new cross inset into the back wall. The renovation also includes new pews and flooring. Bishop Sis praised Sosa for his creativity and leadership in seeing the project through and for involving the congregation in the decisions. 

“I’m very proud of you for what you have done,” Sis said.

New white marble altar at St. Vincent Pallotti Catholic Church in Abilene. Photo by Loretta Fulton

The elaborate Mass was filled with scripture readings, music, and the rituals associated with the dedication of the altar. Sis noted that everyone present will remember the historic day, with its COVID-19 symbols–masks and social distancing. Every other pew was roped off to ensure the proper spacing. 

The Mass of dedication included sprinkling of blessed water on the altar and the congregation and the smearing of consecrated chrism oil on the top of the altar. Sis removed his chasuble, or outer garment, and replaced it with a white apron. He explained that chrism, which shares a root word with “Christ,” is smeared on the hands of priests when they are ordained and was poured on his head when he was ordained as a bishop. It also is placed on the forehead of the newly baptized.

Sis poured the chrism around the top of the altar and then spread it with his bare hands. 

“It is through that anointing that the altar becomes a symbol of Christ,” Sis said. 

The picture at left is St. Gemma Galgani. A relic of her from Rome was sealed in the altar at St. Vincent Pallotti Catholic Church Dec. 26. The top photo on the left is a certificate of authenticity of the relic. In the photo at bottom right, Bishop Michael Sis seals the relic in the altar. Photos by Loretta Fulton

After the chrism was smeared on the altar, it was wiped off. A clear plastic sheet was placed over the altar top to protect the white cloth that covers the altar. Candlesticks and a container of burning incense were placed on the cover.

“As the smoke rises,” Sis said, “it symbolizes our prayers rising up to God.”

The dedication also included the sealing of a relic of St. Gemma Galgani, an Italian mystic who was canonized on May 2, 1940, by Pope Pius XII. She died at age 25 on Holy Saturday, April 11, 1903. A picture of St. Gemma and a certificate of authentication from the Vatican hangs in the entrance to the church.

Following the dedication and anointing of the altar, Sis presided over the Mass, with masked parishioners processing to the altar for the Eucharist. The altar had been in place for a week but couldn’t be used for Mass until the dedication, Sis explained. 

Now that the altar has been dedicated, it will be used for decades to come. Besides its primary function, the altar is a beautiful work of art that immediately catches the eye when entering the nave of the church. 

“It is the focal point of attention in this church,” Sis said. 

In the photo at left, Bishop Michael Sis, center, stands in front of the new altar at St. Vincent Pallotti Catholic Church with members of the church. In the top photo on the right, the Rev. Emilio Sosa, priest at St. Vincent, Cameron Englerth, and Bishop Michael Sis, left to right, stand behind the new altar. Photos by Loretta Fulton

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