The oldest parish in Anchorage — Holy Family Cathedral — has just been dedicated. In a June 5 Mass, Anchorage Archbishop Roger Schwietz blessed the 100-year-old parish, its altar, walls and stained glass windows.
“This is the house of God,” Dominican Father Anthony Patalano, cathedral pastor, said in his homily during the Mass. “Not only do we pray privately but we also pray publicly,” he noted.
“We can pray in our homes, we can kneel down by our beds, we can read the Bible…all kinds of customs and practices which are beautiful and highly commendable,” he added, but as Jesus commanded at the Last Supper, “there is that time when we gather as the assembly of God and as one body we worship God.”
It is ancient Christian custom to dedicate a building to be used in perpetuity for the Sacrifice of the Mass. In fact, it goes back to Genesis which explains Jacob awoke in “the Lord’s dwelling-place,” set aside a stone there and called the place, “the House of God.”
Holy Family Cathedral’s parish was formed in 1915 and its current church structure dates to the late 1940s. But according to Father Patalano, there is no evidence a dedication took place.
HOLY WATER, HOLY OIL
The dedication of a Catholic Church consists of prayers, sprinklings with holy water and blessings.
The cathedral’s dedication Mass began with the blessing of water by Archbishop Schwietz. In his prayer, he noted water is a sign of repentance and a reminder of baptism. Afterward Deacons David Van Tuyl and Robert Whitney walked the aisles, sprinkling the holy water across the several hundred Mass-goers.
After the readings and homily, Archbishop Schwietz dedicated the altar. The choir intoned the Litany of the Saints, a prayer asking the prayerful intercession of saints and angels. And the archbishop asked God: “May this building…be a house of salvation and grace where Christians gathered in fellowship may worship you in spirit and truth and grow together in love.”
Then according to the centuries-old custom, relics — small fragments of the bones of saints — were encased inside the altar. At Holy Family, they are of Saints Dominic de Guzman, Hedwig of Selesia, Teresa of Avila and Pope Pius X.
Next the archbishop anointed the altar and building. He removed his mitre, a bishop’s liturgical hat; pallium, an ecclesiastical vestment denoting his episcopacy; and chasuble, his outer vestment. He put on a liturgical apron, and poured holy oil or chrism onto the wood altar, smoothing the oil across it. According to the Rite of the Dedication of a Church, the anointing “makes the altar a symbol of Christ, who, before all others, is and is called ‘The Anointed One’…so that on the altar of his body he might offer the sacrifice of his life for the salvation of all.”
“Our worship is very tied in with the altar,” Father Patalano noted in his homily, “because it’s upon this altar that the Body and the Blood of Jesus Christ is effected in every Mass in which we celebrate.”
The archbishop and Father Patalano also anointed 12 consecration crosses, liturgical candleholders on the walls of the cathedral. The number 12 refers to the 12 stones Moses used to build the altar of the covenant representing Israel’s 12 tribes.
Archbishop Schwietz blessed newly installed stained glass windows and the deacons sprinkling them with holy water. The archbishop noted God does “not forbid” artistic likenesses of the saints so “we may call to mind their holy lives, and resolve to follow in their footsteps.” The windows show scenes from the life of the Holy Family — including the visitation of Mary to Saint Elizabeth and Jesus’ Nativity. One window depicts Saint Therese of Lisieux, patroness of Alaska.
Next came the incensation of the altar and church and lighting of the altar. A large bowl with embers in it was placed on the altar, into which Archbishop Schwietz sprinkled incense. Plumes of white smoke wafted into the air.
He prayed: “Lord, may our prayer ascend as incense in your sight. As this building is filled with fragrance so may your church fill the world with the fragrance of Christ.” Using an incensor, Archbishop Schwietz incensed the altar, and the deacons incensed the people.
A white altar cloth and seven golden candlesticks were placed on the altar. The candles were lit, then the wall candles. Archbishop Schwietz then prayed: “Light of Christ, shine forth in the church and bring all nations to the fullness of truth.”
The Mass was concelebrated by Father Patalano and fellow Dominicans Father Dominic David Maichrowicz, parochial vicar, and Father Paul Raftery, who previously served at the cathedral. They were assisted by Deacons Van Tuyl and Whitney, Dominican Brother Thomas Aquinas Pickett and nine altar servers.