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Altar dedication closes Year of St. Paul
BY FERNANDO BOTELHO, Special to The Rhode Island Catholic

FOSTER — The Solemnity of SS. Peter and Paul marked the end of the Year of St. Paul the Apostle and the beginning of worship at a new altar in the church dedicated to him in Foster.

Bishop Thomas J. Tobin dedicated the altar and blessed the other new sanctuary furnishings during an evening Mass celebrated at the rural church on June 29. The Mass was attended by parishioners, neighbors, and visiting priests and deacons including two former pastors.

The 3-inch thick altar stone sits on a wood base in the shape of a cross formed by two intersecting arches. The small stone with its embedded relic from the original altar, rests in a box built into the top of the new base. The square-shaped altar was the center of attention, but a new ambo (or lectern) and celebrant’s chair were also blessed at the beginning of the special liturgy. Additionally, a table for the repose of the Blessed Sacrament, matching the style of the new furnishings, was in use for the first time.

Father M.J. Bernard Doré, pastor of St. Paul the Apostle Church, indicated that the parish had been planning this renovation before he arrived three years ago, during the pastorate of his predecessor, Father Paul A. Charland. “It was providential that we could do this now. This was a good way to end the Year of St. Paul. It was the climax of our celebration commemorating our patron,” said the current pastor. “We are so grateful to the many donors whose vision and generosity made this evening possible,” added Joseph Sinwell, chair of the Parish Pastoral Council, during his closing remarks that evening.

In his homily, Bishop Tobin congratulated parishioners for their commitment to their house of worship and explained the symbolism they would witness during the dedication rite, or ceremony. After the Prayer of Dedication, a long prayer rich in biblical imagery and theological meaning, “the altar is anointed because it is a sign of Christ, the Anointed One,” the bishop said, adding “To be anointed means to be set aside; consecrated, for service to God.” And just as the altar is set aside, according to the bishop, we too are made holy through the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation, at which we are anointed with the perfumed holy oil, called chrism. “Anointing with chrism calls you and sets you aside. You too become representatives, signs, icons of Christ [for others],” shared the bishop.

Bishop Tobin prayed that “people will find nourishment and strength” at the new altar, that God would “make it a table of joy [for] the friends of Christ… a place of communion and peace... the center of our praise and thanksgiving.”

Pouring generous amounts of chrism onto the five crosses — signifying the wounds of Christ — incised into solid stone altar, Bishop Tobin proceeded to slowly spread the oil with his right hand until the altar was covered.

The fragrance of the chrism filled the church, blending with the incense subsequently lit on the altar itself. The deacons in attendance wiped the altar and covered it with the white cloth brought forward by two women from the parish. The Mass then continued in the usual manner.

Parishioners are quick to voice pride in their small “country church” with its simple architecture. It was built in 1972 to serve the growing Catholic population of Foster. In a letter of that year to parish families seeking support to build “a simple home… for Catholics in Foster”, Father Paul J. Laporte, the first pastor of the newly incorporated parish, predicted that it would “often require one room to serve many functions.” Because of the multi-function nature of the space, sanctuary furnishings were not permanent or even built of consistent materials or in similar styles.

Until now, that is: the altar stone alone weighs approximately five-hundred pounds; and the altar’s base, the ambo, chair and table of repose are made of American black walnut. Robert Murray, the parishioner and furniture maker who built these items, said he was honored to participate in the project. “To do something for your church that’s going to be here for years to come is very satisfying for me,” said Murray.

Parishioner Dot Whitelaw admitted that “Some parishioners weren’t excited about the change, because they didn’t see anything wrong with what was already there. But I think that once they see this, [they’ll agree that] this is much more fitting and in keeping with [the style of] our church. I like our country church; I didn’t want it to look like a cathedral. I think it looks terrific now.”

Without a doubt