An Epiphany gift for St. Louis Church

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When worshippers came to 12:30 p.m. Mass at St. Louis Church in Alexandria Jan. 3, they saw an altar without linens or candles. The tabernacle was open and empty; the Blessed Sacrament having been moved to a temporary sanctuary.

For four months, renovations to the church disrupted the usual worship schedule, but last Sunday parishioners gathered for the dedication of the new altar.

Planning for the renovation began in 2013 and work began in September. The project included new pews, a baptismal font, ambo, new flooring under the pews and new carpeting in the aisles. The new altar, ambo and baptismal fonts were made in Sarzana, Italy, and decorated with mosaics.

During the renovation, the sanctuary was used every weekend except for Nov. 21-22, when the new pews were installed.

Daily Mass was celebrated in McLunn and Walsh halls for a few weeks, but Mass returned to its traditional place on the feast of the Epiphany, with the new altar ready to be blessed and dedicated.

Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde concelebrated the altar dedication Mass, assisted by Fathers Matthew H. Zuberbueler, pastor; Wilhelm J. Ettner and Dort A. Bigg, parochial vicars; Paul L. Dudzinski, in residence; and Thomas P. Ferguson, vicar general and pastor of nearby Good Shepherd Church in Alexandria.

After processing to the altar, Bishop Loverde blessed the altar with holy water, then walked through the church blessing the sanctuary and the congregation.

In his homily, Bishop Loverde called it a day of rejoicing.

"We are filled with joy and thanksgiving," he said, adding that it's not only St. Louis Parish that rejoices, but the "entire Arlington church."

The bishop spoke of the altar as the center of the church, representing Christ. He called the altar a table of sacrifice and a table of the paschal banquet.

After the homily, the litany of saints was chanted and the rite of the dedication of the altar began. All worshippers stood as Bishop Loverde deposited the relics of St. Louis, St. Francis, St. Clare and Blessed Gabriella and her six companions, who were Visitation nuns who martyred during the Spanish Civil War, into the altar. He then anointed the top of the altar with sacred chrism then lit incense in a censer and walked around the altar.

After the ceremony, linens were brought out and positioned on the altar. Candles were returned and lit. The Blessed Sacrament was placed on the altar.

At the conclusion of Mass, Father Zuberbueler spoke to the congregation, thanking his predecessors and all who worked to get the renovation completed. He gave a special thank you to Bishop Loverde for accepting his invitation to perform the rite of dedication of the altar.

Father Zuberbueler added that it's the parishioners' dedication and hard work that made it happen.

The bishop also spoke before dismissal.

"There's one person you did not mention in your thank you," he said, pointing to Father Zuberbueler. "And that's you."

The congregation broke out in applause.

Bishop Loverde went on to say that many bishops never get to perform the rite of dedication during their tenure. He said the Arlington Diocese was blessed with many. It's a special honor.

"How could I not say yes," said the bishop about Father Zuberbueler's invitation to perform the dedication rite.

The rejoicing in the dedication was shared by the parishioners who came to the ceremony.

Bette Jo and Carl Eifert have been St. Louis parishioners since 1970 and this was the first rite of dedication that they have seen.

"This is the third church renovation," Bette Jo said. "It's so much more colorful."

There was a reception after Mass, but people lingered in the sanctuary admiring the beautiful changes that were made to the Lord's house.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016