Altar dedication commemorates church’s long local history

by Marc and Julie Anderson

TOPEKA — The marble altar that has graced the sanctuary of Assumption Church here since 1925 is still there, but changes in liturgical practice since the end of the Second Vatican Council in 1965 led to the installation of a “temporary” altar.

The plan to install a more permanent detached altar has finally been accomplished.

On June 15, Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann presided at the 5 p.m. Mass and dedicated a new, stone, permanent, detached altar for the church.

Prior to the council, Mass was celebrated with the priest and people facing the altar. Many parishes quickly installed detached altars after the council ended, enabling the priest to celebrate Mass facing “ad populum,” or “toward the people.” As time went on, these mostly plain and utilitarian altars were gradually replaced.

Such a change was overdue for Assumption Church, which became Mater Dei Parish in its merger with Holy Name in 2006.

The new altar, made of Georgia marble, was built by Lardner Monuments of Topeka. It contains two relics, those of St. Valentine and St. Vincent, although which St. Vincent is not known. The parish had the altar for more than a year, but it could not be installed until additional support under the floor could be built to withstand the greater weight.

The dedication rite included the sprinkling of holy water, anointing with sacred chrism (the same oil used in baptisms and confirmations), incensing, dressing the altar and lighting the candles.

In his homily, the archbishop said that these symbols — especially the holy water and chrism — serve to remind the congregation of its connections to the sacraments. He also discussed the centrality and importance of the altar within a physical church structure as it ties together the sacrifice of the Mass, provides a banquet table for those gathered at the Eucharist and helps all those gathered around it to become the living altars sent out into the world after each and every Mass.

Also present were Father John Pilcher, pastor of Mater Dei Parish; Father Peter Nwanekezie, chaplain at St. Francis Hospital; Deacon Chris Seago of the parish; and Msgr. Gary Apple- gate, master of ceremonies.

The current Assumption Church is the third to have occupied the site. Assumption Parish traces its lineage to the 1850s, when visiting Jesuit priests celebrated Mass in Topeka.

Construction of a church on the site began in 1861, making Assumption the “mother church” of all Topeka parish- es. The church’s high profile location, across the street from the Kansas Capitol, lends itself to such events as the annual St. Patrick’s Day Mass and parade and the yearly Kansas March for Life.

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