Lee Ann Trunk and Gina Filmer, both Third Order Lay Carmelites, drape the new altar with cloths as part of the dedication. (Katie Scott/Catholic Sentinel)
Lee Ann Trunk and Gina Filmer, both Third Order Lay Carmelites, drape the new altar with cloths as part of the dedication. (Katie Scott/Catholic Sentinel)
With oil and incense, candles and chant, Archbishop Alexander Sample dedicated a new altar at St. Francis of Assisi Church in Southeast Portland Dec. 5. “It is a tremendous joy for me to be here to mark this incredible moment in the rich history of this parish,” said the archbishop in his homily.

He thanked parishioners and supporters who helped make the altar a reality and commended Father George Kuforiji, pastor of St. Francis for the past three years, for his “leadership in the spiritual renewal of this community.”

The new altar was crafted from cherry wood by Murray Ferguson, a woodworking enthusiast and English teacher at nearby Central Catholic High School. Ferguson is also working on an altar for the Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist, who made the trek from Bridal Veil for the dedication. Knights of Columbus from multiple councils also were present.

“I’ve done kitchens and doors before but this feels different,” said Ferguson after the morning Mass and dedication. “I wanted to help and felt blessed to do it.”

In his homily Archbishop Sample spoke of how the parish has long cared for individuals living in poverty, the marginalized and those undergoing trials. He said the faithful must remember that it is from the altar, from the Eucharist, “that we receive the grace to imitate Christ, who had a special tenderness and love for the poor.”

For decades the parish managed St. Francis Dining Hall, which is now overseen by Catholic Charities of Oregon with support from the parish.

The archbishop said altar dedications, relatively rare events, are one of his favorite rituals in the church. During the homily he explained each portion of the rite: the Litany of the Saints; disposition of relics, in which a first-class relic of St. Francis was placed inside the altar; the prayer of dedication; anointing of the altar with chrism oil; incensing the altar; and covering it with altar cloths and lighting candles.

Advent, when Christians prepare for the birth of Christ, is a special season to perform the dedication, Archbishop Sample said. But remember, too, Jesus “already comes to us every time we celebrate the sacred mysteries of the altar.”