Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Last Mass

Last January we learned that our former parish of 14 years would close on June 21, 2009. Even though we had already moved away 6 months earlier, we were heartbroken. The children especially took it hard. They truly mourned. Well, this last Sunday the day came when our mourning would take a very real form in the last celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass at Holy Cross Church.

The final Mass before the closing of a Catholic church is not like your everyday Mass. You do not simply go to church, grab a donut and head home.

The Church in it's infinite wisdom truly brings closure to the parishioners and as sad as it is, it is a beautiful Mass.

First, the bishop is to celebrate the final Mass. Bishop Boyea con-celebrated our final Mass with our pastor, Fr. Maurice. Also there were pastors from years past, the pastor of the new parish, pastors of other closeby churches, the provincial of the OFM's (it was a Franciscan parish), and the OFM vocation director.

At the end of the Mass, the bishop, priests, and servers moved about the church, praying before all of the holy places -- the baptismal font, the confessionals, the Stations of the Cross, the holy images, etc. Blessed objects (holy water, holy oils, processional cross, etc.) were given to parishioners to be carried to the new parish.

After the final blessing, the altar was stripped. This was an extremely emotional point for me. One by one, we processed up to the altar and kissed it. I cannot begin to describe the emotions that run through you in giving the altar that last reverence. All I could think about was how many times the Sacrifice of the Holy Mass was offered over the past 85 years at the altar. After kissing the altar each person walked outside to the front of the church. Because we processed one by one, you felt so alone at that moment. (The picture above is of my 9-year-old daughter after she kissed the altar and walked toward the back of the church.) But then you were greeted and embraced by the hundreds of parishioners waiting for you outside.

Once everyone had reverenced the altar and moved outdoors, the bishop, priests, servers, and those carrying the holy objects, also came outside. The doors were all opened wide at that point. But then, after more prayer and blessings, they were slammed shut and the bishop declared, "Holy Cross Church is officially closed." The loud gasps at that proclamation were almost overwhelming. The doors were tied with purple cloth.

Then began the procession to the new parish, St. Mary's Cathedral. Bishop Boyea and Father Maurice were in the lead car with the Blessed Sacrament with the rest of us following. At the cathedral the Blessed Sacrament was reverently placed into the tabernacle and the holy objects put into place. Words were spoken, blessings given, and many tears shed.

With death comes new life. After winter comes the spring. I am praying for all my brothers and sisters from Holy Cross that they will find new life at St. Mary's Cathedral.

Addendum:
Pictures from the Lansing State Journal (including the one above)
Article from the LSJ

3 comments:

antonina31 said...

Thank you for this post! It sounds like the Mass was beautiful! It was just announced a few weeks ago that our parish is closing. The timeline has not been set, yet, but it is a frustrating time for all of us.

Nicole Stallworth said...

What a beautiful, heartbreaking account. I had no idea of the rituals involved in the closing of a parish. And what a testament to the way the faithful live and breathe their faith with their whole being.

Maureen said...

Jenny,

I am so sorry. I hope the transition, as difficult as it will be, will go smoothly for you.

One thing Holy Cross did was a "Wednesday Potluck" with the members of the new parish. They spent the months leading up to the closing getting to know one another.

Also, there was a special prayer that each of the two parishes prayed at the end of every Mass at both parishes.

Interestingly, when the diocese announce closings/mergers last year, Holy Cross was not even on the radar. The diocese was committed to keep it open as long as the Franciscans could man it. Even though it was the poorest parish in the diocese and oh so very urban (translation these days -- aging and dwindling membership).

But the priest shortage has taken it's toll on the Franciscans just as it has on every other order. (Side note: My bil the Methodist minister tells me it's a clergy shortage across all religious lines.)

So, I suppose that the ultimate lesson is that we should all 1) pray fervently for vocations and 2) help our children be open to God's call in their lives.