by David Tesitor
WALSENBURG — Most churches in the area are preparing for Christmas this Sunday. Saint Mary Catholic Church in Walsenburg has spent the past several months refurbishing the sanctuary area to resemble the original architecture of the one-hundred-year-old house of worship. The new furnishings are best described as artwork.
Thanks to an anonymous donor, monies were made available to create a new altar, Presider’s chair with two side chairs, an Ambo, a Tabernacle and back altar. Two additional pedestal stands for the statues of Jesus and Our Lady of Guadalupe complete the woodwork.
The wooden pieces are made of oak stained to match the original stain of the woodwork of the cathedral ceiling and the frames on the fourteen Stations of the Cross, giving the sanctuary a look parishioners saw almost a century ago. Miguel Angel Alcantr, an artist originally from Mexico who now resides in Estes Park, designed and created every piece of work.
Alcantr was the Christmas Angel as evidenced by dozens of hours of sweat and tears poured into his work. Each piece was hand-carved and the symbols which adorn them have special meaning to the church.
For instance, the Presider chair is reserved for the priest or bishop who presides over the celebration of the Mass. It is a symbol of his authority as teacher, governor and sanctifier. Carved at the peak of the back of the chair is a symbol of the Sacred Heart of Mary. Saint Mary Church was dedicated to Our Lady of the Seven Sorrows (Dolores) when Walsenburg was known as La Plaza del Los Leones.
The main altar is the table of sacrifice where Catholics believe the transubstantiation occurs. That is where simple bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ, to be distributed in the Rite of Holy Communion. For Catholics, this is the symbol of the sacrifice of Christ, for according to the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, Jesus celebrated the Last Supper at the beginning of the Passion and Holy week. Engraved on the front of the main altar are bunches of grapes, used in the sacrificial offering and representing the body of Christ.
The back altar holds the tabernacle, which houses the consecrated Body of Christ. Engraved on both ends are stalks of wheat. The tabernacle itself has an engraved lamb on the door. The lamb is a symbol of the Lamb of God who is the sacrifice for which we celebrate the Mass.
The Ambo is where the word of God is proclaimed. According to Canon Law, it should only be used for this purpose during the rite of the Mass. Traditionally, the priest should deliver his homily from the presidor chair (teacher).
Every piece has its place in the Mass, and these new additions to Saint Mary’s have established meaning. The traditions and symbols have held fast for twenty centuries in the celebration of the Mass.
The biggest change for the Saint Mary’s community however came last Sunday when it was announced that their Pastor Father Martin Frias has been reassigned to Mount Carmel church in Pueblo effective January 16. Father Frias came to Walsenburg three years ago to serve as pastor and was instrumental in bringing the artist Alcantr to Saint Mary’s.
Saint Mary’s will celebrate Christmas with the children’s Mass and pageant Saturday, Dec. 24 at 4:30 pm. At 8 pm, there will be the traditional midnight Mass and at 10:30 am on Christmas day. Christmas Mass will be celebrated in Aguilar at 8:30 am. There will be no masses for parishioners of the Gardner and La Veta churches and they are asked to attend services in Walsenburg or Aguilar.
photos by David Tesitor