St. Ambrose in Cresaptown offered its final Mass Jan. 25. (Courtesy Gregory Triantafillides/Our Lady of the Mountains Parish)
Our Lady of the Mountains Parish celebrated the final Mass at St. Ambrose Church in Cresaptown Jan. 25 and the final regular Mass at St. Patrick, Mount Savage, the following day.
In solemn rites, Auxiliary Bishop Adam J. Parker celebrated both Masses, assisted by the Capuchin Franciscan priests who serve the parish – Father Gregory Chervenak, pastor, and associate pastors Fathers James Watson and Gregory Brown – and Deacon Christopher Yeung, Archbishop William E. Lori’s delegate for the Western Vicariate.
The parish announced in November that it had received permission from the archbishop to close one of its churches and lease another to an independent group.
The property on which St. Ambrose sits will be sold. St. Patrick in Mount Savage will be leased to a new nonprofit organization, the Friends of St. Patrick Mount Savage Inc. – a self-organized group of parishioners, alumni and local residents – which will care for the church and provide for two Masses per year.
Both final Masses included a sprinkling rite before the Liturgy of the Word.
At St. Ambrose, after the Communion rite, Father Watson took the remaining Eucharist to be reserved at St. Mary in Cumberland, one of three sites that will remain under the parish’s care.
Our Lady of the Mountains parish will continue to provide daily and Sunday Masses at St. Mary and St. Patrick in Cumberland, and will continue its oversight of the archdiocesan Shrine of Ss. Peter and Paul in Cumberland, where Masses are celebrated weekdays, but not on Sundays.
At the end of the Mass at St. Ambrose, Bishop Parker, Father Chervenak and Deacon Yeung proceeded around the church, stopping at parts of the church to remember the sacraments and other prayers celebrated there and “give thanks to God for all the blessings we have found here.” Stops included the baptismal font, the confessional, the statues of Mary and Joseph, the ambo, the tabernacle and the altar, which was stripped of the altar cloth and candles.
“God our refuge, our home is in you,” they prayed. “You are greater than any temple, church, or cathedral that can be built by human hands, yet in this place we have met your divine majesty. This church building has been a place of blessing for us. Protect us on our way. Lead us to new friends in Our Lady of the Mountains Parish.”
In one of the most emotionally touching moments of the Mass, congregants were invited to come to the altar during the recessional hymn and bow reverently, touch the altar or kiss it. Teresa Files, executive assistant and coordinator of mission at Our Lady of the Mountains, said some had tears in their eyes as they expressed their affection for the church.
After the Mass the building was closed as a place of public worship. Father Chervenak said he hopes another Christian congregation will see the campus as an opportunity to expand and find a new home for its church community. “After all it has been very well ‘seasoned’ with great sacrifice, deep faith and much, much love,” he said.
The final rituals were slightly different at St. Patrick, since that church will continue to be used by the Friends of St. Patrick, Mount Savage, for devotions, prayers and two Masses per year.
Stops were made at the baptismal font, the confessional, the statues of Mary and Joseph, the ambo, the tabernacle and the altar, but the altar was not stripped.
Files described the mood as somber and sad with a good number of teary eyes.
In similar homilies at both Masses, Bishop Parker acknowledged the sad moment for the members of the congregation.
“For many of you, the sadness of this moment is due to your own personal history here,” he said. “When you stop to think about it, your own personal history in this church is strongly tied to the many ways in which the Word of God was proclaimed here.”
He cited baptisms of those in attendance or their children; first Communions; reception into the church at Easter; or the burial of a loved one. At St. Ambrose, he also mentioned the parish’s annual Harvest Festival that was a long tradition for the region and at St. Patrick, he mentioned the spaghetti and chicken dinners held in the local fire hall because of the large numbers served.
Just as in the loss of a loved one, the pain is two-fold, he said, coming from the emptiness of the person or place that is no longer there, and acute memories of particular moments. “It is certainly appropriate as a community that we grieve this moment.”
He also encouraged the congregation to remain connected to Christ and the Catholic faith.
“As we walk away from this Mass today, we may no longer have this house of worship, but we still have our faith life,” Bishop Parker said. “We still have that which unites us as faithful Catholics: the sacraments, especially the Eucharist,” and the common mission from the Lord to go make disciples.
The parish was already united as Our Lady of the Mountains, which was established when five churches merged in 2011.
Bishop Parker noted that that there are many individuals in the area who do not have a relationship with Jesus Christ. “The reality is that when it comes to making disciples, we don’t need a particular building. We need you. The church needs you and Jesus needs you,” he said.
“When we proclaim the word of God together, when we make disciples together, we can be a whole lot more effective,” he said. The planning process that led to the parish’s decision to marshal its resources toward evangelization “may involve painful moments such as this, but it will, we pray, bear fruit,” he said.
Galen McKenzie, a longtime parishioner who chaired a Save St. Ambrose group, attended the final Mass at the church. He has been attending St. Ambrose since he was a youth, serving as an altar boy at the old church.
He sang in the choir for the closing Mass. “I could hardly see the book at the end of the Mass – the final two songs I had tears in my eyes,” he said.
He said that two younger people who have been parishioners for a few years presented the gifts during the offertory, but he had hoped that honor would have been given to some of the older, longtime parishioners “who can still walk.”
He said he still gets low when he talks about the closing of the church, for which he and his father built many of the furnishings. “I’m very upset. I don’t understand the reasoning behind it,” McKenzie said.
He was in charge of the parish’s renovation in 2005-06 and built the pulpit that was still in use, as well as some other pieces.
The parish will photograph all the sacred objects and furnishings in the church before offering them to other parishes so they can continue to be used for sacred worship.
McKenzie has tried some of the Masses at Our Lady of the Mountain’s St. Patrick in Cumberland and St. Michael in Frostburg, part of Divine Mercy Parish, or may go to St. Anthony in Ridgely, W.Va. “I’m not going to go to the Methodist church like some are talking. I’ve been a Catholic all my life,” he said.
The Friends of St. Patrick, Mount Savage Inc. will take responsibility for the insurance, maintenance and upkeep of the church building as of March 1 and will plan the Masses and other events at that location thereafter.