The End is Near

The final Masses under the Dominican Order at the Aquinas Newman Center were held last Saturday and Sunday, June 28 and 29.

At each Mass, Fathers Dan Davis and Rich Litzau, the only Dominicans still in residence as their departure day neared, thanked the congregation warmly for their love and support over the 64 years of Dominican service to the parish.

There were several standing ovations at each Mass and each closed with a “Vaya con Dios” prayer and a community blessing over the Dominicans, with congregants singing the Dominican blessing.

The Dominicans are leaving ANC by virtue of their removal from the parish by the Archbishop of Santa Fe effective June 30.

Parishioners reluctantly left the Church, many with tears in their eyes, providing final hugs to the last of the “banned” or “deported” priests, as they are sometimes described in the parish. Other Dominican parish priests and a religious brother had left earlier, reporting to new assignments in the Midwest.

Big changes at ANC are already in process.

The artwork that has been a prominent feature of the ANC chapel for many years will no longer be displayed. With such a bounty, the parish was able to display a different selection of original sacred art in each liturgical season. Even an Our Lady of Guadalupe painting has been rejected as sacred art, despite the reverence with which she is held in Hispanic New Mexico.

Many of the altar vessels (in particular, those not made of silver or gold) and linens have been deemed inadequate and are being discarded. The rejected linens were lovingly hand-sewn by parishioners over the years.

The altar wine was found to be insufficiently pure and will be replaced.

The parish’s modest tabernacle does not meet the new staff’s standards and is being replaced by a more elaborate one.

[It’s a wonder that funds for all this are being made available. Is it thought that such finery will win over a skeptical parish? All that glitters is not gold.]

Next on the hit list was the library. On Wednesday, seminarians and others were brought in to review all the books in the parish library and to remove those deemed unsuitable.

The former ANC staff is largely being eliminated. Minimally compensated lay people have for many years directed various parish programs such as RCIA, campus ministry, religious education, parish liturgy and development. Now all but the music director (though he will no longer oversee liturgy) have been advised that priests and deacons will assume the management of most or all of these activities.

The use of lay Eucharistic ministers who distributed communion is being discontinued. Hereafter, only priests, seminarians and deacons will be permitted to distribute communion. Long communion lines can be expected.

It appears the new staff of two diocesan priests who replace the former Dominican staff of four priests and a religious brother will be stretched quite thinly.

Canon law since 1983 has expressly permitted girls and women to serve as altar servers and for years they have served in that capacity at ANC. But that will end. Only men will hereafter be permitted to be altar servers and they will be required to wear cassocks and surplices.

As rumored, the chapel is being extensively remodeled. Decades ago, in the spirit of Vatican II, the parish community moved the altar from the east end of the somewhat narrow chapel to its middle, bringing parishioners closer to the presider at Mass and each other. Until now, the congregation has sat in a semi-circle around the altar.

Apparently this has been deemed not sufficiently orthodox and so workmen arrived early Tuesday to begin tearing down the existing altar and moving it back to its former location and adding other orthodox features. Members of the Knights of Columbus are to arrive soon to add even more traditional trappings.

On the chopping block is an adoration chapel containing the tabernacle. It was created years ago at the west end of the chapel. It provided parishioners who wished to pray quietly outside Mass times the opportunity to do so in solitude. The tabernacle will be relocated to the new altar, a move which the new pastor has characterized as “moving Jesus out of the closet”.

Similarly, a small chapel at the rear of the church building, formerly used for smaller prayer services and for daily Masses, will no longer be in service.

It’s very hard not to consider all these actions high-handed. Decisions in all these matters are being made and carried out by persons who know little or nothing about the parish, its parishioners or its 64-year history.

ANC parishioners were not consulted on any of these changes. The new pastor resisted all attempts to meet with parishioners before the July 1 transition date, saying he was too busy.

As all of the public Masses during this week were canceled, most parishioners will learn of the remodeling of the chapel and the many other changes for the first time at this weekend’s services.

What’s next? God only knows.

Chuck Wellborn

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