TOWNSEND -- The church at the northern end of the common had a lot to celebrate, and the parish marked the occasion of dedicating a new parish hall with the ceremony and pageantry that is part of a 2,000-year-old religion.
Cardinal Sean O'Malley, from the archdiocese of Boston, presided over a Mass and a Eucharist procession Saturday for the dedication of the new St. John's Parish Center, constructed after the original parish hall burned in January 2012. The ceremonies celebrated an important day in the Catholic Church, the Feast of Corpus Christi, and the recent achievement of the parish of St. John the Evangelist.
Parishioners and townspeople filled the church. A total of 13 men and boys celebrated at the altar, wearing immaculate white vestments. Members of the parish Knights of Columbus, bearing swords and dressed in black capes with red trim, led processions and took a ceremonial role in the proceedings.
The Feast of Corpus Christi, O'Malley said during his homily, marks the time when Christ said farewell and promised to be with us always.
Taking part in the Eucharist, receiving Christ's body and blood, makes us brothers and sisters, he said.
"We might become one people, a family with one heart and one soul."
If people followed Christ's new commandment to "love each other the way I love you," everything would fall into place and neighbors would love each other, the cardinal said.
Spiritual amnesia, modern society's failure to obey Christ's final words, "leads to heartbreak," he said.
During the service, O'Malley followed strict traditions, replacing a zucchetto, a simple, red cap, with a white miter, a tall, decorated hat. At some points, he bared his head.
Sheltered by a baldachin, a tent carried by other celebrants, O'Malley bore the consecrated host, the body of Christ, in a glass and golden vessel called a monstrance. The procession stopped at the rectory and the entrance to the new hall. At both stops, the cardinal and others stopped to kneel and pray in silence.
The Mass, thought to be the first celebrated by a cardinal in Townsend, drew more worshippers than the regularly scheduled Saturday 5 p.m. Mass. The service was, for parishioners, the time they usually worship.
Hirk and Louse Fortin, parishioners for 55 years, were the scheduled lectors. The occasion was one of the high points of their lives, Hirk Fortin said. They joined the parish at the same time the present church building was completed.
The new parish hall contains classrooms on the bottom floor. Parishioners plan to build out the second floor as a function hall sometime in the future.
The parish owns three other buildings on the corner of Route 13 and School Street: the original church now known as Father Mealey Hall, the church and the rectory, a former home.
"I congratulate you," O'Malley said.