Serra is an international organization of the faithful, which seeks to “foster and affirm vocations to the priesthood and vowed religious life.” It is for this reason that Bishop Daly, in light of his expressed desire to foster vocations, has asked that a Serra Club be established in Walla Walla.
Many in our community have responded to this invitation. Happily, we will be celebrating the official chartering of the Serra Club of the Blue Mountains on September 15th with Mass offered by the bishop at St. Patrick Parish.
Though not yet officially chartered, our local Serra has already begun the work of promoting vocations. In particular, they will begin, next month, the traveling crucifix program to help facilitate an increase in prayers for those God is calling to priesthood and consecrated life.
Each month, a crucifix will be assigned to one of the three parishes in Walla Walla. While at the parish, individuals or families (who do not need to be members of the Serra club) will commit to taking the crucifix home, enshrining it in a place of honor, and promising to pray every night for vocation. Upon completing the week of prayer, this crucifix will be passed on to the next household. This will continue throughout the month until being transferred to one of the other parish communities in Walla Walla. The transfer of the crucifix will occur in the context of the weekend Masses.
The crucifix that will be utilized is a special type, designed to be placed on an altar. Therefore, it is sometimes called an altar cross. The Serra altar cross, therefore, while it is visiting a particular parish, will be used in the Mass to remind us of the importance of praying for vocations. After the last Mass of the weekend, it will be presented to the new family who will bring it home and spend the next week dedicating time in prayer for vocations.
Though many parishes, including St. Francis, have the custom of an altar cross at every Mass, it will be new experience for St. Patrick and Assumption. Though the crucifix will only be present one out of every three months, I wanted everyone to be aware of its connection to fostering vocations through the zealous activity of our local Serra club.
However, I would also like to take this moment to explain the purpose of the altar cross, even outside of the Serra club’s prayer campaign. The altar cross has two purposes. First, it is to remind us of what is occurring on the altar every time we celebrate the Mass. “At the Last Supper, on the night he was betrayed, our Savior instituted the Eucharistic sacrifice of his Body and Blood. This he did in order to perpetuate the sacrifice of the cross throughout the ages“ (Catechism of the Catholic Church).
The second purpose of the altar cross, is to orient our prayer. There are a thousand things that can grab our attention and distract us at Mass, but only one thing should be our focus, Our Lord Jesus Christ. Through Him we address the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit.
Indeed, the Church emphasized this by establishing the norm that the priest stand on the same side of the altar as the people, facing with them toward God in prayer. Since the Church in much of the world has moved away from this norm, opting for the custom of having the priest stand on the opposite side of the altar and facing against the people, the altar cross has taken on all the more importance. It reminds us that the people are not primarily talking to or praying at the priest, nor is the priest primarily talking to or praying at the people; rather, together, priest and people are turned toward God, if not physically, at least in their minds and hearts.
The altar cross, then, helps the whole assembly block out the many distractions that clamor for our attention and focus on the One who attained our salvation at the price of His Blood, the very Blood we receive as true food at the altar of sacrifice.
Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!