Edinburg Catholic church restores near-century-old altar

Photos from the Consecration of the new Altar with Bishop at St. Joseph in Edinburg, Texas on Monday, December 17th, 2018.UTRGV Photo by Silver Salas

EDINBURG — When Father Gregory Labus returned six years ago to St. Joseph Catholic Church — his place of worship growing up — he didn’t see the marble altar he remembered.

“I started asking questions,” Labus said. “I’m kind of nosy that way.”

The altar and reredos, the large backdrop on the wall, were a gift from the Stillman family to Brownsville’s Mercy Hospital in 1923, he said. It was acquired and installed by the Edinburg church in the 1970s, but the altar was given to another parish in the 1980s.

When Labus happened to be at that other church, he asked about the altar, which wasn’t in use. Pieces were scattered around the property, he said, but he recognized the color of the marble.

“The most important part is that table top, and that was intact,” he said. “It had a lot of gouges (and) it had to have some gentle loving care. But that top is almost 100 years old.”

Father Gregory Labus from the consecration of the new altar with Bishop Daniel Flores at St. Joseph in Edinburg, Texas on Monday, December 17th, 2018. Photo by Silver Salas

On Monday, St. Joseph’s hosted a special Mass of Dedication, lead by Bishop Daniel E. Flores, to bless the altar.

An altar represents Jesus Christ and his sacrifice, Labus said, made apparent with five engraved crosses symbolizing his five wounds. Bishop Flores blessed attendees, and the altar, with holy water to remind them of their baptism.

And just as Christians are confirmed and anointed with oil, the oil of chrism was poured on the altar, Labus said.

“It’s both: the altar of sacrifice and the table of the Lord, from where we are fed from the body and blood of the Lord,” he said. And like the parishioners, “it is initiated, just as Christ was baptized in the Jordan, anointed by the Holy Spirit and he gives himself to us in the Eucharist as our spiritual food.”

For Labus, this wasn’t just about restoring the holy relic but honoring the legacy of the church.

Labus said it was important to appreciate the contributions of the past, and the  patrimony — one’s cultural inheritance — had been neglected in some ways over the last 50 years.

“I’ve witnessed a lot of things, and there are not a lot of people left here when I grew up, because I was gone for a long time,” he said. “It’s part of our history here in the diocese … and I think it’s important that we maintain our patrimony.”