Saint John the Baptist Roman Catholic Parish
Monaca, Pennsylvania

Facts of Faith
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Memorial of the Passion of St. John the Baptist [09/01/13]

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Today, I would like to wish you all a very blessed and joyous feast day... again! This weekend, instead of celebrating the
Twenty-Second Sunday of Ordinary Time, we are celebrating our parish's second feast day this year. Unlike most other saints on the calendar, St. John the Baptist has two feasts each year. One is called the Nativity of St. John the Baptist which is celebrated on June 24th and the other is called the Passion of St. John the Baptist celebrated on August 29th. Because St. John is our patron, we have permission to move his feast to Sunday so the whole parish can celebrate with festivity the feast of our beloved patron.

The two feasts for St. John the Baptist begs the question as to which feast is proper to our parish. Is it the nativity or the passion? I know that we have just celebrated our 125th Anniversary with Bishop Zubik in June, however the verdict is still out as to whether that is our proper feast . Our Vicar, Fr. Sam Esposito, and I were talking over dinner and have speculated that today, the
Passion of St. John the Baptist may in fact be our official feast. The reason for this is that unlike any other part of the diocese, we in Beaver County have two parishes dedicated to St. John [the Baptist] that are situated only 5.54 miles from each other. To drive from our doorstep to St. John the Baptist in Baden would only take 9 minutes. I assumed that in late eighteen hundreds, the distance would take two days and be fraught with danger and the possibility of succumbing to typhoid fever. However, the internet states that the trip would only take 2 hours on foot at a very slow pace. That is, of course, if the current 17th street bridge was around in 1888. Without the bridges that we have today, I'm sure the trip between the two St. John the Baptist [Parishes] would be much more difficult. Just look at how much of mess the closure of the Ambridge/Aliquippa Bridge has been to our area.

Nevertheless, there are some signs that point to the fact that our feast is indeed the
Passion of St. John the Baptist. If you look at the magnificent windows of our church, the two on the side, the one facing Pennsylvania Avenue, depicts a Roman soldier holding the decapitated head of St. John the Baptist. Moreover, there is nothing that I have found in the stained glass windows that represents his birth. Another interesting facet is that the official parish seal, the one that I use to emboss official papers of the parish, shows the decapitated head of St. John the Baptist. All and all, we still are not sure which feast is ours. Until we can definitively know which feast it is, we will continue to celebrate both of them. Whether it was his birth or his death, it is really the life of John the Baptist which is most important. Throughout the course of his life on earth, he did one thing and one thing well, to point out the coming of Jesus Christ, to prepare a way for the Lord. May we, members of a parish dedicated to The Baptist, continue his mission and point to presence of Christ in our daily lives and in the lives of one another.

Fr. Michael



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The Altar Rail of St. John the Baptist Church [08/26/12]
One element from ancient church architecture, that is rarely seen today, is the altar railing separating the nave of the church and the sanctuary. We here at St. John's have been fortunate to still have our altar railing intact, for many were removed after the Second Vatican Council. If you take the time to walk around the railing, you will notice beautiful stone reliefs that depict the angels of heaven and the apostles of Christ. I haven't yet figured out who the remaining 5 men are, but once I do, I'll be sure to let you know.

The altar railing served two purposes; one symbolic and the other utilitarian. As a built in kneeler, the railing was the place upon which the faithful knelt before the priest to receive Holy Communion at Mass. But in its symbolic form, it took on a much more profound meaning. The altar railing was a divider that separated the nave of the Church where the people worship and the Holy of Holies where the sacrifice of the Mass took place. The nave represented earth and the sanctuary represented heaven. It reminded the people that there was once a dividing line between God and humanity and that this barrier could not be breached by the work of man. Only Christ could descend from the heavens (the sanctuary) and cross the boundary into our world. That is why the faithful approached the sanctuary for communion, but it was Christ in the Eucharist who crossed over to be our spiritual food. The Orthodox and the some of the Eastern Catholic's carried this symbolism to extremes when instead of a railing, a wall as erected, covered in golden icons of the saints.

Everything has meaning in our church and nothing is without its reason. When you look closely enough and understand why it is as it is, it makes the worship we celebrate that much more meaningful. When you come to communion remember to give thanks to God in Jesus Christ for tearing down the barrier that separated us as He comes to us in the Blessed Sacrament.

Fr. Michael Ruffalo



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The Main Altar of St. John the Baptist Church [08/19/12]
When I came to St. John's, one of the first things I noticed was the magnificent high altar towering over the congregation in the center of our church. It's size, location and beautiful intricate carvings truly make it a profound focal point. But did you know that our altar is designed using the same style as early Greek and Roman sarcophagi. What are sarcophagi you ask? Well, they are nothing more than stone coffins used to hold the remains of a deceased loved one.

Throughout the Greek and Roman empires burial practices changed from cremation to fully body internment. The sides of the sarcophagus was designed to be above ground and seen by the living. Because of that, many where beautifully decorated with scenes depicting the deceased loved one or some myth concerning the Greek or Roman gods. Our ancient Christian brothers and sisters continued this stylistic tradition for their burials; although the scenes changed to that of Christ's life and stories from the scriptures.

Our altar is decorated with the Holy Family in the center with a host of individuals such as the shepherds and wise men paying tribute to the Infant Jesus. As the procession wraps around the altar, the angles are even present on the rear who proclaimed to the shepherds, "Glory to God in the Highest." But all this begs the question: why is our altar styled from a coffin? The answer to that is found in the nature of the Mass and what happens at the consecration.

Altars in most churches were designed to resemble the burial slab upon which our Lord was placed after his crucifixion. The altar is the place upon which we re-present the one sacrifice of Jesus Christ upon the cross in an unbloody manor. When the Eucharist is laid upon the altar it is as if Christ is laid upon the burial slab in his rock hewn tomb waiting to be resurrected in the lives of his faithful as they present themselves for communion. Remember the words of St. Paul to the Corinthians concerning the Mass when he said, "for as often as you shall eat this bread, and drink the chalice, you shall share the death of the Lord, until he come."

It is the suffering, death and resurrection of the Lord that we celebrate and remember at every Mass because it was his life that gave life to the world. You will find Christian traditions take the world and flip it upside down. We take a sarcophagus which is a symbol of death and decay and transform it into an altar which is a symbol of life and the perpetual presence of God upon earth in the person of Jesus Christ who LIVES and reigns forever and ever.

Fr. Michael Ruffalo
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