Saint Athanasius Parish, Reading, MA
Saint Athanasius Parish, Reading, Massachusetts
I intend to explore and experience the services of many different churches, predominantly near where I live in Massachusetts. Discovering all of these different faith communities builds my knowledge of the neighborhoods around me and the people who live there. These institutions are important, often overlooked and even misjudged centers of our communities that seek to make a positive impact on their participants, as well as others through their generosity and public service. It is possible that through this activity I may eventually consider a long term relationship with one of these pillars and foundations of the community, however I am eager to do a lot of exploring first.
History & Building
I was pleased to find that Saint Athanasius has an excellent write-up on their web page about their parish history. The parish is fairly new when compared to many I have visited, establishing in 1960, and their unusual, modern church structure was completed in 1962. Designed by an architectural firm of Louis A. Scibelli and Daniel F. Tully, the structure has a Hyperbolic Paraboloid roof, which was at least the largest in the Western Hemisphere, if not the world at the time at which it was built. Since that time this feature has been used on structures as large as sports arenas. The inside of the church features a roof with scattered recessed lights that almost seems to emulate stars in the sky, and a large crucifix in front of a detailed, corner stained glass window. A chain of windows wraps around the entire circumference of the building, mostly uninterrupted alternating from clear and stained glass. The wall behind the altar is almost a mosaic of sorts, of wood pieces, beautifully stained it flows like a wave interconnecting with the shape of the architectural features that comprise the sanctuary. While I did capture several pictures of this beautiful church, they have a lovely slide show on their website here which captures some things I was unable to with limited time. I recommend checking them out, my photographs do not adequately do this wonderful building justice.
Saint Athanasius is actually described in detail on the parish website as well. I often like to read about the saints that churches are named for, especially if they are unfamiliar. In short Saint Athanasius was an early Catholic, even participating in the famous Council of Nicaea that really went a long way to define Christianity. He was a defender of Jesus as an equivalent to God, against a belief referred to as Arianism that saw Christ as subservient to God the Father. A short video on the subject can be found here at Catholic.org.
The ParishSaint Athanasius Parish resides in an area of Reading, Massachusetts that is outside of the town center, giving it a more rural setting and the room to have a more expansive campus. Today on my visit spring has finally arrived and various trees and hedges provided vibrant color with the prevalence of flowers and fresh buds.
The parish is comprised of a spectrum of age groups and families from different backgrounds. This active organization boasts three weekend masses at 4:00 pm on Saturday, as well as 9:00 am and 11:00 am on Sundays. During the week there are daily 9:00 am masses.
The MassThe Mass I attended on May 6th at Athanasius was largely traditional. The hymns were led by a cantor with a captivating voice, and at least one of them was performed both in Latin and in English. Interestingly we were instructed to greet our neighbors in the church at the start of the mass, however we also passed the peace later mid-ceremony.
The homily was a reflection upon the readings which are defined by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, here. In John 15:9-17, the line "I no longer call you slaves, because a slave does not know what his master is doing. I have called you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father," was explained. It was noted that the term slave is important, where many translations outside have Catholicism have replaced it with servant. It was noted that a servant was voluntary, where a slave was not. Servants can choose, where slaves can not. As I understood it, the use of what we may see as a harsher term, "slave," is important because it emphasizes that it is Christ that ultimately chooses us to work for him. It is Christ that then decides to call disciples friends if they spread his word and love.
After the Mass was concluded many people lingered outside where the Vicar Fr. Patrick Armano greeted and parishoners.
OutreachSaint Athanasius's service ministries page details a great deal of charitable outreach to the surrounding communities. Examples of such ministries are the Giving Tree which provides benefits to those in need during the Christmas season through Catholic Charities, a Meals Ministry to help provide food to those in times of crisis, working with non-profit organization Mission of Deeds to provide household items to those in need, assisting the Reading Food Pantry and working with the Knights of Columbus amongst other activities.
Various other ministries may assist with the liturgy itself, assisting with faith education, the parish music, and various other groups that assist with the parish operation.
ConclusionSaint Athanasius Parish is another beautiful organization that contributes to the fabric of the Massachusetts communities it serves. It provides a community, a center of faith, and certainly has now in a relatively short history, contributed to the stories of several generations of parishioners from Reading and the surrounding areas. It improves the lives of many both directly and indirectly by encouraging its members to be an extension of its good will.
|It is difficult to really capture all of the sharp angles on this building.|
|Where the corner of the church's unique hyperbolic paraboloid roof meets the ground. Note the railing to keep people from climbing on the church.|
Text and photographs by George Parks
Sources are embedded in links