‘Sermon on the Mount’
“Important things happen on a mountain,” said Edmunite Father David Cray.
Though noting some of the mountains of Scripture — Tabor, Zion and Ararat — the pastor of St. Jude Parish in Hinesburg and Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Charlotte, was describing the experience of the annual “Sermon on the Mount” on the eve of the Feast of the Assumption.
Father Cray was celebrant for Mass on Mount Philo, Aug. 14, a parish celebration of this Marian feast that has taken place annually for almost two decades; Father Cray has been celebrant for this Mass every year since 2004.
“There is a sense of feeling close to God on the mountain,” he said.
Eileen Curtis, chair of the Our Lady of Mount Carmel Faith in Action Committee and parish council member, noted that the event draws an average crowd of 80 to 120 people and is followed by a potluck dinner. “It is a phenomenal evening.”
Tricia Sulva, an Our Lady of Mount Carmel catechist, youth ministry coordinator and member of the parish council, agreed. “The experience is spiritually moving, especially on this lovely piece of Earth that God created.”
During Mass, members of the congregation look out across sweeping vistas of the valleys, Lake Champlain and the Adirondack Mountains. One year, a strong updraft brought hawks swooping up the mountainside behind Father Cray’s back. Another year, a hot air balloon floated by. This year, the pastor chuckled, two chipmunks running playfully nearby stopped and sat perfectly still when the homily began, as if listening to his preaching. When he was done, they turned and ran off into the trees.
Father Cray, who was recently elected superior general of the Society of St. Edmund, reflected on the value of such a celebration during a time when so many people no longer attend Mass on holy days of obligation.
“A special observance like this provides an opportunity for those who might not otherwise go to Mass to come and learn,” he said, noting that he always reads an excerpt from Munificentissimus Deus, the 1950 Apostolic Constitution of Pope Pius XII defining the dogma of the Assumption.
Sulva, who has participated in the celebration yearly, said the Mass and fellowship afterward are experiences of evangelization, “particularly appropriate for a holy day honoring Mary.”
As a catechist, Sulva looks for unique ways to teach students about the faith and makes connections between a Mass honoring Mary on Mount Philo and Mount Carmel, a coastal mountain range in Northern Israel and home of the Carmelite Order and monastery dedicated to Mary.
She shared an “evangelizing moment” from the Aug. 14 event when she and her daughter, who had invited both Catholic and non-Catholic friends to share the evening, ran into people they knew from town. When asked by their friends why they were there, she said she was glad to be able share about the Sermon on the Mount celebration.
It’s important, said Sulva, to let others know, “We are here to celebrate our faith. This is what our faith looks like, this is what we do for our faith, and we do it out of love for God and as a community.”