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When the Third Millennium arrives in a few months, St. Joseph's Cathedral will be ready.

Bishop Henry J. Mansell of the Buffalo Catholic Diocese will set the stage Sunday for welcoming the next thousand years when he dedicates the cathedral's new marble altar and totally renovated sanctuary.

The altar and sanctuary work are part of a $400,000 package of improvements undertaken this summer to enhance the beauty of the historic Gothic structure at 50 Franklin St. and to make it more welcoming to people with physical disabilities. The Dedication Mass will be celebrated at 10 a.m.

"The enhancements will contribute very significantly to the beauty of the celebrations," said Bishop Mansell. "We are accentuating the beauty of the cathedral and highlighting it as a symbol of the Diocese of Buffalo."

Sunday's service will include the dedication of the new Carrara marble altar. A rarely used rite, the dedication ceremony involves pouring blessed oil on the center and corners of the altar table, incensing it, removing the oil and dressing and lighting the altar to continue the celebration of the Mass.

The new altar, with two decorative Gothic pillars at each corner, replaces a wooden one that was installed during a 1977 renovation.

Besides the new altar, the sanctuary floor, formerly carpeted, has been raised about six inches and covered with marble. China white paint on the sanctuary walls and ceiling, combined with highlighting with gold leaf, and the addition of lights have made it considerably brighter.

The sanctuary also has been rearranged.

A new marble lectern, used for the reading of Scripture, has been moved from the south to the north side of the sanctuary. The bishop's chair, formerly located at the rear of the sanctuary, has been moved to the front of the sanctuary in the area formerly occupied by the lectern.

Monsignor James F. Campbell, rector of the cathedral, said the chair is being returned to where it was when the cathedral was completed in 1855.

The chair is being replaced with an antique wooden one that has been on display for many years in the lobby of the Chancery in the Catholic Center, 795 Main St.

"It has been in the diocese for many years. It is very appropriate for the cathedral," said Bishop Mansell.

The changes, Bishop Mansell said, were planned carefully to conform with the cathedral's architectural style.

"The Gothic style focuses on airiness and light. The whole idea (of the architecture) is to be uplifting. It lifts up the eyes, the heart, the soul and the mind to God in prayer," he said.

The cathedral work has included changes that will make it more accessible to people with physical disabilities. A ramp has been built just outside the south side of the sanctuary to provide access to both the sanctuary and the Lady Chapel to the rear of the sanctuary. It replaces a wheelchair lift that was rarely used because it was hidden in a corner.

A reconciliation room also has been made wheelchair accessible.

Monsignor Campbell said a new, state-of-the-art sound system will accommodate cordless microphones anywhere in the cathedral, provide hookups for live broadcasts by the electronic media and channel audio to hearing assistance devices.

Bishop Mansell said that Catholics throughout Western New York, members of other faith groups and the artisans and craftspeople who worked on the project are invited to the Dedication Mass.

"We have enhanced the environment in which liturgies are going to be celebrated in a facility that has been a center of spiritual life in downtown Buffalo for 150 years," said Monsignor Campbell.

"I think, we've moved from Delaware Avenue to 50 Franklin St.," he added.

The reference implies that the magnificent church should no longer be regarded as a backup facility for the former St. Joseph's New Cathedral. That structure, which stood for 63 years at Delaware Avenue and East Utica Street, was demolished in 1975 when serious structural problems were discovered.

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