Tuesday, October 15, 2013


I think I had a religious experience of the extraordinary type which I'm only now coming to understand and process as it concerns the Mass with Pope Francis on Sunday before 150,000 to 200,000 pilgrims and a sun washed Sunday morning in Roma.

It was a pure gift to me and has many unusual facets that I have never experienced at Mass as a priest or a lay person.

First, just the majesty of St. Peter's Basilica, completely lighted and closed to the pilgrims with almost 200,000 outside the magnificent doors. To be in there getting ready for Mass and being instructed on how to distribute Holy Communion was absolutely awesome.

Then having the most perfect seat in the whole wide world for a papal Mass and waiting for Mass to start with about 200,000 others as we all prayed the Rosary and were asked to keep sacred silence prior to the Entrance Chants. Yes, all of us did keep quiet! 200,000 or so, kept quiet!

Then seeing the Pope and his austere, ad orientem way of praying the Mass, his reverence and introspection as though he was celebrating for a small crowd rather than the hundreds of thousands there.

But the most moving part of the Mass is the Liturgy of the Eucharist which I did not see as all of us who wore cassock, surplice and stole, were ushered back into the empty, completely lighted Basilica during the offertory or what some call the Preparation of the offerings.

We received the ciborium with hosts already consecrated and about 100 of us formed two lines directly in the center aisle of the Basilica with our backs to the main papal altar facing the back of the pope and the altar outside. The only thing is that the doors were closed to the basilica, so we couldn't see what was happening and the sound was not piped into the Basilica and so we only heard the muffled tones of the pope praying the Eucharistic Prayer and 200,000 singing the Sanctus, Mystery of Faith and Great Amen.

The entrance to the Basilica was like a giant rood screen or iconostasis hiding us from what was going on in the holy of holies beyond us, with the pope and a couple of hundred thousand of his closest friends.

The only hint of where the pope was in the Mass was the giant "bong" of the bell as it rang out for the epiclesis and the elevations as we priests in the basilica stood reverently quiet in awesome expectation of emerging from their to bring Holy Communion to the Faithful.

This was a new way for me to participate in the OF Mass, with a giant rood screen and a silent canon, but I knew what was happening and it was a religious experience for me in a new way that I have never experienced in the Ordinary Form and it was powerful!

Then at the intonation of the  Pater Noster, we fanned out from the Basilica to the far periphery of the Piazza bringing Holy Communion to the fringes as pilgrims reached out to receive Holy Communion.

I have already mentioned in a previous post that this freaked me out as I have never experienced this in a parish setting. People wanting to come forward to receive but not able to, because those in front would not give up their place. And so people acted as communion ministers making sure that those who desired to receive toward the back of the disorganized mob could.

I know it sounds irreverent, but it wasn't. It was very moving to me as I hesitated to comply with the wishes of the faithful who were willing to act as intermediaries or intercessors to pass the host to someone who couldn't not possibly come to the fore.

I've stated that they reminded me of starving people in third world countries reaching out for a morsel of food that would sustain them.  Is Jesus Christ in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar food for those starving for salvation?

It was a splendid day and this religious experience, the totality of it before Mass, during Mass and after Mass will remain with me forever.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

" Is Jesus Christ in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar food for those starving for salvation?"

That's what I said, Father! And of course he is! :-)

However, I think your characterizing Pope Francis's way of celebrating mass as "ad orientem" is rather misguided.

To borrow the Jesuit superior general's words, as said in his letter to the whole Society about Pope Francis's Mass with the Jesuits, "Francis celebrates Eucharist, without liturgical flourish. On the contrary, he has a heartfelt and meditative style, like one who is incontact with mystery, a style that we Jesuits are used to."

I think this better explains the pope's way of celebrating mass, which I don't think can simply be labeled as "ad orientem."

Regardless, thanks again, Father, for sharing. So happy to hear (and so envious!) that you've had such a blessed experience.