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Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Ancient Presence, Ever New!


Yesterday, I had the great privilege of praying Holy Mass at St. Peter's Basilica. Any priest can go to St. Peter's early in the morning to say a private Mass, either for a few people or by himself. I don't take this opportunity often enough, but almost always do when asked.

The Basilica at 7 in the morning is at its finest, with candles lit on all of the altars, and pilgrims reverently walking through the Church in search of Mass in Latin or in their own language. A tranquil and prayerful calmness prevails throughout the basilica, somewhat different than when the tourists arrive later in the day. Once in a while a bell is heard from one of the side altars: the Lord of heaven and earth has again deigned to make his presence real on an earthly altar, at the Consecration of the Mass.

A French friend of mine, Christian Chauviere, had come to Rome for the beatification of Pope John Paul II. He is a member of a pious association in honor of St. Michael the Archangel, and on the first Tuesday of the month he attends Holy Mass in honor of St. Michael. So, last week, when he had arrived in Rome, he asked if I would celebrate this Mass for him.

Sunday, I met many Americans, bloggers and other reporters, who were in Rome for the beatification. One expressed interest in attending Holy Mass at St. Peter's. I mentioned that I would be celebrating the Extraordinary Form of the Mass in Latin on Tuesday morning at the Basilica at the request of my French friend, and a couple of the Americans said they would try to come.

As usual, in busy times, the Basilica sacristy was filled with priests, vested, waiting for chalices to be returned from other priests as they concluded their Masses. Christian stood waiting with me, as he was going to serve my Mass, and the others waited in the Basilica.

When all was ready, and we were brought into the Basilica, we were led, not to one of the side altars, but instead to the stairwell leading down into the lower level. There, a few steps from the bones of St. Peter, we were lead to a chapel with low vaulted ceilings and a medieval altar. There in the flickering candlelight in front of a 1000 year old fresco, I offered the ancient prayers of the Mass, in origin coming to us from Our Lord, and many of which were fixed in place by the very St. Peter who has been honored in that place since he heroically gave his life for Christ.

We had a very strong sense of the presence of Our Lord on Tuesday morning, in that perfect setting for Holy Mass. In my time as a priest I have also offered Mass out of doors, for family or at cemeteries, I have offered the prayers of Holy Mass in hotel rooms, in migrant camps, on historic altars, and in churches just newly dedicated. Sometimes I have had a stronger sense of Our Lord's presence, sometimes less of a sense. I could never forget, though, that our Lord was specially present in all of those places as Mass was offered, whether or not I had a strong sense of that presence.

Our Lord Jesus was in deep prayer and deep communion with His heavenly Father during the Agony in the Garden, but it was difficult for Him to remain there, indeed this time of prayer was so difficult that He sweated drops of blood. Still, He decided to remain there, He willed to be there, He willed to remain in the presence of the Father, despite the suffering He was undergoing and would later undergo in the passion.

Some of us are not always moved by the prayers of Holy Mass in our own parishes. Holy Mass, though, is not a television or stage show, and our "worship experience" is not just conditioned by the reactions of our emotions: whether the music was good or excited us, or the sermon was good, or the priest was well vested. Instead Our Lord is present there in a special way whenever Holy Mass is celebrated, even if the music is not good, even if the place is ugly, even if it is hot.

We need to allow our intellect, our mind and will, to direct us, then, to remind ourselves that we are in God's presence, even if we may not feel it clearly with our emotions, with our feelings. We need to remind ourselves that it is good to be there, even if we might be more 'comfortable" somewhere else, even if we might enjoy a stage show more. The apostles, as they accompanied Jesus, often fell asleep, but at least they remained close to Our Lord. If we stay away from Holy Mass just based on our feelings, or because of lethargy or laziness, we deny to God our own willingness to be with Him, and we deny the possibility that God's grace may touch us in this special form or prayer, even if we may not feel graced at the particular moment. What joy there is in being a follower of Christ.

Tuesday, I was able to pray the prayers of Holy Mass in a beautiful setting, which helped all of us present to recognize the overwhelming spiritual experience that it was. Whether you are attending Mass in a great Cathedral or in a mud hut in the plains of Africa, in a small cramped chapel or in a cemetery, never forget that, although you emotions may not be excited, God is there. If you have been staying away from Holy Mass take the first step, get in the car or walk in that direction and enter God's house once again. Our Lord is there in a special way! He wants you to be there too.

(I had to post this - this is beautiful.  I have permission to post writings of Monsignor Soseman - Terry)

21 comments:

Terry Fenwick said...

"Whether you are attending Mass in a great Cathedral or in a mud hut in the plains of Africa, in a small cramped chapel or in a cemetery, never forget that, although you emotions may not be excited, God is there. If you have been staying away from Holy Mass take the first step, get in the car or walk in that direction and enter God's house once again. Our Lord is there in a special way! He wants you to be there too." Mons - what great words these are.

newevangelizationm said...

This is post carried me to the time when I too had this wondrous experience of Mass in st.Peter's early one morning at a side altar with a small prayerful group. A Mass I'll never forget.
I'm told if you get there for 7am, & find the statue of St. Andrew with his Cross, behind this is a stairwell that leads to J.P II's tomb where Mass is being said ...so, if you are there without your own special group, or have no priest in your party ...join in there, I can't wait to myself!
Thanks Mons & Terry for a great post! Jojo

Terry Fenwick said...

Oh, my! Wouldn't that be terrific. Our neighbor was there at his tomb - for a Mass - and brought me a Rosary. I thought that was great enough but it would be wonderful. How are you Miss Jojo?

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