Sunday, May 19, 2013

Magnificent Mass Marathon (Ordination Weekend)

The Archdiocese of Milwaukee is blessed to welcome four wonderful men to the priesthood.  And my family was deeply blessed to attend not only the ordination Mass, but also three of the four first Masses of Thanksgiving and festive celebrations as well.  It was a Magnificent Mass Marathon!

This year the lay faithful were given the opportunity to attend a special holy hour for the ordinandi at gorgeous Old St. Mary's Church on the eve of ordination.  The monstrance used for this holy hour was the most magnificent one I had ever seen, studded with jewels and perfectly suited for a resting place for our King of Kings.  Quiet violin and guitar music set the mood for the the periods of reflective silence punctuated by decades of the rosary led by several seminarians and our vocation director, Fr. Luke Strand.  With our ordinandi well prayed for in advance, the Mass of ordination was even more significant for those who had spent time in prayer the night before.

Every ordination Mass is extraordinarily beautiful and filled with ancient traditions such as the prostration of the ordinandi while the choir and congregation chant the Litany of the Saints, and the laying on of hands of hundreds of priests upon the heads of the newly ordained priests.  It is a wondrous joy to be able to welcome our new priests, Fr. John Paul Mitchell, Fr. Patrick Burns, Fr. Arul Ponnaiyan and Fr. Philip Schumaker, with prayer, applause and loving affection on this memorable occasion.

Fr. John Paul Mitchell, Fr. Patrick Burns, Fr. Arul Ponnaiyan, Fr. Philip Schumaker

Ordinations are such a beautifully emotional time that I always cry tears of joy mixed with sorrow.   I have learned that the best strategy is to arrive at the church an hour early to stake out the best seat in the back row where I can freely cry without anyone but my family noticing my tears.  I was greatly surprised when I met Fr. Philip's mother at his reception after the ordination and while holding my hands tightly within her own, she lovingly told me that she, too, prefers the back row where she can cry in semi-privacy.  We emotional mothers are blessed when we find kindred spirits who understand the true gift that the release of tears truly is.

At Fr. Patrick Burns' Mass of Thanksgiving, his brother, Fr. John Burns gave the homily.  He reminded his newly ordained brother that if he lives his life as a priest well, people will offer him gratitude for all of the good that he does, but he'll know that they are really thanking God through him, that he is meant to be simply an instrument of God's grace giving his life completely over to the service of God's people.  In effect, the priest will become invisible and all that people will see is God working within him.  His words were so powerful that I was choked up the entire time he was speaking.

At the end of the Mass, Fr. Patrick gifted his mother with his maniturgium, the towel that he wiped his hands upon after the Archbishop anointed them with oil.  The tradition is that when his mother dies, she will be buried with the towel in her own hands and will present it to Jesus as a way of saying "My son was a priest" and He will then offer her a higher place in heaven.  Well what mother wouldn't cry at this beautiful tradition?  And what mother wouldn't want her own son to become a priest so that she, too, could say that she had a part in nurturing her son's vocation and receive a special welcome into Paradise by our Lord?  I was so very glad that I was hidden away in the back pew where my tears could freely flow while Fr. Patrick offered this beautiful gift to his mother, along with the stole from his first confession as a gift for his father.

Fr. Arul, who is from India,  accented the gift of tongues at his Mass of Thankgiving on this Pentecost Sunday, and the Prayer of the Faithful as well as parts of the Consecration were spoken in various languages, including his native Tamil.  Although we were in the back row, I couldn't help but notice how Fr. Arul's hands shook as he lifted the host, the Body of our Lord, during the consecration.  I can't imagine how fearfully awesome it must be for a priest, at his first Mass, to transform a simple host into the very Body of our Lord within his human hands.  And I hope that the feeling of fear and awe remains at every single Mass a priest offers during his entire lifetime.  Afterward, the celebration dinner included authentic Indian foods and we were treated to a traditional Indian dance as well.  Our global Church is filled with wonders!

My strategy for sitting in the coveted back row didn't work quite right for Fr. Philip's first Mass.  We were running late and arrived at the church just as the priests were processing in.  We waited for the procession to fully enter the church and then we snuck around the side and found the only available pew which happened to be right in the front row!  There would be no hiding my tears this time!  Sitting in the front row definitely had its advantages, though, as I was able to notice how emotional Fr. Philip became while elevating the chalice, clearly moved by the fact that simple wine had now become the very Blood of Christ within his hands.  Musica Oremus, the choir, featuring solist and Apostleship of Prayer employee,  Grace Mazza Urbanski, was exceptional and when they began the Ave Maria, my son Jack, who was sitting next to me, nudged me, knowing that I would be delighted to hear my favorite musical selection so expertly performed.  At the end of Mass, during his thank you's, Fr. Philip asked his parents and siblings to stand up, and while he thanked them with a loving embrace it was clear that he was crying tears of joy and wonder.  And there was Jack again with a nudge to my side as he noticed the tears falling from my eyes as well, but what he didn't know was that during this touching moment, I was recalling a favorite passage of mine from my very favorite author, Caryll Houselander about a priest's first Mass, and was filled with gratitude for our four new priests who belong to all of us, their new family, the Church.  Please do continue to hold all of our newly ordained priests within your prayers as they prepare to begin their lives of ministry.

"A young priest was celebrating his first Mass. In the front of the church his mother and his young brothers knelt. It was easy to know them by their likeness to him-a family of dark, golden-skinned boys, and the mother like them.

When the Mass was ended, and the new priest came back into the sanctuary for the blessing and the kissing of the consecrated hands, the family hesitated shyly, almost paralyzed by wonder and love; and before they could go first (as they should have done) to the altar rails, the crowd had pushed past them, strangers had taken their place. The faithful were flocking around their new shepherd, and his mother and his brothers had become part of the crowd, waiting their turn until the end.

For one moment the young priest looked over the bowed heads into his mother's eyes, and his face shone.

"My mother and my brethren are they who hear the word of God and do it."

Because the priesthood had made him the Christ of the people, he belonged to them; he was their kith and kin, their son and brother, their Christ, their priest at the altar.

People often seem to think of our Lady aggrieved, slighted when this happened to her! I think she and her son looked across the heads of the crowds to one another with just that understanding and gratitude that shone on the faces of the young priest and his mother." 
~Caryll Houselander


  1. Thank you for writing so beautifully about the ordinations! We were blessed to be at the Ordination Mass for our diocese's two new priests and it was beautiful! I had a purse full of tissues for the tears of awe and joy. What a gift!

  2. Oh, Anne! Thank you for recapping your wonderful Mass marathons! My heart wanted to be in Milwaukee on Friday night and Saturday morning to participate in the holy hour and attend Ordination, but it was God's will that I be home with my family, so you don't even know how much this post means to me. (In fact, when I saw it in my in-box, I read it last so I could savor every word!) How blessed we are to have four new priests, willing to give up their lives for Christ and His Church! -Dawn

  3. Wow! As one of the mothers, you had me crying all over again! What a treasure to re-live those beautiful moments. Thanks be to God!
    Peggy Burns