Sunday, May 01, 2011

The First Time

The Catholic (and others, too) world rejoices today in the Beatification of Pope John Paul II. I presume we officially call him "Pope Blessed John Paul II" (if we base it on the way we speak of "Pope St. Pius X"), or, "Blessed John Paul II" for short. Whatever we call him, the joy of the Easter season is made that much sweeter because of Pope Benedict's declaration that we enroll Karol Josef Wojtyła amongst the Blessed of the Church.

So here I am, awake for the ceremony, listening to the homily of the Holy Father while I type this. Irreverent? Nope, I never said this counted for my Mass attendance (for the record, I have my usual 3 to do today). But either the muse has struck me or the caffeine has kicked in, and so I'm ready to type.

Four times I was privileged to attend Mass in what we now know to be purely Blessed John Paul's invention: attendance at the Holy Father's Mass, in the chapel of the Papal Apartment. What a gift! Each of the four Masses took place at different steps along my journey to the Priesthood: one in college seminary (1994), two during Major Seminary (1995 and 1996), and one after Priestly ordination (2001). I thought I'd share some thoughts about each time, using what I had written in my diary at the time (please excuse the grammatical errors). So, today, here are the notes I wrote after the first time I attended Mass with Pope John Paul:

Saturday, January 8, 1994

Well, perhaps I slept about 3-4 hours total, that being broke up into 30-45 minute bursts. Thank God, both alarms worked and even if I slept, I'd have been woken up. I know this last hour will go slower than the last 8 hours since I heard the news.


What an unforgettable morning. How memorable this has been and will continue to be for the rest of my life. But let me start from the beginning:

We left here [the house we were staying in] at 6:05. Well, not exactly. We found out we're locked in this building! Even the courtyard doesn't let you out to the street. So after a brief panic attack, I discover a window that we can get out of, so we did just that, looking like 2 well dressed burglars.

We get to the Bronze Doors at 6:25 and already there are 5 people waiting. Using my German for the first time in years, I strike up polite conversation. [The other seminarian with me] is making sure his shirt collar is alright. We go up the stairs and, after giving our names to a plainclothes guard, we're let in. AT about 6:35 we begin the ascent to the Papal apartments.

O.K., so now we're up in the chapel. We're lead to our seats, but where's the Pope? All the pictures I've seen, he's usually praying in his chair while people are seating. "Oh no, he's not going to do this", I fear. But then I see the vestments on the altar and a little white zucchetto and I calm down.

Let me describe the chapel. About 20-24 feet wide and about 60 feet long. Done mostly in black and white with black backless stools for us to sit in. The floor is black and white marble, and the ceiling is one giant stained glass collage which looks artificially lit. At the far wall is an altar with a tabernacle at the front & center. To the left are 3 lit candles and to the right is a bunch of lilies ("But this isn't Easter", I wonder). A bronze crucifix hangs above the altar with a picture of Our Lady of Czestochowa at the foot of the Cross. Access to the sacristy is from behind the altar, and on either side of the access walls are earth-toned mosaics of the crucifixion of St. Peter and the beheading of St. Paul. At the left side of the chapel is a creche with a baby Jesus in it. A pulpit is off to the left. In front of the stools is a large green copper chair in the center with a white cushioned prie-dieu. This is the Pope's seat.

By 7:10, the secretaries are with us sitting, and I know it's going to happen soon. From behind the altar comes the Pope, looking, I must confess, a little tired. He stands before the altar, and with precision and dignity, the secretaries dress him for Mass. First, the amice, the alb, the chasuble, then back with the pectoral cross. They do this so precise that one secretary kneels behind the Pope and fixes the pleats on his alb so they fall straight. I get the feeling they do this whether there are people there or not.

Mass was in French, so I could follow it a little. After Communion and a brief while after Mass, we had silent meditation. I prayed for all who I care for, and even those I don't care for. Eventually we were led to the conference room where I shook his hand and had photos. Soon, the photo proofs will be ready and I've got to check those out soon.

1 comment:

timh said...

Father - so much here; thank you!
One random comment, about the altar arrangement:
"To the left are 3 lit candles and to the right is a bunch of lilies"
I noticed this at Masses we attended just last fall from Assisi to Rome and on thru Solerno & Ravello, but I've never seen it here in the US.
Is this just a custom?