Sunday, April 8, 2018

The End of the Easter Octave

Well today, Divine Mercy Sunday, brings with it the conclusion of the Octave of Easter - the 8 days of celebration - because you know, the Resurrection is too awesome an event to celebrate for just one day, we need 8!  And with the end of the Octave comes a time of reflection for me and looking back on Easter and this wonderful week of celebration.

First, WE HAD NO SCHOOL!  Gosh, it's like I'm a little kid - but it was really nice to not have to go to school every day - although I did take full advantage of my time "off" and studied and got ahead on a few subjects.

My last post I did make mention of a little bit of a surprise - because I had to wait until the photos were ready, but...  On Easter Sunday I was able to actually meet the Holy Father!

I mentioned that he greets the Cardinals following the Mass - well last Sunday, after greeting the Cardinals, he went to the next row - and since I was seated behind the Cardinals, I knew he'd make it down to me!  The other time that I was able to shake his hand (kind of), by the time he arrived the only thing I could say was... "ablugh..."  Nothing came out.  This time, I tried to prepare a little bit better.  I could certainly  have said many things, but decided that since Cardinal O'Brien was sitting right in front of me, I'd simply identify myself, "Your Holiness, I am Cardinal O'Brien's secretary" (in Italian).  He said, "Oh..." raised his eyebrows, and smiled.  And moved on.  It's a cool moment, no matter what!

Ok, the photos and human persons aside, let me share a bit of my own reflections during this past Easter Octave.  One of my favorite ways to pray is the way St. Ignatius told us to pray - using our imagination.  So I did that all this week.  So here are some of my reflections on some of the readings from daily Mass this week really struck me:
  • On Monday, the reading from Matthew's Gospel spoke of Jesus' appearance to Mary Magdalene and the other Mary who, when they see Jesus, approach Him, embrace His feet, and do Him homage.  I imagined myself there with them, encountering the Risen Lord.  Like them, I too ran up to Him and embraced His feet.  What JOY!  What relief!  After the terrible events of Good Friday, to see the Lord ALIVE!
  • Tuesday Mary Magdalene (in John's Gospel) is outside the empty tomb weeping.  She tells the angels she sees inside "They have taken my Lord, and I don't know where they laid him."  She turns around and sees Jesus (but doesn't realize it is him - she mistakes him for the gardener).  "Woman," Jesus says to her, "why are you weeping?  Whom are you looking for?"  She asks Him the same question: "if you took him..." but Jesus replies with just one word: "Mary!"  And she responds, "Rabbouni."  I took a lot of time with this Gospel.  Can you imagine?
    • First of all, if you see two angels sitting there on the empty slab, wouldn't that be something odd?  
    • But then the beautiful moment of encounter between Jesus and Mary.  "Mary!" he says.  Can you imagine how her ears perked up?  You know how someone you loves speaks your name - and you hear it - and recognize them.  This is that moment with Mary - she recognizes the way in which Jesus speaks her name!
    • And her response, "Rabbouni" - I imagine it as much a question as a statement.  
    • And again, I place myself in the scene - this beautiful scene of encounter - and in my own interior way am able to encounter the Risen Lord, embrace Him, and tell Him of my love.
  • Wednesday and Thursday are the two parts of the account of the Road to Emmaus - wonderful sources of reflection and prayer.
  • But throughout the week there's been two recurring images in my prayer:
    • At the Last Supper - the disciple whom Jesus loves, who is next to Jesus, leaning back toward him to inquire which disciple will betray him.  It's an image that for me is very significant - being close to the Heart of Christ.  His Heart means so much: His tremendous suffering for us because of our sins; and His incredible love for us.  And I can easily identify with both images.  In fact, Sr. Thelma Steiger at Ain Karim in Fairfield, PA wrote an image for me of the Sacred Heart - which sits in front of me in the chapel - so that during my prayer every day, I can reflect on both Jesus' suffering and His love.
    • The other image is one from Good Friday - Jesus entrusting Mary to John, and John to Mary.  And I really believe that this image is the root of my own Marian devotion.
On Wednesday, Peter Rettig arrived in Rome.  Peter is a seminarians from St. Andrew the Apostle Parish in Waynesboro (the Diocese of Harrisburg) where I was pastor for 5 all-too-short years.  He entered the seminary while I was still there and we've kept in touch.  Right now he is studying First Theology in Spain (in order to improve his Spanish) and during his Easter break he came to Rome to visit.  The rest of the week was split between work and just hanging out with Peter!

We did some traveling around Rome - we went on Thursday to St. Paul Outside the Walls, St. John Lateran (the Cathedral of Rome) and St. Mary Major.  While at the Lateran I was able to get the newly blessed oils (during the Chrism Mass) for the Cardinal and myself.  After visiting these we went to St. Peter in Chains (since he's Peter Rettig's name-sake) where they have the chains that held Peter prisoner - and Michelangelo's "horned Moses" (tho from an art perspective, this link  is really interesting).

Friday afternoon we went up to the Roof of the North American College for one of the most spectacular views of the City of Rome.

Saturday we celebrated Mass in the morning in the Clementine Chapel (the chapel inside the grotto of St. Peter's Basilica that is closest to St. Peter's tomb).  After Mass, I had to go to work, but Peter had the entire morning to explore the Basilica and the cupola of St. Peter's.  That evening we had a wonderful evening down in Trastevere - and this morning (Sunday) he headed back to Spain to begin classes tomorrow (as do I).

It's been a great week celebrating the Resurrection, meeting the Pope - and having Peter Rettig come to visit!  I pray that you have also had a joyous celebration of Our Lord's Resurrection!

Monday, April 2, 2018

Easter Sunday 2018

Easter was a GLORIOUS day here in Rome for so many reasons!  First, of course, the spiritual joy and blessings of the day; but also the wonderful fraternity and community here in Rome among the American priests/seminarians... and the weather.  

Just a few of the beautiful flowers (from Holland, I learned)
Cardinal O'Brien and myself after the Mass
We awoke Easter morning to a TON of security all around our building.  You may certainly have heard in the news of various threats of attacks here in Rome during the Easter celebrations - so security was extremely tight around St. Peter's Square where the Holy Father presided at an outdoor Mass for 1000's of people gathered to celebrate the Lord's Resurrection.  

The Cardinal and I headed toward the Square for the 10am Mass and were quickly met by a member of the police force who, recognizing a Cardinal, personally escorted us through security and right up to the steps of St. Peter's Basilica.  We heard from several pilgrims how tight security was, but how GOOD and friendly the security forces were.  Everyone understands the situation and the need for security - it is an unfortunate reality in our world today.

So, we get up to the seating area close to the Papal altar in front of St. Peter's - and we went our separate ways (as usual) because the Cardinal, naturally, as special seating.  I, on the other hand, simply find a place near the other priests.  I've learned that if you just act like you belong there, they simply let you be.  Well today, after being moved several times by the ushers, I ended up in a seat directly behind the Cardinals - RIGHT behind him, in fact.  NOT A BAD SEAT!

At this Easter Sunday Mass there is no concelebration - not even the Cardinals.  So we were all "in choir" - meaning wearing cassock and surplis.  It wasn't long before the music began and the Holy Father entered from the Basilica.

Once again, the music was beautiful, the celebration of the Mass joyful.  There is a wonderful custom here at big Papal liturgies to proclaim the Gospel not only in Latin (or Italian), but also in Greek - recognizing our unity with the members of the Eastern Churches.  Here's the best shot I could get of the Gospel procession and its being proclaimed.  (you can see the Eastern rite priest on the left and the Latin rite deacon on the right).  Below, if you look to the right of the Swiss Guard, you can see the deacon at the ambo - and the size of the crowd gathered in the Square for Mass.

Of course the Holy Father preached, from his heart and without a text, speaking, he said, just three thoughts for our Easter celebration: God surprises us; Responding quickly to God's surprises; What about me? How do I respond?  It really was a very good extemporaneous homily with lots of food for reflection.

Here are some other photos I tried to snap (discretely) during the Mass:

Following the Mass the Holy Father always removes his vestments and greets all the Cardinals who are present.  Because I was seated directly behind them, I got some really good photos!

For anyone who kind of pays attention to Church-related issues, the photo on the left is Pope Francis greeting Gerhard Cardinal Müller.

I accidentally somehow switched my phone-camera to "video" when the Holy Father was greeting Cardinal O'Brien - so this is all I got...  only 1 second...

After greeting the Cardinals, the Holy Father got into the Popemobile and made several swings through St. Peter's Square - then he went up to the central loggia of the Basilica to give his "Urbi and Orbi" greeting (which, by the way, means "to the City and to the World).  Here's information about his address (you can actually watch it at the bottom of this line) - and some photos that I took from my position in front of the Basilica:

There is one other really cool thing that happened Easter morning - but I won't have the photos to prove it for a couple of days... so you'll have to stay tuned to see what it is that happened...  And I also want to gather some thoughts to share with you my own personal reflections on the Easter joy which we celebrate in Christ's resurrection.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Triduum in Rome 2018

It has been a wonderful Triduum here in Rome - although I was "down for the count" for one of the days. 

We had a wonderful celebration of Holy Thursday at the North American College (the American seminary here in Rome).  Cardinal O'Brien presided at the Mass.  Although I must admit that the Mass brought to my mind just how much I miss being pastor of a parish.  As the Cardinal was delivering his homily and as he was washing the feet of 12 of the 5th-year men (priests who were ordained last spring), I recalled my years serving as pastor of parishes at home... and how much I miss being in a parish.  For a diocesan priest, it is our life.  I look forward to the time when I will once again have the joy and privilege of pastoring a flock.  BTW - for all the people of the parishes I have served, every Sunday I offer Mass for all of you (quite literally, I offer Mass for all the people of the parishes where I have ever served: St. Francis of Assisi, St. Joseph (Hanover), Sacred Heart (Lewistown), St. Jude, St. Andrew, Our Lady of the Visitation, and St. Francis Xavier).  You are remembered regularly in my prayers and my Masses.  Here are some photos of the Mass.

Cardinal O'Brien preaching
The Washing of the Feet

Can you find me?  Look close!
The Altar of Repose

After Mass we had a lovely dinner and time of fraternity among the priests.  There is a wonderful group of men here serving the Church in various ways - and no matter where we are from, that priestly fraternity, originating on that first Holy Thursday, unites us as brothers.  I am honored to serve along side them.

Friday - Good Friday.  More information than you need, but, I was really sick.  Didn't even leave the house.  First Good Friday I've missed in 22 years.  I watched the Holy Father on TV (yes, we can actually watch events at St. Peter's on TV here).  Enough said.  Let's move on.

Holy Saturday is a day of quiet waiting.  Felt much better so got some exercise and some studying in.  In the evening we went to the Easter Vigil with Pope Francis at St. Peter's Basilica.  I sat with the 100-or-so other priests who also concelebrated the Mass.  We waited in a dark basilica (strange sight) as the Holy Father light the Easter Fire just outside, under the portico.  

Then the Holy Father entered the Basilica as we all held candles.  The Exultet was sung - the glorious song announcing the Lord's glorious victory over death.  One of the great lines: "O happy fault, O necessary sin of Adam, that gained for us so great a Redeemer."  If you've never heard the Exultet sung at the Easter Vigil, you can listen to it here in Latin (not from this year) - or English.   The words (in English) are here.

Not to say that the Easter Vigil Mass at the Vatican is just... Mass... things went as you would expect. Lovely music.  Beautiful liturgy.  Following the homily, the Holy Father (like every pastor) baptized and confirmed those who have been studying to enter the Church.  One of those he baptized was a Nigerian immigrant named John Ogah.  There's a fascinating story about him... he was here in Italy illegally standing outside a grocery store asking for money when someone robbed the store.  He stopped the robber and held him until police came.  It's a cool story about him...

John Ogah prepares to be baptized by the Holy Father
A photo of the Cardinal's - including Cardinal O'Brien (3rd from the left)

 I'll continue with Easter Sunday in my next post... and there was another surprise for me!  Stay tuned!

Thursday, March 29, 2018

The Chrism Mass in Rome

This Easter I will be staying in Rome.  No trips, no visits - just time to pray, to reflect, to celebrate, to rejoice - as we follow the Lord through these holiest of days - the Sacred Triduum.

Traditionally, the first event of the 3-day period is the Chrism Mass - in the morning of Holy Thursday.  In many dioceses, because of the difficulty of gathering the priests on Holy Thursday itself, the Chrism Mass is celebrated (as the rubrics say) "the Mass of Chrism may also be transferred to another day, but near to Easter..."

Well, here in Rome, it is celebrated on Holy Thursday morning.  So this morning, with the priests of the Diocese of Rome, the many priests who live, work and study here in Rome, the Bishops and Cardinals who live and work in Rome, I was able to concelebrate the Chrism Mass with our Holy Father, Pope Francis.

Pope Francis following the reception of Holy Communion

A very important moment during the Chrism Mass is when all the priests renew their priestly promises.  I must admit, as great as it is to do that each year with my bishop, there really is something about renewing your priestly promises with the Holy Father himself - the Vicar of Christ and successor to the Apostle Peter.  They are words about which I reflected this morning in my prayer (in preparation).

The Holy Father says:
"Beloved sons, on the anniversary of that day when Christ our Lord conferred His priesthood on His Apostles and on us, are you resolved to renew in the presence of your Bishop and God's holy people, the promises you once made?"

The Priests respond: "I am."

The Holy Father says:
"Are you resolved to be more united with the Lord Jesus and more closely conformed to Him, denying yourselves and confirming those promises about sacred duties towards Christ's Church which, prompted by love of Him, you willingly and joyfully pledged on the day of your priestly ordination?

The Priests respond: "I am."

An aside: I highlighted the words above because they are the ones that really struck me in prayer today.  I remember well the day nearly 22 years ago, that I made those promises.  They were INDEED filled with joy and with love for Christ, His Church, and His people.  What a great and precious gift God has given to me, unworthy though I am.

The Holy Father says:
"Are you resolved to be faithful stewards of the mysteries of God in the Holy Eucharist and the other liturgical rites and to discharge faithfully the sacred office of teaching, following Christ the Head and Shepherd, not seeking any gain, but moved only by zeal for souls?"

The Priests respond: "I am."

The Holy Father then addresses the People of God gathered and says:
As for you, dearest sons and daughters, pray for your priests, that the Lord may pour out His gifts abundantly upon them, and keep them faithful as ministers of Christ, the High Priest, so that they may lead you to Him, who is the source of salvation."

 The Holy Oils as they leave the Basilica.

Later next week I will go to the Cathedral church of Rome, St. John Lateran, to refill our oil stocks for the house.  Just like everywhere, you have to get the oils.  Fortunately, not having a parish, it's not something that has to be done today (in order to have the oils for the Easter Vigil and the confirmation of those being baptized and brought into the Church).  So one day next week, while seminarian Peter Rettig from Waynesboro is visiting, I'll make the trip to get the oils for the house.

And my "boss" - Edwin Cardinal O'Brien, as he processes out of St. Peter's Basilica at the conclusion of the Chrism Mass.

This evening Cardinal O'Brien is presiding at the Mass of the Lord's Supper at the North American College (the US Seminary here in Rome).  Then tomorrow and Saturday night we'll again be commemorating these important days with our Holy Father.  I'll keep you posted!

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Investiture in Loreto - the Holy House

OK it has been REALLY long since I lost worked on this blog.  I'm finding the balance between my work with and for Cardinal O'Brien (my primary reason for being here) and school (and a life) to be difficult.  Nonetheless, I'm managing - but there are some things that have had to take a back-seat - like blogging.  Still, this weekend was a really great investiture in Loreto, so I wanted to share it with you!

Because Loreto is only 3 hours (or so) from Rome - nearly directly across Italy on the Adriatic Sea - we drove to Loreto.  We arrived after dark and had a nice dinner in Loreto - and a beautiful nighttime view of the Basilica's dome.

As the Investiture was not until 11:30am, I had the RARE chance to sleep in a bit (although my internal clock awoke me at 6am - still sleeping later than usual).  So after breakfast at the hotel I went early to the Basilica so that I could have the opportunity to pray.  As I walked toward the Basilica, the view was impressive.

As I went into the Basilica, of course the first place I wanted to go was the "Holy House" as it is called.  The tradition is that this house was the home of Mary in Nazareth - the home in which she was raised and in which the Archangel Gabriel appeared to her at the Annunciation.

An ancient tradition tells that the walls of the Shrine existed in Nazareth, Galilea: the Holy House is the same House where Our Lady Mary was born, grew up and received the angelic announcement.  This tradition, based on devotion and popular belief, ascribed the transportation of the House of Nazareth to an angelic mission; current historical studies have developed the hypothesis of a transportation carried out by Man, through sea and land, that came true with special assistance from above. That’s the way “to read between the lines” and give the most probable explanation to the Holy House event.

The original nucleus of the Holy House consists of three walls only: in Nazareth, the original fourth wall was simply the side opened towards the entrance of the grotto. On this edge now stands the interior altar of the Holy House.

The Holy Chamber can be clearly defined in two different parts. The lower section (from the ground up to almost 3 meters in heigh) is the original wall, made with sandstone blocks, built in regular rows, as we could find in Nazareth; the upper section is added afterwards with Marche local brick, the only building material used in the area with that methods of construction.

The technique used for the external finish of some stones is similar to that employed by the Nabateans and was very popular in Palestine during the Romans empire.

About sixty graffiti have been found, and mostly are considered by experts to be similar to those of the Judeo-Christians in the Holy Land, including Nazareth, belonging to ancient times.

I was able to get some photos of the outside of the Holy House and the interior of the dome before I went to spent some time in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament exposed in the Eucharistic chapel.  

Again, from the Shrine's website about the covering of the Holy House:

The Marble Screen was commissioned by Julius II, who sent Donato Bramante to Loreto in 1507 to do "great things" there and to "draw many works".

The opera was realized under the direction of Andrea Sansovino (1513-27), Ranieri Nerucci and Antonio da Sangallo il Giovane. The statues of the Sybils and of the Prophets were inserted in their niches in a later period.

The Marble Screen consists of a podium with geometrical ornamentations, with a series of aligned columns articulated in two sections, crowned by corinthian capitals supporting a projecting cornice. The balaustrade, by Antonio da Sangallo, cloaks the ungainly barrel vault of the Holy House and also provides an elegant frame encasing the marvellous edifice.

So I spent some time in prayer, until...

I, and everyone else in the Basilica, was asked to exit the Basilica for 10-15 minutes (which became about 20) while the police conducted a "security sweep."  Turns out that the local authorities decided that, with a large gathering of the faithful with Cardinals and Bishops, it might be best to ensure everyone's safety.  So, it was annoying, but good to know of their precautions for everyone's safety.

When their sweep was finally completed, I vested and went outside to await the Cardinal's arrival.  The church bells tolled, calling everyone to the celebration.  I LOVE the sound of bells!

Shortly afterward, the procession into the Basilica began...

And then the Cardinal Arrived, blessed those greeting him with Holy Water, and entered the Basilica while "Ecce, Sacerdos Magus" was sung (I have just a short snippet - sorry).  

And with that, everything was ready - the Cardinal vested for the ceremony of Investiture, and we began.  It all went as per usual, until the time of the investiture itself.  Realizing that we were at the home of Mary from Nazareth, we were given a special privilege - to hold the actual investiture rite INSIDE the Holy House: a piece of the Holy Land in Italy.

The investitures completed, the Cardinal vested for Mass, returned to the Sanctuary (where he was welcomed by the Archbishop of the Shrine, Archbishop Fabio Dal Cin.  Then the final photos outside of the entire group.