IN THE PRESENCE OF A SAINT: A TRIPLE WHAMMY!
I had one single ambition on this beautiful day marking the 100th birthday of an incredible Pole who became a parish priest, bishop and cardinal and then voted by the College of Cardinals to succeed two men whose names he took – John and Paul: to be in the presence of a pontiff I so loved and loved to serve for so many years.
St. Peter’s Basilica was to open today for the first time in two months and I wanted to be there and to pray to and with John St. Paul.
I live very close to the Perugino entrance to Vatican City and, as a Vatican retiree with proper ID and related privileges, I can use that entrance whenever I need to access certain offices, the department store, the basilica, etc.
I wore my mask but the two gendarmes at the entrance knew me and I was delighted when they said yes, I could certainly return to the basilica! When I got to the basilica entrance there ere two volunteers from the Order of Malta taking temperatures – as they are doing to people who use the main basilica entrance.
I’d been so excited to go that I left my cell phone at home so could not take photos o the basilica as I had only seen it once before in my life, But at least I know there will now be other times!
The very central part of the main aisle has wood barriers on both sides, closing a space of about 6 to 8 feet across, so you cannot walk directly across the basilica, from one side to the other, at any point. As I entered on the south side of the basilica, I had to walk behind the papal altar to get to the north side and John Paul’s tomb where I prayed the rosary. I chose the Luminous Mysteries today because John Paul added them to the traditional Joyful, Sorrowful and Glorious Mysteries.
I did not meditate that well on the mysteries, I must say. I had so many memories of John Paul, mental photos that came fleetingly to my mind. I studied the altar, the many flowers and gorgeous floral bouquets that had been places during the day (I did not see any during the papal Mass). Every distancing allowable space in the pews was occupied and that made me very happy but did not at all surprise me. I saw and felt the love.
I did notice one thing and am guessing it was planned. There were 8 candles on the altar above John Paul’s tomb and 10 more were added during the day on the marble altar railing, two candelabras of 5 candles each for a grand total of 18 candles!
The meditation on the third Luminous mystery in the book I use when I say the rosary began: “Jesus preached in the synagogues, streets and hills of Galilee, offering individuals fulfilment of all their hopes and dreams. People listened, spellbound, as he told them how to gain entrance into this new kingdom: “Repent, turn around, and believe the Good news. God had made a way for you to come back to Him.”
All I could think of was, “that’s John Paul! He preached everywhere in the world!” And it was he who said upon being elected Pope, “ Open wide, open wide your doors to Christ! Be not afraid!”
One of my very favorite photos of John Paul –
I wanted to meditate more on this and talk to John Paul some more and ask another favor or two but I heard a bell that almost made me jump for joy (a bell rang JUST NOW on my phone as I wrote the word bell). The bell meant there was Mass!
Mass! And Communion!
I joined perhaps 50 other people at the Altar of St. Joseph where two of the 12 Apostles are buried, Simon and Jude. All pews were marked with a small yellow dot where seating as allowed – perfect social distancing. The priest who said Mass did not have a mask but he did have gloves: his assistant had both. There was beautiful music and the organist was a great tenor as well!
Communion – Yes, the Eucharist! – went very well. It was orderly, with ushers allowing us to exit our pews properly.
What most amazed me was that when I received communion and began to return to my pew, I started crying! I felt like I had just received my first communion – at least my first coronavirus era Eucharist!
After Mass I did the final thing I had been wanting to do for a while – confession. I did not know the basilica would close at 6 and it was 5:40 but I found an English (and Chinese- and Italian-)-speaking priest so confession was the final part of the triple whammy!
I can tell you a few things for certain after my afternoon experience…
Even with restrictions, when you go to a real Mass for the first time in probably months, you will discover what you knew all along. You will rejoice. You will smile. You will feel special. You will know you are in a special place. Mass is the highlight, the focus, the center, of our spiritual lives. We share the Eucharist with other members of the Body of Christ as the epitome, the epicentre if you will, of our life on earth as Catholics.
You will also discover the beauty of the priesthood as you experienced it with your pastor or others these past months via live streaming Masses – Masses done with care, homilies preached with love. Maybe you went to confession in your car, sitting 6 feet from your confessor and praying those in the cars behind you had hearing problems!! Much has to be sacrificed to prepare these Masses, new technology had to be learned and used but the priests did that – they did it for us, the faithful.
And I think you will discover like never before what the Eucharist means to you!
PS– a link to other memories I have of St. John Paul: https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/baking-cookies-for-st-john-paul-ii-and-other-memories-for-his-100th-birthday-18713