Even being sick has its bright side. Laid low by some grim infection the past few days, I have been offering Mass privately. My two hero-helpers, Fathers McDonell and McCabe, have been celebrating the morning Masses, allowing me to lie in bed and groan. I then get to say Mass alone, in the chapel, later – when I am more able to focus, and avoid infecting anyone.
So I have been catching up on intentions – individuals or groups for whom I want to bring to bear the full and awesome power of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Normally, that intention belongs to the person for whom it was requested and scheduled at our parish office. That’s what you’re really getting when you stop by “for a Mass card;” the card is only a token.
I offered one Mass for just the priests on my All Souls list. Lately conversations, events, and circumstances have conspired to bring a lot of them to mind. I wanted to give them something as a group, since I cannot even distinguish among them which are my heroes, and which are my friends.
Like Cardinal Hickey, who accepted me into seminary, ordained me a priest, and knew and loved the Mass and the Priesthood with an intimacy and intensity that schooled me to my very soul. Or Msgr. Bernard Gerhardt, who left school to be a waist gunner in a B-17, then went back to his original plan of seminary when the war ended. He became a canon lawyer, and worked quietly at the Tribunal for more than four decades, saying the earliest Mass at the Cathedral every morning. Or Msgr. W. Louis Quinn, the longtime rector of Saint Matthew’s, who was ordained just before the end of World War II, and said Mass, heard confessions, and played golf (better than most!) until just before he died sixty-five years later. Or Msgr. William Awalt, longtime pastor of Saint Ann Church on Tenley Circle, with whom I completed my first seminarian parish assignment. I don’t know if I admired more his intellect, his sense of humor, or his simple persistence.
Like Father Derek Goerg; I met him when he was a seminarian, served his ordination, and liked him enough to approach him for encouragement when I was applying for the seminary. He was so good to me. Healthy when I left for seminary in Rome, he died of pancreatic cancer before my first trip home, just shy of his fourth anniversary of ordination.
Like Father Paschal Ferlisi, OSB; a Benedictine monk living in the rectory of my Alabama parish; it kept him close to the medical center he needed for his catastrophic kidney failure. When the transplant failed, he lost one hand and both legs. I would visit with him when I was home from seminary, and he loved to talk about the liturgy with me. After I was ordained deacon I assisted him at Mass, and he insisted that we use incense. He could only poke the thurible in the direction of the chalice with his prosthetic hand, since the good one was holding his cane. But oh, how he shone with delight as I took it and did all the rest. He died about four months after concelebrating my Mass of Thanksgiving after priestly ordination.
Like Fr. Scott Buchanan, my seminary classmate who was killed in a car crash three years after ordination. Or young Fr. Michael, who honored me to preach his first Mass, but just a few years later lost his struggle with savage depression and killed himself.
So I offered a Requiem Mass for these priests, and others who have helped me, been examples to me, or just been my friends. To roll their images before my mind’s eye as I recollect their names during the Eucharistic prayer is a sweet joy, and a gift. I am privileged to pray for these priests as a priest, offering for them the same Mass they lived for and loved. For in Christ’s saving mercy, even grief has its bright side.