We’re back from Washington, D.C. and I don’t know that there’s any way I can properly capture the experience for you. It was, in truth, a little overwhelming. Perhaps the best thing to do is to share little slices of what happened to give you a sense of what it was like.
Friday evening was the Promises Mass for the Paulist community. At present, the Paulist seminary occupies the top floor of St. Joseph’s seminary. The main chapel is a beautiful, compact space with a soaring ceiling and a sanctuary space surrounded by marble. The Mass was a celebration of the community during which two novices made their first promises, the continuing students renewed their promises for the coming year and Evan made his final, lifetime commitment to the community.
The Mass was lovely, with Fr. Andrews hitting the right notes of service and devotion during difficult times. The voices of the congregation, led by seminarian and cantor Richard Whitney, filled the worship space giving the occasion a sense of unity.
When it came time to make his commitment, Evan spoke clearly and firmly. I don’t think I was prepared for the emotional impact of the moment. I keep rewriting this paragraph over and over trying to find the words to capture the experience and I just can’t seem to manage. (Which doesn’t exactly bode well for the rest of this post as there are bigger things coming!)
After the Mass there was a reception for everyone in attendance. Kit and I had some time to meet and mingle with the Paulist community. Over the past five years we’ve gotten quite close with several of the Paulist priests and others who are associated with the community. (Shout out to the Paul and the media team who were providing great coverage for the event.) We also met the parents of a young man who made his first promises. It was great talking to them and reflecting on our own experience of having a son in seminary.
After Final Promises, the next step on the road to the priesthood is ordination as a transitional deacon. Bishop Roy E. Campbell presided over the Mass in the Crypt church in the basement of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.
Evan was one of four men ordained that morning. The others represented other orders, but all of them had family there to support them. We have been to a deaconate ordination once before–for a friend who was entering the permanent deaconate in Salt Lake–but it is very different when it is your own child.
With an acapella choir of Franciscans for accompaniment, we spent about two hours in the solemn observance of the Mass and ordination. As has been the case in other ordinations, the most powerful moment came when the candidates lay prostrate on the floor while the choir and congregation chanted the Litany of the Saints. It was a few minutes of heaven on earth as we asked the Universal Church to pray for the men as they moved forward in their formation as priests.
A bit later in the Mass Evan was vested in his stole and dalmatic (the traditional vestments of the deacon) by his friend and inspiration Fr. Michael Hennessey C.S.P.
Ian, Evan’s older brother, was given the opportunity to bring forward the gifts during the Mass.
It was a timeless sort of experience. We were participating in a centuries-old ritual as our son joined an organization which is two millennia old. The cool perpetual twilight of the Crypt church, the smell of the incense, the plain chant and the ancient prayers and formulas made this a moment out-of-time; at once ephemeral and eternal. We were able to be fully present as the Mass unfolded and, at the same time, it seemed to end too soon.
Kit and I wanted to be completely present to the Mass, so we didn’t take any pictures. We’re grateful to Kit’s sister Beth and to the Paulist media team for sharing the pictures they took.
As a consequence of their ordination, deacons are able to impart blessings on objects and people. Some time ago Kit and I realized that we didn’t actually have a crucifix in our home. We decided we’d buy one and ask Evan to bless it for us. We found a San Damiano crucifix at the Basilica gift shop. We took it (along with a few other religious items we picked up) to the seminary after the ordination. Evan put on a stole and blessed everything by following a rubric from a book of blessings he received as an ordination gift.
This was, for me, a very surreal moment. I have seen hundreds of objects blessed. I have a modest understanding of the theology involved. But, to see my own son performing the ritual was … odd. It reinforced the fact that by virtue of ordination he has been ontologically changed. Again, words fail me in conveying exactly how it felt.
The final event of the weekend was the first Mass at which Evan served as a deacon. He’s been assigned to work at St. Elizabeth’s parish in Rockville, Maryland. To this point, he’s mostly worked with the young adults and RCIA groups. As a deacon, he’ll be spending a lot more time in the sanctuary. We were able to attend Mass with him before we had to catch our flight home.
The Paulists brought along the students and novices and some of the priests who had come for the ordination. We watched as the familiar beats of the Mass moved along, but with a new joy as we saw our son performing the actions of a deacon. This rendered the ordinary extraordinary in every sense of the word.
For Kit and I, the overwhelming response is gratitude to a God who has invited us to a ringside seat as our son cooperates with grace. It is humbling and beautiful to witness. We are also grateful for the many people who have prayed for Evan and for us through this experience. May God richly bless you as he has blessed us.