This week and last, I returned to Channel Ten studio in South Yarra to film five episodes of Mass For You At Home.
Last week I was accompanied by Rev Joel Peart, who was ordained a deacon last September, and will be ordained a priest this coming September. One of those Masses was the Fourth Sunday of Easter, also known as “Good Shepherd Sunday.”
Every year on that day, seminarians in Australia visit parishes and promote the seminary and priestly vocations, often by means of a short address after communion. MFYAH’s tight filming schedule prevents that option, but transitional deacons are able to do something strictly prohibited of other seminarians: they can preach the homily! Hence Joel’s invitation to preach – which he did very well. You can see for yourself next June. (The fact I was still jetlagged, and he spared me the specter of preaching, is an accidental bonus!)
This week I filmed three Masses which won’t be televised until February 2016! I asked a seminarian to serve at the altar. This is how I was introduced to MFYAH, assisting Fr Mark Withoos back in 2007. Marcus Goulding, who is due to be ordained a deacon this year, willingly obliged. In the end, though, he didn’t serve at all. He ended up as lector, and unlike any other first timer I’ve seen – myself included – he wasn’t nervous at all! He says he worked a lot in film studios in secondary school, so nothing phases him.
I also brought a couple of guests with me this week, who joined the TV “congregation.” Blog readers are all familiar, I’m sure, with Simon Hogan’s racing tips. (Better than average, I might add.) Simon the Pieman travelled from Warrnambool with his mum on a train which departed at 5am. Unfortunately, although he was in the Channel Ten building in time for my Mass, he was locked out of the filming studio. We still got a few photos though, and Simon and Annette hung around for Fr Martin Dixon’s Masses while I happily returned to make up to remove all that gunk from my face!!
Simon and Jeff are part of the reason I’m one of MFYAH‘s celebrants. A few years ago, Simon, who watches Neighbours, commented on Facebook that I was on TV. “Fr Corrigan” was an offscreen character, whom the protagonists frequently referred to in the lead up to a Ramsay Street wedding. I basked in the glory of my TV famedom. Jeff is another Facebook friend and occasional reader of the blog, so when he saw the exchange, he asked if I’d really like to appear on television. And the rest is history.
For the last three years, the Evangelium Summer School has been held on the Australia Day weekend, at Melbourne’s seminary. The weekend basically provides young adults with some intensive exposure to the riches of Catholic wisdom.
I think events like this are very important. I attended something similar in the summer of 2000, right before I started university. The Thomas More Summer School introduced me to an intellectual world I’d never known before, and the rest is history. I can’t say it was the reason for my ‘adult conversion’ — that is, my decision to become an intentional Catholic; to claim for myself the faith I was raised in — but certainly it was critical to the process.
So I give a lot of credit to Fr Nicholas Pearce and his team for organising this annual event, which is not limited to intellectual formation. The program also includes liturgy and eucharistic adoration in Corpus Christi College’s beautiful chapel, and time for recreation — an Amazing Race, an Australia Day barbecue, and a “Scholar’s Lounge,” which provides live music in the evenings.
This year’s program is focused on the history of the Church. The main presenter is Bishop Peter Elliott, who will attempt to cover the following:
• Constantine, the Early Church Fathers and the Mediaeval period.
• Christendom, the Renaissance and the Reformation.
• The Enlightenment, revolutions and Jansenism.
• The Catholic revival, the missions and the Church in Australia.
• The 20th Century, the Second Vatican Council and beyond.
Right now, I’m preparing the workshop I’ll present next Monday. My one regret is that it prevents me from attending some of the others, which between you and me sound more interesting than my own!
Perhaps I should have blogged about this a week ago, when registrations were still open. The numbers are now fixed. Never mind. Readers can still pray for its success!
The liturgy at this conference had been really beautiful. Yesterday we celebrated Mass in the basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere, today we celebrated Mass in the basilica of St Paul Outside the Walls, and tomorrow we return to St Peter’s Basilica.
A mixed choir from Ireland, the Lassus Scholars, have lead the music at all the conference liturgies. They are outstanding. A sublime mix of plainchant, mediaeval polyphony, and traditional Christmas carols. Sacred music has an extraordinary ability to raise the mind and heart to God.
The beauty of the churches we have prayed in are also a great aid to prayer. But it’s not just the beauty – it’s also the historicity of these places. Cardinal Pell preached yesterday, and he began by relating some of the history of Santa Maria in Trastevere.
It is, apparently, the oldest church in Rome, insofar as it was the first “official house of worship” wherein Christians could publicly pray. In the first few centuries of the Church, Christians in Rome worshipped discreetly, and celebrated Sunday Mass in “house churches” – private homes of the faithful.
Parts of the church are so old that they in fact predate Christianity. The pillars in the nave, for example, are salvaged from several pagan temples. It is an old building, and a dark one. There is no natural light. But although it is dark, it is not gloomy – the mosaics in the sanctuary are luminous.
Cardinal Pell evoked the theme of light which imbues Christmas and especially Epiphany, but his words played to the church we were in, too. He suggested that the darkness of paganism may ebb and flow in our world, but it will never overcome the light of Christ, and it’s our task to carry the torch and illuminate the shadows of our time.
These words came back to me at today’s Mass at St Paul’s Outside the Walls. This is a very different church. It less than 200 years old, and it is immensely light and airy. It’s also just plain immense. St Paul’s evokes solidity and permanence.
During Mass today I prayed especially for the victims of yesterday’s Islamist attack in Paris. As I looked around, I pondered how illusory the permanence of this church is. I contemplated not just the physical basilica, but also the faith in Europe, and the freedoms of liberal democracy. All of these things are threatened by the barbarity and violence of Islamism. Islam is not pagan – strictly speaking, it’s a heresy – but it is, nonetheless, the intellectual and spiritual inspiration of a darkness which threatens to spread through Europe and beyond.
As beautiful and big and bright as St Paul’s Basilica is – evocative of Christ, the Alpha and the Omega – I found more consolation in Santa Maria in Trastevere. Especially in its comparative modesty, and in its warm pockets of light which scatter the shadows.
The confidence and brashness and self-assurance of St Paul’s doesn’t suit the present mood, I think. It is warmth and goodness and heroic courage which these times call for, which is evoked not only in the long history of Santa Maria in Trastevere, but also in its very stones: in its architecture and atmosphere.
Father Z, the doyen of priest bloggers, is at the clergy conference I’m attending. He is posting on the conference each day.
He and I are in agreement that today’s address from Archbishop Di Noia, who works at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, is “outstanding.” Father Z laments that we don’t have an open Q&A. As one of the organisers, I can confirm it’s not due to mistrust, but due to time constraints. Despite our tight Q&A protocols, the archbishop was still half an hour late for his next appointment.
Unhappily for me, since I am the Australian Confraternity editor and it’s my task to publish the conference proceedings, Archbishop Di Noia spoke ex tempore. He apologised to his audience and explained that he had run out of time. That apology was redundant because he is an accomplished teacher and speaker (he is a Dominican), and his talk was both systematic and compelling. But I have to pray – perhaps you can pray too – that His Excellency finds the time to put something to paper, so that I have something to publish!
This morning I concelebrated Mass in St Peter’s Basilica with the Holy Father. Visitors are asked not to take photographs, so I don’t have photos of the Mass, or of Pope Francis.
Here’s a photo, though, which I took immediately before Mass:
We had to arrive a good two hours before Mass started, we were vested an hour and a half before Mass started, and we were seated an hour before Mass started.
What to do? For a while, I wondered at the scale and grandeur of St Peter’s Basilica. This is my second visit to St Peter’s. I last came to Rome in 2002, when St John Paul II canonised St Josemaría Escrivá. Even though I’ve seen it all before, I was awed all over again. St Peter’s Basilica is a sight to behold.
Half an hour before Mass began, the congregation was invited to pray the rosary together. An excellent suggestion! Each of the mysteries was declared in Italian, English, and Spanish. The prayers themselves were prayed in Latin. Just as well I’ve learned the rosary in Latin to pass the time during long country drives!
I only realised at the end of Mass, though, that the Latin texts were available to everyone at the back of the Mass booklet which every person in the basilica received:
At the conclusion of the rosary an announcement was made in Italian and English. Since we’re all here to pray the Mass, let’s refrain from applause when the Holy Father enters.
Another excellent suggestion! At the papal masses I attended in Sydney and Madrid, the opening hymn was invariably drowned out by the applause of people glimpsing Pope Benedict for the first time. This time though, while people (me included) still turned and craned their necks to glimpse Pope Francis, the solemnity of the entrance procession was sustained, and a spirit of prayer and recollection set the tone for the rest of the Mass. Maybe it helped, too, the pope himself was very solemn. He kept his eyes fixed on the altar.
Pope Francis is frailer than I expected. He moved slowly, and received assistance climbing the altar steps. He read the prayers, rather than proclaiming them, with very little expression, and at great speed. A bit like he was out of breath – not that he was coughing or wheezing. Still, it is winter. A lot of locals have colds!
The Mass was in Latin, which I was able to follow using the supplied booklet. The Holy Father preached in Italian, so I wasn’t able to follow that. But it was posted online less than an hour later:
Led by the Spirit, the Magi come to realize that God’s criteria are quite different from those of men, that God does not manifest himself in the power of this world, but speaks to us in the humbleness of his love. God’s love is great. God’s love is powerful. But the love of God is humble, yes, very humble. The wise men are thus models of conversion to the true faith, since they believed more in the goodness of God than in the apparent splendour of power.
And so we can ask ourselves: what is the mystery in which God is hidden? Where can I find him? All around us we see wars, the exploitation of children, torture, trafficking in arms, trafficking in persons… In all these realities, in these, the least of our brothers and sisters who are enduring these difficult situations, there is Jesus.
It was hard to pray Mass today. The beauty of the basilica, and the fact I was concelebrating with the pope was distracting. It was a bit like my first few weeks as a deacon, and again as a priest. In each instance, the sheer novelty made interior recollection impossible. (For a while I thought I was doomed as a priest always to say the Mass and never to pray it. But it passed.) I regret I couldn’t be more prayerful at today’s Mass, but it wasn’t for want of trying, and I don’t think our Lord was offended. He knows my heart.
I was surprised that during the recessional, Pope Francis was as remote as he had been throughout Mass. Pope Benedict would bless the crowds as he processed out, smiling and shifting his gaze here and there, so that you were sure he had looked straight at you! But Pope Francis did not smile, and looked straight ahead.
I think the Mass tired him. Thankfully, he was more animated half an hour later, when he led the Angelus from his office window.
The Holy See has published the entire Mass on YouTube, and an eagle eyed reader spotted me, at 48:20. The Holy Father was preaching at that point. I had no idea what he was saying, but I listened hard and prayed for him, and for his pontificate.
Last night, as I walked from the Basilica of St Francis back to my hotel, I moved slowly, and savoured every moment. I may never be in Assisi again.
Now anyone who knows me knows I’m not very observant. I guess I get lost in my thoughts, since I can easily walk past an acquaintance without seeing them. (On the bright side, custody of the eyes, while advisable, isn’t really a thing for me personally.)
Last night however, since I was consciously drinking in all the sights and sounds, I noticed a window of beautiful gold jewellery which was inspired, the surrounding ads told me, by St Francis of Assisi.
I winced. Maybe the “spirit of Francis” (the ideas and ideals he invokes, not his actual soul) did inspire the jeweller. Maybe the jeweller is a faithful devotee. A tertiary Franciscan even. But it’s gauche, I think, to employ the poor man of Assisi to sell expensive jewellery.
Moments later, when these thoughts conspired with my old habits to divert my attention from the wondrous details of Assisi’s streets and piazzas, a small boy racing towards me on his scooter brought me back to the present. He pulled a face and detoured abruptly. Not because of me, but because of the person walking in front of me, whom I confess I hadn’t noticed til now.
This person was wearing burlap. Potato sacks, roughly hewn together. I noticed bare legs and feet, red from the cold. (I’d guess the temperature was no more than 5 degrees.) The figure stopped another passer by, and as I walked past, I realised I was looking at a friar unlike any friar I have seen before. I realised this is how Francis appeared to his contemporaries – attracting pulled faces from children, and stares from people like me.
I wanted to take his photo, but I thought that would be rude and ungracious. I wanted to speak to him, but I didn’t think we’d speak the same language. So I walked on, and lost sight of him. He did not, however, leave my thoughts.
Hours later, I found him again, this time on the Internet. His name is Massimo Coppo. I wish I had spoken to him. He’s fluent in English:
This video raises many questions. Does modesty compel him to look down, or is he merely consulting a map? Is he the one who refuses an interview, or is that the hand and voice of a policeman?
I presume this footage was taken during the last conclave. Brother Massimo, who lives in Assisi and sleeps under the basilica porticoes, kept vigil in St Peter’s Square and attracted the attention of many pilgrims and journalists.
I found another YouTube interview, this one in Spanish. I include it for any Spanish-speakers who may be interested, followed by some translated extracts for the rest of us:
I want to urge you that instead of taking pictures of me, to please realize the difficult times we are living in, very difficult indeed. The new pope will have a very difficult job and we have to pray and prepare ourselves for suffering…much suffering is coming to the Church, The Vatican and us as individuals. We are nearing the endtimes, so instead of looking at me, look at the endtimes that we are fast approaching.
If we humble ourselves before God, he will provide for everything, it is especially important to pray together and ask Jesus to have mercy on us in these times where so many people are suffering and don’t know how they will make it through…and the church has so much to give! It is more than a human institution but sometimes people get confused. This is more than an election of a head of State, more than political matters, it is spiritual and we need to ask the holy spirit for a good pope. The next pope will have to suffer greatly because severe times await the church, particularly the Vatican.
The more I learn about Massimo Coppo, the more fascinated I become. In his past life, he earned multiple degrees, lived in America, and married. He was censured back in 1994, but the Bishop of Assisi rehabilitated him in 2005. And . . . wait for it . . . Massimo Coppo has his own blog!