Updated: Oct 21, 2019
Before I went to bed last night I wrote out of list of things I would need to bring in the morning, that is, things I would need to bring to my first ever Papal Mass! I wrote down that I should bring my ticket to get into St. Peter's Basilica, bring my money for the train to the Vatican, bring my phone so I could take pictures, bring my light jacket in case it was cold....and so on. Really? I needed to write down a list of things that really should just have been intuitive, why did I feel the need to write the list? I know why. I had "Pope-brain". It's the condition when your brain can't think properly because you are so excited to celebrate Mass with the Pope! I had a severe case.
A group of six of us met at 7:45am at the front doors of the Generalate and took the train down to the Vatican. Brother Ed, from New York, Philippe, a Retreat Director from Canada, Brother Betre from Africa, Brother Joseph from Vietnam and Sister Thoa from Vietnam and me - what a group. By the time we passed through security and got to our seats it was about 8:30am - the earliest I've ever been for a 10am Mass. In addition to chatting, we (the whole church) prayed the Rosary before Mass started so the time passed by quickly.
There's a few things that stand out. First, there were a lot of priests. The opening procession was really long and I don't know how many priests, which included Bishops and Cardinals, were actually there but it seemed like a lot. At the very end of the procession was Pope Francis. He looked so unassuming. He didn't smile and wave and such, which is how I normally see him on TV. He just looked like a regular priest at Mass. Even so, it was not lost on me that Pope Francis had just passed by about three feet from where I was standing.
The Mass was pretty easy to follow. Instead of a worship aid, they gave us a "worship book" - seriously, it's 47 pages long. The Mass was said in a combination of Italian and Latin, alternating between the two. Pope Francis gave his homily in Italian. There were other languages too. The First Reading was in English and the Second Reading was in French. Each petition was read in a different language: Hindi, Spanish, Yoruba (spoken in West Africa) Portuguese and Chinese. Hearing all these different languages in a Catholic Church reminded me of how global and diverse our Church is.
When it came time for communion I was wondering how it was going to work with so many people. We were basically fenced in on the side of our row that lined the main aisle, where Pope Francis processed in, and the other side of our row was crowded with people standing. Turns out it was basically organized chaos. A priest came and stood at the end of the row at the main aisle, the side with the fence, and then we all just kinda gathered around and received communion. As I think about it now, it's kinda like at Costco when people all crowd around the free sample cart. You never really know who is next and everybody just randomly takes turns, but it all works out in the end.
One thing I didn't realize is that I guess they have a rule that you can't receive communion in your hand. I put my hands out like I normally do for communion and the priest didn't put the Consecrated Host in my hand, he kinda shook it at me to signal that he would place it on my tongue. Luckily I figured it out with not too much fuss, but it took me by surprise.
When the Pope was processing out after Mass everybody took out their cameras and tried to get a good pic of the Pope. This is when I got the video (I'll post it). Pope Francis comes by around the :37 mark. People were shouting "Papa" as he passed by. One shorter, older woman in the row in front of me hopped right up on her chair so she could get a better view of Pope Francis. I couldn't believe it. The principal in me wanted to tell her to get down but I figured I better not go there. She had no trouble hopping up on the chair but then it was quite an ordeal for her to get down after the Pope had passed - it took about three of us to help her.
I wish I could find the words to tell how meaningful this experience was for me. I feel so blessed so have been able to say "And with your spirit" to Pope Francis.....and "Amen" after he said the final blessing. I looked online for a copy of his Homily from today, I found it but haven't had a chance to read it over thoughtfully. I'd do it now but I still have to read four chapters of a document for our Lasallian program for tomorrow!
I'm so grateful to have had this experience both today and all of my days in Rome. It's very humbling.