February 2 was, like so many other feasts that have fallen by the wayside in modern times, one of the great Christian festivals of the medieval world. It commemorates the fortieth day after Christmas, when the Blessed Mother presented the infant Christ at the Temple of Jerusalem and submitted herself for ritual purification according to the law of Moses. At Christendom's height, a lengthy service prior to Mass developed which involved the blessing and distribution of candles, and a procession of lights around the church or even the village. We may or may not have inherited this love of walking about with candles from our pagan forefathers, but its Christian significance lies in the words of Simeon, the elderly Jew to whom the Holy Ghost promised he would not die until he had seen the Messiah with his own eyes. Simeon was present at the Temple during the presentation of Jesus, and said:
"mine eyes have seen Thy salvation, which Thou hast prepared before the face of all people;To be a light to lighten the Gentiles and to be the glory of Thy people Israel."Last Tuesday, I was privileged to partake in these traditions in a small but special way. Solemn high Mass in the old rite was celebrated at the Cathedral-Basilica in Philadelphia. I joined some servers of varying ages from the various Latin Mass communities across the city, as well as three diocesan seminarians, to walk in the procession around the church and sit "in choir" for the Mass. As the candles were being distributed to the congregation, the choir sang the words Simeon spoke all those centuries ago, the Nunc dimittis.
|Lumen ad revelationem gentium. "A light to enlighten the Gentiles."|
Small as my role was, this Mass was a life-changing experience for me. Perhaps not a Damascene conversion or fodder for a column in a vocations magazine, but I couldn't help but feel a stronger pull toward an ongoing discernment I've had for years toward the so-called "permanent" diaconate. It's very rare for lay servers these days to be able to attend Mass in the sanctuary, but without all the distractions of multiple duties. When you sit "in choir", though, you enjoy being not only very close to the altar, but some freedom to simply watch and pray the Mass, or read from a hand missal when seated. I even fulfilled the "choir" part of being "in choir" by singing the Credo from my Liber Usualis (the rest of the Mass Ordinary was polyphonic). It was amusing to watch the young boys in front of me awkwardly exchanging the kiss of peace, to the second MC's dismay. I hope they continue to foster a love for the altar and consider a vocation to the priesthood.
And to think: all this taking place in the very same sanctuary where the Pope himself celebrated Mass for the clergy of Philadelphia just a few months ago!
|Some of our Knights and Dames of Malta joined in this procession as well.|
|The vestments selected for this Mass were splendid Gothics with fleur-de-lis.|