15 April 2008

The Pope's Private Chapel

Concelebrating the Mass with Pope John Paul II in this chapel was by far the most moving and memorable experience of my priestly ministry.

It was in November of 1983. Ordained only three months before, I was at the Vatican as a member of the Special Commission working on the Book of Divine Worship. An unexpected invitation was extended to join the Holy Father at Mass in his private chapel. How does one describe such an experience? To stand with the successor of St. Peter, to pray intimately with Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church, to share the Sacred Host and the Precious Blood with the Vicar of Christ, is almost beyond description.


Upon arriving in the chapel, after vesting for Mass, I was privileged to kneel immediately to the right of the praying Pope. After some twenty or so minutes of praying before the tabernacle, we began the Mass. Including the Holy Father, there were five of us concelebrating, and the congregation consisted of members of the papal household staff. The Mass was celebrated in Latin according to the Missal of Paul VI (now known as the Ordinary Form), and the Holy Father preached a brief homily.


After the Mass was concluded we returned to our places for prayer, and once again I had the privilege of an extended time of prayer immediately next to him. One would think it would be difficult to pray in such a situation, that one constantly would be thinking, "I'm kneeling next to the Holy Father!" But not at all. I found that the time flew by as I offered up prayers of thanksgiving and petition for my family, for my parishioners, and for the one by whose side I was kneeling.