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'First Mass' Recalled
Msgr. David Q. Liptak
A few years ago, as I was leaving my barbershop in one of those busy malls on the Silas Deane Highway in Wethersfield, a woman passing by politely addressed me by name. Surprised, since I did not recognize her, I stopped to return her greeting. She told me her name, explained that although I did not know her, she was at my first solemn Mass back in 1953 at St. Ann’s Church in the beautiful Black Rock Section of Bridgeport, just blocks from St. Mary’s by the Sea. Moreover, she had not seen me since my first Mass, which she had never forgotten for several reasons.
Her account was almost unbelievable.
For one thing, she said that she had a first date the day of my first Mass with a young man who was in my graduation class at Bassick Senior High School in Bridgeport. When he arrived to take her out – they had no special plans – he explained that he had forgotten that he must be at St. Ann’s Church for the first Mass. Would she mind making the Mass the occasion of their first date? So she went with him to St. Ann’s, and, as the expression goes, the rest is history.
Unbelievable, I thought again. But all the pieces fell into place, all the details and, of course, the time, place and circumstances.
The chance meeting in the mall occasioned so many memories surrounding my first solemn Mass. Memories of old friends, for example, friends from grade school as well as high school, friends with whom I worked in various factories (Jenkins Valves, Raybestos Brakes, two tool and die shops, a shoe store, a radio station where I auditioned at age 16 and more). Many of those old friends were in church that day, and at the parish reception following the Mass.
Memories were also quickened of good neighbors who couldn’t do enough for my family as they prepared for my priestly ordination and first Mass, and of countless parishioners who volunteered time and services to arrange the parish reception. And there were memories of the priests of St. Ann’s parish, such as the truly great Msgr. James Murphy; and from my grade school days, recollections of St. Charles Borromeo Church, whose pastor, Msgr. John J. McGivney, was a younger brother of the Founder of the Knights of Columbus, Father Michael McGivney; as well as Father Thomas H. Dwyer, who drove me up to St. Thomas Seminary in Bloomfield for my first visit there. And thoughts of my first Mass called to mind outstanding seminary professors and, supremely, my noble parents, sisters and relatives.
This is the time of the year for first Masses, of course; the Archdiocese of Hartford is graced with six. As priests can never forget their first Masses, neither should any who share in them, especially during these times of contradiction. I often reread the words of Pope John Paul II in this regard:
“…Think of the places where people anxiously await a priest, and where for many years, feeling the lack of such a priest, they do not cease to hope for his presence. And sometimes it happens that they meet in an abandoned shrine, and place on the altar a stole which they still keep, and recite all the prayers of the Eucharistic Liturgy; and then, at the moment that corresponds to the transubstantiation, a deep silence comes down upon them, a silence sometimes broken by a sob… so ardently do they desire to hear the words that only the lips of a priest can efficaciously utter. So much do they desire Eucharistic Communion, in which they can share only through the ministry of a priest, just as they also so eagerly wait to hear the divine words of pardon: Ego te absolvo a peccatis tuis! So deeply do they feel the absence of a priest among them!… Such places are not lacking in the world.”
A first Mass (actually one’s very first Mass is his ordination Mass, concelebrated with the Bishop) should remind all of us to appreciate the priesthood, without which we would not have the Mass. Without the priest, the Eucharist could not be perpetuated. And without the Eucharist, we are without life, as Jesus told us in the Gospel according to John. In the words of a prayerlike poem:
“Keep them [priests] for they are thine, thy priests whose lives burn out before thy consecrated shrine…”
With this prayer we thank God for six new priests to serve the Archdiocese of Hartford: Fathers Joseph Crowley, Paul Gotta, Emmanuel Ihemedu, John Lavorgna, David Manna and Jose Mercado. Oremus pro invicem.
– Msgr. David Q. Liptak is Executive Editor of The Catholic Transcript, and censor librorum for the Archdiocese of Hartford.