As a First Friday gift, Our Lord arranged for us to attend Mass celebrated in English at St. Peter’s Basilica today. First we had to go through Security (not always required for Religious who have a priest celebrant vouching for them, but perhaps Security was heightened after the terrorist attack in Istanbul). Fr. Walter Oxley, originally of Toledo, Ohio, celebrated the Mass for us in the Chapel of the Patrons of Europe. (Afterwards, there was delight when it was discovered that the chapel was dedicated in part to Sts. Cyril & Methodius – we just venerated St. Cyril’s relics yesterday.)
The Gospel reading was the Call of St. Matthew. Fr. Oxley in his homily spoke about our following of Christ in our Religious vocation (Christ once said to us, too, “Come follow, Me”). The three vows are the gateway to Heaven. Father expounded movingly on the grace of celebrating Mass so closely to the bones of St. Peter (right across the hallway) – he who eventually followed His Master in being crucified.
The tomb of St. John Paul II was screened off because of a Polish-language group celebrating Mass at the altar there. The melodic singing of the Polish pilgrims lifted the heart and soul to God. Later, the Latin chanting of seminarians filled a part of the vast Basilica as a bishop presided over a funeral. The Holy Mass was being celebrated in various languages at many side altars in both the crypt below and the main Basilica. The universality of the Church was emphasized by the many languages in which the Sacrament of Confession was being offered – Dutch, French, Italian, Polish, Slavic, English, Spanish….
After pranzo (lunch) and a rest, we headed out to the Catacombs of St. Priscilla. Or at least, we got underway – after waiting for buses that did not materialize, we took buses that were available if they were heading in generally the right direction. Eventually we ended up in a neighborhood lined with beautiful pink- or white-blossomed trees. At one time, the cemeteries were far outside the Roman city. The non-Christians used cremation and would mix the ashes of family members; because of the expectation of the Resurrection of each individual from the dead, the Christians would bury each person in their own tomb. Priscilla donated land for a cemetery where the poor could be buried as well as the rich. Christian symbols and art were used to mark the graves once Christianity was no longer persecuted. The catacombs of Priscilla include the earliest image known depicting our Blessed Mother – she appears as though she might be nursing the child Jesus.
When we arrived at our bus stop, we discovered a completely empty bus and the bus driver outside waiting for help to fix his bus. Sr. Mary Soccoro elicited amusement when she climbed aboard the stationary bus to at least be seated during our long wait for the next bus. The bus ride home was another encounter with humanity at close quarters.
Another marvelous meal awaited us to celebrate Sr. Margaret’s combined feast day/ birthday, topped off with a gift for everyone to share “extra dark chocolate.” A new recruiting tool for the Domus, it was joked. Sr. Margaret was very appreciative!
Father Oxley celebrating Mass
The high altar in St. Peter's
Pope Saint John XXIII
Sr. Margaret's birthday gift (for all of us)