By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Reporter
ST. JOSEPH —St. Patrick, bishop, confessor and patron of Ireland and things Irish, would have felt at home. On a beautiful spring-like evening, St. Patrick’s Church was comfortably full with adults and children listening with rapt attention as the Benedictine College Chamber Singers, under the direction of Dr. Sean Teets, performed a prelude to the Solemn High Mass for the Feast of St. Patrick. The music, “Ubi Caritas,” “Ave Maria,” “Veni Jesu,” “O Lord Increase my Faith” and, the “Prayer of St. Patrick” billowed and flowed through the church rather like incense enveloping the audience.
A handbook was provided to help those attending the Mass better understand what was taking place and what it symbolized. The Mass was offered in the Extraordinary Form in Latin.
St. Patrick Church was built and dedicated by Bishop John J. Hogan in the early 1870’s, a time when Latin was the language of the Church. The Catholics who donated time and effort to the building of the church, were, according to an 1890’s history of the parish, not wealthy, but “their faith was of a kind not likely to die or grow cold.”
The St. Patrick’s Day Mass celebrated 140 years after the first Mass at St. Patrick Church, was sung — a Solemn High Mass. The priests —Father Daniel Gill (St. John LaLande Parish, Blue Springs), master of ceremonies; Father Kevin Drew (St. Joseph Parish, Trenton), sub deacon; Father Evan Harkins (St. James Parish, St. Joseph), deacon and Father Eric Schneider (St. Patrick Parish, St. Joseph), celebrant — processed to the altar, following the server bearing the cross. When they reached the foot of the altar, the Chamber Singers began chanting the Introit (entrance antiphon). The priests remained at the foot of the altar steps until they had prayed the Confiteor for themselves and for all present. The celebrant kissed and incensed the altar, symbols of veneration of the altar, which represents the stone of Christ’s tomb and serves as a reliquary for the relics of martyrs for the Catholic faith.
Father Schneider’s homily, in English and Spanish, spoke to the history of the Mass, St. Patrick’s Church, our own memories and histories, and the love and mystery of Christ.
“We have fond memories from our youth,” he said, “We all associate the sights and sounds of an event with our childhood and with the Christian mystery we celebrate. What would it be like if no one did it anymore? Does not a part of us die? When grandma dies we often feel like we’ve lost part of our identity. … No one wants to sacrifice what it takes to make what everyone remembered as so memorable.”
The Mass that evening was a case in point. “We have the opportunity today to worship as the people did who built this beautiful monument to God that we call St. Patrick Church,” he said. “Today is a day where we should be proud of who we are as Catholics at St. Patrick in St. Joseph, but most thankful to God for the gift of his Son and the privilege of being in his presence. Our faith is earthy, it is rich in symbolism and mystery and that’s precisely because the Son of God became man and walked among us. Mystery shrouded in human flesh.”
He reminded the congregation that “St. Patrick came to Ireland as a slave and returned as a bishop to convert the people who oppressed him. He had authentic love for God and for them.”
While St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated in many places with parades, wearing green and drinking green beer, it is more than that, he said. … “It is for the light shining in the darkness of obscurity. The light is Christ, Christ before me and Christ behind me,” as the prayer of St. Patrick says.
“When I raise the host,” Father Schneider concluded, “ … and all of us gaze on Him in the silent adoration that is most striking in so holy a moment, may we remember that it is Christ who is savior, Christ who heals, Christ who saves and that He has come to save you and me. May we approach him with humility and gratitude for the many gifts he has given us, and may his grace enliven us to live the mystery we celebrate. St. Patrick, pray for us.”
As the celebration of the Mass continued, a sense of mystery became palpable. The Sanctus (Holy, Holy, Holy) preceded the Roman Canon, the familiar Eucharistic prayer, which dates back to around the fifth century; the priest prays for the Pope, the local bishop, the living and those present. The Consecration, when the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ is part of the Canon. In the ancient liturgy, the Solemn High Latin Mass, the canon is said inaudibly. The handbook explains, “Just as our Lord became present for us on earth in the silence of the night, He becomes present for us now not in noise and fanfare, but in abject humility. It is a moment that is too sublime to hear and so for centuries the liturgy shrouded this sacred mystery in silence” until the concluding words, “forever and ever. Amen.”
Holy Communion was received on the tongue while kneeling, being fed rather than taking it.
Those assembled were quiet for the remainder of the Mass, watching as the altar was cleared, and the priests again grouped to descend the steps of the altar and process to the rear of the church. The respect and veneration of those who attended the Solemn High Mass that evening were clear indications that the faith of St. Patrick parishioners had not “grown cold.”
Mass was followed by a St. Patrick’s Day dinner of corned or roast beef and cabbage in the parish hall.