2016-03-01 14:05:00

Seminarians reflect on Papal Mass

What is it really like to serve Mass with the Pope at St Peters Basilica? It’s a question that many Catholics ask themselves, and the experience is one that many Students for the Priesthood here in Rome dream of fulfilling.

Last week that dream came true for two Seminarians from the Venerable English College. They were part of a group of Eighteen men chosen to serve Mass for the Feast of the Chair of Peter, with Pope Francis.

Benjamin Hilton from the Diocese of Leeds and Andrew Coy from the Diocese of Northampton spoke to Vatican Radio and gave us an insiders view on Mass with Pope Francis.

"Each national college has the opportunity to apply for their students to serve for the Pope" explained Hilton."There was a notice put up in the Seminary asking for volunteers, with preference going to those who had never served a Papal Mass before, and any other names were drawn out of a hat!" He noted that it was a vey exciting prospect for all of the students of the English college

He was particularly struck during the rehearsal with the Papal Masters of Ceremony, two days before the Mass, saying “That’s when you think to yourself, 'My goodness! I can't beleive I'm here, doing this.' It's fascinating to see the professionalism and synchronisation of the team of Papal Masters of Ceremony. I was amazed how our group of servers synchronised with the group of Deacons, witout the MC's seeming to do anything with us."

Andrew Coy, who is in his first year of study for the priesthood explained that he was delighted when he received the news that he had been selected and was "Particularly conscious that this is an opporutnity which men in other Seminaries around the world simply don't get."

The experience was also something of a baptism of fire for Coy. He explained “I'd hoped for a fairly easy job, so that I could sit back and take all of the experience in during most of the Mass. Instead I was informed that I was going to be the thurifer, which was a surprise as I had never done that before. I had never been an altar server. Being an organist myself, music had always been my job while growing up in the parish.”

For Hilton, the Mass provided a rare opportunity to compare his experience against the last time he served in the Basilica. He said ”The experience hardly differed from the last time. Although the Mass was celebrating a different occasion and I had a slightly different job, it was still the same emotions and feelings as the last time.The little things like going through the barriers in the Basilica into places where the public don't usually go, those never get old! It's as if it's new each time!"

The two students then spoke about the insider experience of the serving in St Peters.

Hilton, who has an interest in art, explained "I was struck whilst kneeling infront of the High Altar during the Eucharistic prayer. I could just see a part of the mosaic on the tomb of St Peter underneath, and then I looked at Pope Francis standing at the Altar, then further back to the stained glass window of the Holy Spirit behind. Many people probably know the facts and statistics, the wingspan of the dove in that window is two meters and the statues around the basilica are even taller. Sometimes you forget just how big the Basilica is. But kneeling there you really get a sense of it and a feeling of being very small, in a comforting way. Even just to play a small part in that it actually to be a large part."

Coy, who is more interested in music, says he was “struck by how prayerful the Mass was. Particularly with the choir being able to sing prayerfully, thanks to their microhone system, and not having to sing at the top of their voices, it just let everybody enter into a very prayerful atmosphere. That prayerfulness is something I noticed particularly in Msgr Marini, the Master of Papal Ceremonies.He always began everything with a prayer and reminded us that everything we were doing and practicing was for the glory of God." 

The two also mentioned how they met Pope Francis before Mass. Coy described his meet as "very emotional" and went on to say how the Pope "Took him by surpise. He's a man who can speak very forcefully on subjects about which he's very passionate. But standing infront of him, his gentleness really made and impression on me."

Hilton continued, "The amazing thing was that he almost slipped past us! We were expecting him to appear through the door to his personal sacristy on our left, but instead he came through the Holy door with all of the ordinary people!" 

"Many people have asked me 'Was it like meeting a celebrity?' And I've explained that it was so much fore than that. Because of everything that Papacy symbolises for Catholics, it's links to St Peter and to the task he was given by Christ, it meant that our meeting, which was very short, just a couple of seconds and a few words, was full of so much meaning. It was a very short time but there was so much depth to the encounter."


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