We arrived just a bit late, in the midst of the Asperges, and it was heartwarming to see Fr. Lee Acervo making his way down the aisle, aspergillum in hand, cleansing the congregation before the Holy Sacrifice. I had not realized that our celebrant this Sunday, November 11th, was to be Fr. Acervo, one of our bright, articulate recent graduates from Sacred Heart Major Seminary, just ordained this past spring. I wasn't even aware that Fr. Acervo had mastered the rigorous demands of the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite; but his diction was clear, confident and unfaltering. His homily, too, was well-organized and clearly delivered.
The Mass -- and what a magnificent Mass! -- was dedicated to the November 9th feast day honoring the Dedication of the Archbasilica of Our Savior (St. John Lateran). In his homily, Fr. Acervo rhetorically asked, "Why should we care about the dedication of an old building?" The original Archbasilica on the site of what is now St. John Lateran's in Rome was first dedicated, as he pointed out, in AD 324. This was only eleven years after Constantine's Edict of Milan, granting toleration to the Catholic religion after three centuries of persecution. We commemorate the dedication of the original building, Fr. Acervo said, because it represents a palpable token of God's providence and promise that He will always be with His people and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against Mother Church. Think of it: although a succession of buildings has occupied the site since the first Archbasilica was dedicated in AD 324, the Archbasilica of our Savior, which is the official church of Christendom and of the Pope (not St. Peter's, contrary to widespread impression), has been standing on the site for 1684 years! Where was America 1684 years ago? Where was France? England? Germany? Russia? That's a long time.
Fr. Acervo also tied into his homily the readings of the day. The Epistle (Apocalypse 12:2-5) points us to "the new Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband," pointing to the eternal reality of which our earthly Church is only a foreshadow and echtype. The Gospel (St. Luke 19:1-10) shows Jesus telling Zacheus to come down from the sycamore tree which he had climbed, being short of stature, in order to better see Jesus passing in the crowd: "Zacheus," says Jesus, "make haste and come down: for this day I must abide in thy house." This shows us that Jesus, as Immanuel ("God with us"), comes to make His habitation with us, in our hearts and in our midst. The wedding feast of the Church as the Bride of Christ is also an expression of God's Covenant with His people, in which each gives Himself to us, and we to Him, as He comes to dwell with us. Adoremus in Aeternum!
I've noticed two things about the Masses lately at St. Josephat. First, it's getting harder and harder to find a parking space if one arrives late. The congregation is growing. It's practically standing room only at the receptions following church, which, if you're going to have a problem, is a nice kind of problem to have. Second, numbers are being added to the choir, and with the increase in numbers is coming an expanded variety of musical offerings. Indeed, the music this Sunday was typical, with its rich and lovely presentation -- the propers in an ancient and hauntingly oriental-sounding form of Gregorian Chant (characteristic for Wassim Sarweh, whose vocalization of this form is peerless), the ordinaries in early Renaissance polyphany (Missa Octavi Toni "Venatorum"); the Offertory hymn an old favorite, from the ancient Italian seafarer's melody, O Sanctissima; the Communion hymn Melchor Robledo's Hoc Corpus; and the Final Hymn also a beloved favorite, Adoremus in Aeternum.
In recent weeks I have also counted between six to eight altar servers, including the Master of Ceremonies, who has been doing a masterful job of training the growing team of servers. Once one begins to learn all that is involved in the various roles of these servers, the responses they must learn by heart in Latin, the functions they must perform in perfectly synchronized and choreographed movement, he begins to look with newfound respect upon each man serving in the Sanctuary. Above all, the message communicated by their work is: this is a serious, solemn, reverent and profoundly joyous business, the worship of God. Deo gratias!