Saturday, June 4, 2011

Side by Side

Since I first began attending weekday Mass at our church three years ago, I have been met by the daily sight of Frank G., a senior parishioner, kneeling at prayer in the first pew beneath the ambo—no matter how early I get there. Frank must arrive as much as 45 minutes beforehand, always before me in any case. Today, a striking sight met my gaze, as I entered the church at quarter to the hour: Frank and our new assistant pastor, Father Ixon Chateau, kneeling side by side—a study in contrasts and faith.

Father Chateau has been with us only since the first of the month, but already he has made a positive impression, as I wrote previously. I have written about Frank before, too, but in another lifetime. Of Italian ancestry, like many in our parish, Frank is entering his later 80s. Father Chateau, from Haiti, could be one-third Frank’s age, although he’s probably a hair older than that, since he is already four years from the seminary. There they were—the elderly but hale white man in muted greys and browns, beside the young Haitian priest in a crisp white cassock—each with strong, erect bearing, saying the Rosary together. Father Chateau wore a microphone, and his voice led the rest of us, as we assembled, through the Joyful Mysteries.

Having a new priest in our parish is a gift, offering a plenitude of fresh impressions. When Father Chateau reads the Gospel, he does so deliberately, following his finger across the page with his eyes, the way a rabbi does reading the Torah with a silver pointer. Our young assistant pastor’s gestures during the Communion liturgy are strikingly inclusive; the Elevation, in his hands, lasts much longer than I have ever seen it, as he presents the consecrated host and chalice in a 180-degree arc. After Mass this morning, I asked my friend Brian if he had ever seen the YouTube video of Padre Pio celebrating the Eucharist. No, Brian said, but I bet he took his time. He did, and so does Father Chateau. Our new priest serves Communion with a powerful gesture, one that indicates the greatness of the gift being offered. Throughout the Mass, Father Chateau’s joyful presence harmonizes beautifully with the liturgy.

As we left the church today, I told Frank how I had been struck to see him praying the Rosary beside Father Chateau. In typical Frank style, he only said, as if he were a beginner on the beads, “Aw, I have some catching up to do.” Then he added, as he almost always does, “Go easy!”

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