Michelle Martin

‘Tis the season

May 20, 2012

Over the course of eight days in May, I attended a First Communion Mass, a confirmation and the ordination of priests for the Archdiocese of Chicago. Quite a sacramental week.

The liturgies, of course, were all different in tone and style: the First Communion, with more than 100 children being welcomed to the table, featured a children’s choir and took about an hour, while the ordination, with 14 men being ordained, had an organ, brass instruments, the full cathedral choir and took about three hours, while the confirmation fell somewhere in the middle.

But in some ways, the feeling surrounding the sacraments was very much the same. There was the same sense of preparation and anticipation before, the same reverence during (yes, even during the confirmation of mostly 14- year-old eighth-graders) and the same joy and relief afterward. The churches in all cases were full of proud and happy family members and friends who made time to share the moment with the people involved.

We Catholics do love our sacraments. Why wouldn’t we? If “sacraments are outward signs of inward grace, instituted by Christ for our sanctification,” as I learned in grade school, or moments in which God touches us, his love made visible, they are well worth celebrating.

At First Communion, children are brought into the mystery of the Eucharist, the source and summit of Catholic faith. Most of the ones I saw at my niece’s first Communion Mass were fairly bursting out of their white dresses and starched shirts, with pride and excitement. Is it any wonder that so many priests, when you ask them when they first thought about a vocation to the priesthood, go back to the day when they made their First Holy Communion?

At confirmation, as the bishop said to each of the confirmandi, “Be sealed with the Holy Spirit,” it seemed he was granting them divine protection and help as they struggle with the rest of their adolescence in a world that values fortune and fame more than faith. Those being confirmed are no longer slapped and told they are now soldiers of Christ, but the sense that they are being sent to fight the good fight was palpable.

Ordination is such a joyous day; the men being ordained are thrilled to publicly answer the call that they all heard years earlier. Going from the first thought that maybe God wants them to become a priest to receiving the stole and the chasuble is never an easy road — every priest I’ve spoken to about his vocation story talks of the unexpected twists and turns that path has taken — but receiving the gift of priesthood is clearly a mountaintop moment for them and for their families. Already, they have started offering the sacraments to others.

Congratulations, prayers and blessings to all who received new sacraments this spring. May you accept the grace that God has given you and share it with all you meet.