Four and a half years ago, I had the great privilege of becoming pastor of St. Malachy Parish. As with any priest beginning a new assignment, I knew there would be surprises. But I did make two promises on my first weekend in the parish, the same promises that I made to every parish where I have served as pastor or administrator. I promised to celebrate the Liturgy with reverence and joy, and I promised that I would be present to the students of St. Malachy School and of our CCD program. You have heard me speak or read what I have written about our school and CCD, so you can tell that religious education has been very vital to me. So today I want to reflect on the Liturgy.
About a month ago, I was the homilist at the annual Forty Hours celebration at St. Gabriel of the Sorrowful Virgin Parish. Fr. John Skirtich asked me to take that role even before we knew that I would be part of that parish and its neighbors as parish chaplain. As I thought about what I wanted to say, I thought it was important to speak about the Eucharist in light of the implementation of On Mission for the Church Alive. After all, the Eucharist is the single most important aspect of our lives as Catholics. Without the Eucharist, we cannot maintain our faith.
I based my homily at St. Gabriel on a first-century document called The Didache. This writing offers some prayers to be used at the celebration of the Eucharist, including, “As this broken bread scattered on the mountains was gathered and became one, so too, may your Church be gathered together from the ends of the earth into your kingdom.” The Eucharist is the greatest sign of our unity, as well as the source of that unity. As we share the Eucharist, we share as members of the Body of Christ. So as we prepare to move into this new phase in the history of the Church in Pittsburgh, we remember that the celebration of the Eucharist is the most important thing we do and the most important element in bringing our community together with St. John of God and Holy Trinity.
I know it won’t be easy for the new priests coming into this grouping. Each parish has its own ways of celebrating the Eucharist, and they will have to get used to the differences among our three parishes. Similarly, I will have to get used to the differences of St. Gabriel, Nativity, St. Germaine, and St. Valentine parishes. The difference is that I have a bit of a head start, having spent six years as an assistant at St. Gabriel and eight and a half years as pastor of Nativity. And in that time, I was a frequent guest celebrant at St. Germaine. But still, each priest has to remind himself that each parish has slight differences. Moreover, each priest has his own way of doing things. Even staying within the guidelines that the liturgy offers, there are many different customs, and each parish has to get used to each new priest.
With those last differences in mind, I also will tell you a joke that I offered in my Forty Hours homily, directed mainly at the other priests who were there that evening. I told of a woman who was getting ready for church one Sunday morning. She told her husband to hurry up, but he said that he had decided not to go to church. When she asked why, the husband said that he didn’t like the new priest at their church. She responded, “You also told me that you don’t like the new bartender down at Joe’s Bar. But that hasn’t stopped you from going there.” Five minutes later, he was ready to go to Mass.