June 2013

Dear Friends of Saint Albert Priory,

Your view has been slightly delayed this month because I wanted to include a description of this year’s ordinations and first Masses. These took place last weekend, and were very impressive ceremonies, indeed. On Friday evening we gathered at St. Dominic Church, in San Francisco, where Archbishop Cordeleone ordained our brothers Peter Hannah and Justin Gable to the diaconate and elevated Dominic David Maichrowicz and Ambrose Sigman to the priesthood.

The sacrament of Holy Orders is conferred by the bishop’s laying hands on the brother and praying over him, but each of the orders also has other ceremonies proper to it. Candidates for priesthood are given a chalice and paten, bread and wine, and reminded of their holy office as ministers of Jesus’ Eucharistic Sacrifice. The bishop hands deacons the Book of the Gospels and commands them – this never fails to thrill me – “receive the Gospel of Christ. Believe what you read, teach what you believe, and practice what you teach.”

During the ordination ceremony deacons and priests are clothed with the vestments proper to their office, and I had the great honor to help vest our brother Justin. I believe this is the first time I have ever taken a hand in this part of the ceremony, so I was more than a little afraid I’d get something wrong (a deacon’s vestment – the dalmatic – is often longer in back than in front, so an error is immediately apparent), but I managed the whole effort without incident.

Fr. Dominic David celebrated his first Mass, in our chapel, on Saturday morning. He made his way through the ceremony without “missing a beat,” and without making a mistake, which is more than I can say for my own initial performance, thirty-nine years ago. He must have been better-prepared. As I recall, the one variation I managed was a reference, in the Prayers of the Faithful, to God’s “sense of humor” manifest in those He calls to the priesthood. Dominic David was far more profound; he offered prayers to consecrate the chalice he received as an ordination gift.

To preach at a first Mass is another great honor, and Fr. Michael Fones, the Western Province’s Student Master, preached at Saturday’s liturgy.  He reminded Fr. Dominic David that June 1st is the feast of St. Justin Martyr, and Dominic David’s priesthood may call him to its own martyrdom, if in less-dramatic ways than that of the Second-Century convert, Justin.

Fr. Ambrose’s Mass, the following day, was equally moving. Fr. Jude Eli, one of our Province’s itinterant preachers, offered the homily, reminding Ambrose that this Sunday was the Feast of Corpus Christi, and his task as a priest is to witness to the Real Presence of Christ as he ministers to the whole presence of Christ in the Church – not just to the individuals whose company he enjoys, but to whomever he encounters. Fr. Jude ended his homily by turning to Fr. Ambrose and saying, “Okay, now get to work!”

When I wrote last month’s reflection we were eagerly awaiting the arrival of the new organ we commissioned for the priory chapel. Fr. Chris Renz, a far better historian than I, was on hand to take pictures, so those who wish to follow the organ’s moment-by-moment installation can easily do so. The organ was built (then dismantled) before it arrived, so what seemed like a miracle of on-site construction was actually something of an optical illusion. Paul Fritts, the builder, and his associates, took no more than a day to re-assemble the wooden housing, and then set about installing the organ’s slightly more than one thousand pipes. This, too, took considerably less time than I expected, and within a day or two we were treated to some exquisite experimental sounds. The organ was usable by Pentecost, although Ron Cheatam, our volunteer organist, had to play around the gaps in the missing pipes. Everything had been installed by the following Sunday, but the organ had not yet been “voiced” for the chapel. That process took the following week or so.

By the time our brothers celebrated their First Masses, on June 1st and 2nd, everything was ready, and we had splendid liturgies. That weekend we also had a wonderful concert of music from the 18th Century (Catholic) court of Dresden, a foretaste of things to come when we formally dedicate the organ in the fall. My Readers will appreciate the irony that we no sooner installed the organ than we bade farewell to all the organists in the house! Fr. James Moore, who is pursuing his doctoral studies in music at the Catholic University of America, left St. Albert’s the afternoon of Fr. Ambrose’s Mass, and all our students, including the organists, began departing for their Summer assignments, the following day, so the organ will stand unused until Fall – except for Sunday Mass, when Ron comes in to lead our singing. 

The other evening I came to my place in the chapel and found an interesting article cut from the newspaper. Someone had written to ask whether she should offer almonds to the squirrels who visit her yard. The newspaper’s columnist replied affirmatively, which delighted (I assume) the questioner, as well as the furry friends who give us such pleasure here at St. Albert’s, although they reminded me that, like the late Fr. Flannery, they are also quite fond of Triscuits. As I write this, they (the squirrels, that is, not the Triscuits) and I are watching a man from UPS deliver something to the Provincial Office, which is next-door to the Priory.

Last Friday’s ordination liturgy was not the only “big” liturgy your Dominican friends have attended recently. Some of us also attended the episcopal ordination of Michael Barber the preceding Saturday. Fr. James Moore, who understands these things, claims our organ is a truly remarkable instrument, one that will draw organists, as well as enthusiasts of organ music. He also remarked his opinion that our organ is “better” than that of the Oakland cathedral.

The cathedral’s instrument is monumental, while ours is a modest, self-contained affair, so I am not altogether certain how one might make such a comparison. Nevertheless, as we processed into the cathedral on May 25, I did notice that the music seemed a great deal more diffuse, spread out, and, somehow, subdued – a consequence, no doubt, of the far larger space. It was quite impressive, to be sure, but the precision and brilliance of our instrument has a great deal to recommend it.

This, however, is to digress. Bishop Barber is the only bishop I have the honor of addressing by his first name, the consequence of our belonging, for a number of years, to a somewhatrecherché discussion group that devotes itself (usually) to aspects of Victorian English Catholicism. I had the immense privilege of sitting next the bishop-elect at dinner the Tuesday before his ordination, and I told him St. Albert’s had been a spot of refuge for his two predecessors: Bishop Vigneron, who used regularly to join the Dominican community for prayer, and Bishop Cordeleone, who would use one or another of the parlors to meet informally with individuals. I extended the squirrels’ – and my own invitation – to continue this tradition.

I have attended only one other episcopal ordination, and I am now convinced I need not attend another. I hasten to add that the ceremony is beautiful, but it is also quite long, and for someone as un-fond of “big” liturgy as I, I offered prayer after prayer of thanksgiving that I will never be named a bishop. I looked at those assembled, many of whom I’ve seen repeatedly at Lourdes, and I wondered what one’s life must be like if so much of it must be contributed to ceremonial events. Especially when it might be spent ecologically, cultivating the companionship of squirrels.

At the priestly ordinations of our brothers, the bishop anointed their hands with chrism, a sign of their office. I assumed the ceremony for a bishop’s ordination must also include an anointing, but I wondered what part of my friend Michael might be anointed, as his hands had already been. Then I watched Archbishop Cordeleone take the cruet (a rather large cruet) of chrism and pour a generous helping on the new bishop’s head. “Of course,” I thought, “Psalm twenty-three, ‘Thou annointest my head with oil; my cup overflows.” So, in this case, did Bishop Barber’s head. He required a rather large towel – and considerable time – to tidy up. The careful reader will no doubt wonder, as I confess, have I myself, how I did not recall this detail from the other episcopal ordination I attended? I am wondering whether – as the ceremonies are so long – I might have fallen asleep.

Today is the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart, one of those moveable feasts I never paid much attention to until thirty-nine years ago, when the feast and my ordination landed on the same Friday after the Second Sunday after Pentecost. That year the day was also (or would have been) the feast of St. Aloysius Gonzaga – a real concatenation of Jesuit events for this humble Dominican! – but, perhaps appropriate, as I graduated from Loyola University a mere two weeks before I arrived at St. Albert’s to begin my novitiate.

For four decades, today’s feast has taken on a new, personal importance and I look forward to preaching at this evening’s Mass. The gospel tells the parable of the shepherd who leaves ninety-nine sheep in the wilderness to seek one who has strayed – a tale that makes absolutely no sense by any of the economic standards of our world. Which, I observe, means we probably ought to be glad the Secretary of the Treasury didn’t write the gospel. And because the gospel is a story told about us, I suppose we ought to be equally happy Jesus doesn’t run the Federal Reserve. The point I draw is that the gospel consistently overturns the accepted values of the world, and when our hearts skipped a beat back in the Garden, God loved us enough to take on a heart: to show us how to love. 

We witnessed the ordinations of four of our brothers a week ago; this event is evidence of yourhearts beating in love for our Dominican community. Your prayers and your financial support enable us to accomplish everything we do, and without you to stand by us, we could do very little. 2013 is a Year of Evangelization, a time to look within and take stock of our spiritual resources, and to look out, to see how we might apply our gifts to preaching the Good News of God’s Kingdom. Each of the students at St. Albert’s is part of this evangelical enterprise. Thank you for believing in us and our future.

Gratefully, in Christ and Saint Dominic,
--Fr. Reginald Martin, O.P.

 5890 Birch Court   ~   Oakland, CA   ~   94618-1627  ~   510.596.1800   ~   Western Dominican Province
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