Saturday, June 30, 2012
A "Memorial" Mass Celebrated by Bishop Cary
On Friday, June 29, I attended a “memorial” Mass for Fr. Daniel Ochiabuto, SMMM (Congregation of Sons of Mary, Mother of Mercy), a missionary priest from Nigeria. A funeral Mass and burial took place in Nigeria on June 22, 2012; Friday’s Mass was a commemoration of Fr. Daniel’s death by the parishioners of St. Bridget of Kildare Church in Nyssa, Oregon, who had been served by Fr. Daniel for a year in his capacity as a missionary priest to the Diocese of Baker.
For a straightforward, just-the-facts-ma’am report on the event, see my post on the SSGG blog. If you’re interested in my take on the whole thing, read on!
Bishop Liam Cary presided at today’s Mass, and that was a little unusual for the Nyssa parish. One friendly parishioner told me that she has lived there since 1995 and remembers a bishop visiting the parish only twice. That’s because Nyssa is a little town of about 3500 people in Eastern Oregon, near the Idaho border; I don’t know the number of parish families, but there are two Masses every Sunday – one in English and one in Spanish.
St. Bridget church is small – it’s one of a number of “mission churches” built in Oregon in the 1900’s – and this one was actually completed in 1958. You can view some photos here. The church does have a little choir loft – which is actually used! There’s also a “cry room”, which was also in active use by a number of young moms with their babies.
The church was pretty full – quite a tribute to a small community going to the extra effort to honor their priest on a Friday morning. The friendly parishioner mentioned above told me that they’d also had a potluck for the bishop the night before so that the people who couldn’t attend the funeral Mass could at least meet the bishop then; that event too was well attended, she said.
Back to the Mass: two altar boys vested in cassock and surplice served as miter and crosier bearer, but they did not wear vimpae, the scarves which they use to cover their hands while handling the bishop’s effects. I don’t imagine the parish even has such a thing, given the infrequency of episcopal visits! The neighboring Cathedral parish could have supplied them, but I suspect no one really thought about it.
Two girls in albs also served…sigh.
Interestingly, after the procession, Bishop Cary gave a few words of explanation before he led the congregation in the daytime prayer of the Office of the Dead, for which a little booklet was provided. There were about 17 priests and three nuns present as well, and they were in the front pews, so their example helped the people who might not have experienced such a thing before. The alternation of the psalm verses between the two sides of the Church was accomplished easily, and the office was said.
I think it would have been better to have recited the office before Mass, rather than process in and then do it. I’m not sure what the rubrics are for combining the office and the Mass, and lack the ambition to look them up at the moment. But I know you can’t go wrong by separating the liturgy of the hours from the Mass. They are two separate liturgies, and are each complete within themselves, so it seems at cross-purposes to combine them. Still, I’m glad the bishop included the office.
The music was…a problem. But then, isn’t it always? A little electronic organ accompanied the singers for some of the hymns, while guitar strumming took over at other times. I’m not going to say any more. If you have read much on this blog, you know how I feel.
At the sign of peace, I was able to be a non-participant. I didn’t know the people there, and no one was sitting right next to me or right in front of me, so I felt no pressure to participate in the glad-handing. I closed my eyes, bowed my head, and folded my hands, and no one bothered me.
If you go to an EF Mass on a regular basis and then attend a NO Mass, I’m sure you too have noticed what a distraction the “sign of peace” is. It just comes out of nowhere to interrupt the prayerful atmosphere. Let’s just greet each other afterwards, in the parking lot or the parish hall!
Bishop Cary’s homily was good. It wasn’t a eulogy (yay!), and he never assured us that Fr. Daniel is now in Heaven praying for us (yay again!). Rather, he quietly noted that we hope and pray that Fr. Daniel will find his way to Heaven. Now, right there you’ve got about the best funeral homily I’ve ever heard. I stopped going to funeral Masses because they generally turn out to be beatification ceremonies. This one was not.
I very much appreciated the bishop’s emphasis on the fact this Mass was for a priest. After discussing the fact that a funeral liturgy reverences the body of the deceased because it is created in the image of God, the bishop added that a priest’s body is different, special; the priest has been anointed for a special work of God – “especially his hands,” said Bishop Cary. “St. Thomas tells us that the sacraments are the prolongation of the hands of Christ. The priests hands are anointed, consecrated, set apart to do God’s work.”
And what do the priest’s hands do? During baptism, the priest uses his hands to anoint the individual with oil and to pour the baptismal water over the individual’s head; at the end of life, the same hands anoint the sick.
Most especially, those priestly, anointed hands do a most important work when they offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
But in the Novus Ordo Mass, that very important fact about the anointed hands of the priest becomes obscured in several ways: for starters, there’s the use of lay ministers of Holy Communion to administer the Host. Their hands are not anointed! Why are they touching the Body of Christ? And although I was once upon a time such a minister, I was never instructed to purify my fingers afterwards. The thought now makes me cringe. Oh my poor Jesus!
And then of course there is the practice of receiving the Body of Christ in the hand. It is hard for me to imagine ever doing that again.
I had two interesting conversations with priests after the Mass. One was with one of the sweetest and most contemplative priests of the Diocese of Baker. He told me that recently a family had come to Mass at his parish (“and the wife had a veil, too” – a reference to the fact that I was the only one wearing one today), and when they received Holy Communion, they did not say “amen”. He said he even asked her about it afterwards, and learned that the faithful do not say “amen” in the EF Mass! I laughed and told him that I forgot to say “amen” today myself. I seldom receive Holy Communion at a Novus Ordo Mass, so I am out of practice, but it actually seems a bit awkward to say “amen” when receiving on the tongue.
The other conversation quickly touched on two issues. The priest mentioned that he was being transferred to a parish where there were not enough priests, and I commented that there seemed to be a real lack of priests in our diocese right now. He agreed, and I said, “People need to start having more babies.” He laughed, but then quickly agreed, saying, “Yes, because that’s why we’re in the situation we’re in right now!”
On the heels of that comment, he added that the need for bilingual priests is great because of so many non-English-speaking Hispanics. I responded, “Just say the Mass in Latin. Then everyone is on the same level.” The priest said, enthusiastically, “I WISH!” So I added, “And the music, too – let it be the music of the Church.” He agreed again.
That was nice!
At the reception, a huge potluck buffet was spread down a row of tables – fit for a king! The priests were instructed to sit at two particular table, and after filling their plates, they did. Bishop Cary, however, paused at a table where three older Hispanic women were seated, awaiting their turn at the buffet line. He stood with his plate in hand and spoke to them for a moment (in Spanish), then seated himself with them. I think this bishop wants to get to know the faithful of his new diocese.
I snuck in and asked Bishop Cary if he would consent to an interview for this blog while he is Baker City. He said he is willing, but not sure of the timing of the various events of the weekend; I assured him I would track him down to see what we can arrange.
So stay tuned: I may be able to have a talk with the new bishop of the Diocese of Baker, and I will report on it here!
Biographical Information about Fr. Daniel Ochiabuto:
Fr. Daniel was born on June 15, 1973 in Umuahia, Nigeria. He attended Bigard Memorial Seminary in Enugu (1998-2002) and Seat of Wisdom Seminary in Owerri in Imo State.(2003-2007). He was ordained a deacon in 2006, and was ordained to the priesthood on July 28, 2007 in Umuahia Diocese. He arrived in the Diocese of Baker in October 2009.
Fr. Daniel served as associate pastor at Our Lady of the Valley Church in La Grande, Oregon, and in January 2011 he was made pastor of St. Bridget of Kildare in Nyssa.
Fr. Daniel became seriously ill with malaria in March 2012; he had been home for a visit, and returned to Oregon where it became apparent that he had not recovered. St. Bridget parishioners covered the cost of his return to Nigeria for treatment. Tragically, Fr. Daniel was struck by a vehicle in Umuahia, Nigeria in late May, and died from his injuries on June 1, 2012 at the age of 39.
For related posts, click on the “Bishop Liam Cary Posts” tab at the top of the page.