CUMBERLAND — The parishioners were starved for beauty and seeking as they listened to the pastor of Saint Joan of Arc, in Cumberland, on a recent Wednesday. The pastor, Father Norman Bourdon, gave a detailed “behind the scenes” account of what goes into each Mass as well as the running of the parish church.
Father set up two big tables in front of the main altar. They were laden with church goods and religious articles, ranging from the black biretta, the stiff cap with ridges across the crown, now worn rarely worn by clergy, to the monstrance, and books at the heart of the liturgy. Behind one of the tables, a valet pole held vestments worn during Mass.
Father Bourdon opened his presentation, sponsored by the Men of St. Joseph International (MOSJI), by saying that Catholics dip their finger in holy water and make the sign of the cross upon entering the church. The holy water reminds us of our baptism and union with Christ.
“We genuflect before entering the pew because of the tabernacle and the Blessed Sacrament,” he reminded everyone.
The “how we do it” and “why” were the mantra of his presentation. His explanations and reverence for the sacred went on unabated for 40 minutes. The attendees were in a special place where Godhood and service permeate the pastor’s ties with his church.
“All the sacraments are celebrated in the church. But the anointment of the sick usually happens in the hospital,” he noted.
He pointed to the four walls and the confessionals at the back. A large statue of Jesus, crucified, hung above him on the wall behind the altar. Alongside the other two walls, the meditations of the cross, taken from Sacred Scripture, looked upon the parishioners. Candles flickered. The light signifies our prayer, our desire to remain present in prayer with Jesus even after we leave the church, he noted.
Churches usually have statues of Mary and Jesus, but the Cumberland church also has a statue of its patron saint, St. Joan of Arc. Father pointed to an unobtrusive closet in the wall, overlooking the side of the altar.
“It’s where we store the holy oil,” he said. Everything was there for a reason, but reason is often overlooked, perhaps due to complacency and habit. Father Bourdon gave meaning to what he could see or reach.
He walked towards the vestments and picked up the amice, a small white linen cloth. He placed it momentarily over his head, resting it on his shoulders. It’s the first item the priest puts on before leaving the sacristy for Mass. The amice is meant to protect the priest’s other vestments. He put on the loose, flowing alb. It took the cincture, or girdle, to confine the alb. Without the cincture, many a priest would trip in the alb as he walked around. Father Bourdon picked up the stole. It is the sign of the priesthood when the priest is celebrating sacraments. His layer-by-layer explanation captivated the audience. Many of them had never observed or understood something that goes on in the sacristy. By the time the priest comes out for Mass, all they usually observe is the colored chasuble over the alb.
Colors have meaning, he added. The white chasuble symbolizes the birth and resurrection of Christ. Red is the color of blood. It stands for martyrdom, including Christ’s passion. Purple reflects the sorrow that comes with Advent and Lent. Black may be used in the Mass as a sign of dying, in the services of Christ.
Father then pointed to his stiff white collar. It’s a mark that the priest is not his own. It’s a sign of his obedience to Christ. The priest stands ready to reconcile sinners and bring them back to God.
He then held up a chalice. The chalice must be non-porous, and made of metal. “This was the chalice my parents gave me. Each chalice is specially decorated,” he said as he explained his chalice’s decorations.
When he ended his presentation, the audience flooded him with questions. His presentation was very well-received.
“It was great to learn more about the sacristy and the items there and it was great to get a refresher because I used to be a sacristan, and I used to know all the names for all the items that I have since forgotten,” said Alex Rando.
Mary O’Donnell, a parishioner at St. Joan of Arc, concurred. “I was really impressed the way Father explained each detail about all the vestments and the monstrance. A lot of people do not understand today the real presence of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Also in the audience was Don Turbitt, of Glocester, who founded MOSJI, which today has chapters in more than 15 countries. Turbitt was familiar with the items mentioned but lamented that “many Catholics… walk blindly into the services every week.” He thought the presentation was a great idea. Unfortunately, he said, most parish priests don’t have people asking them for that kind of thing, but they stand to learn a lot if only they would.
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