Appropriately enough, my first traditional Mass in Rome was at St. Peter’s. It was All Saints Day. I did not yet know where to find any of the city’s Churches known for having the traditional rite, but I had heard that, if one shows up at St. Peter’s right when it opens (about 7:00), he can find one or two priests who regularly offer it there. So, off I went well before 7:00 to be ready for the opening of the gates. (I’m staying less than five minutes from Saint Peter’s Square.) As I waited outside the Basilica — amid a few sisters and some other pilgrims — I panned over the priests who were joining the crowd waiting to get in. The first one I approached, a very clean-cut Brazilian, informed me that he was offering the Novus Ordo. I was eying another priest for a while, who, like the Brazilian, wore a cassock. I saw him take out something from his bag: It was a traditional missal. Eurika! When I approached him, he affirmed that he was going to offer the classical rite.
He was an American, apparently recently ordained, who is still studying at the North American College. I ended up serving his Mass, which was at the altar that has the remains of St. Gregory Nazianzen underneath, and an ancient Icon of Our Lady above. It was exciting to help this young priest prepare for Mass in the Sacristy of St. Peter’s, where there were lots of other priests readying themselves. There was a tiny congregation at his Mass, consisting of a married couple from America celebrating their 30th anniversary, and their daughter. (I must admit, this was the longest trip from sacristy to altar I’ve ever made: crossing from the sacristy to the opposite side of the Basilica and finding the first available altar as other priests are making a beeline for them, too, was a new experience!)
When we had a chance to speak after Mass, Father and I asked each other typical questions about where we’re from and what we’re doing in Rome. When I identified my community, he asked, “Are you the ones with an old priest from New York who helps you?” Father Jarecki, our 91-year-old “Polish War Horse” (as his doctor calls him), is a bit famous, it seems. We thanked each other and parted company.
While Father and I were making our thanksgiving, I noticed that another priest was offering the traditional rite at an altar dedicated to St. Joseph. He, too, had about three people assisting at his Mass, but no server.
I mentioned the North American College. That’s the residence in Rome for Seminarians from the U.S. They are called “NACs” as a nickname. Some of them are apparently more than just interested in the traditional rite, as I would later see a few assisting at a Solemn Requiem Mass at the Church of Santa Trinita dei Pellegrini (Holy Trinity of the Pilgrims), the “personal parish” of the Fraternity of Saint Peter in Rome. But more on that in another entry.
My Roman experience continues to be a very blessed one. I am grateful to God, our Lady, and our benefactors for making it all possible.