Midnight Mass @ St Seelos
This parish is unique in many ways – humble, yet elegant, sincere and informal – down to earth without pretense, yet a Mass that is sung almost entirely. It’s priest and pastor is Father Benson, a delightful British Irishman from Belfast, who’s served in New Orleans for over thirty years. It has English and Spanish Masses weekly and for Christmas it was a combined Mass…
We traditionally would have been at Holy Name of Jesus Parish, our local parish, but the other four came with me to support me as we went to my soon to be home. It was delightful – not exactly like it would have been at HNJ. HNJ is a high flagship Jesuit Parish…also the church of Loyola University here, and Uptown… home to the city’s nobility. It’s services, while sincere and authentic, would and I am sure, were, beautiful and well, perfect… Every note, every bit of timing would have been picture perfect, the the diction of the readers worthy of note for any stage.
St Seelos is a bit different… To start, there are, well, Latins – expression is every thing. The songs and tonight, Carols, were sung with gusto, excitement and went back and forth from English to Spanish, as did the liturgy – all still sung! There were small delays in mixed queues as the mixture of two congregations caused tiny little home hiccups that family doesn’t mind at all. My friends noted that Father Benson does the Mass with a heartfelt sincerity that reflects genuine prayers, even if written centuries ago! The place was more than decked out though – the Latin touch again… we MUST celebrate and make the place beautiful for the birth celebration of Jesus.
The Homily (sermon) rivaled any at any Bible or Baptist church and made me cry. I wept at the African American moms, the white families, and the Latin families all praying in both languages, greeting each other and supporting each other with a fervor not found in large congregations. There were maybe 200 there. HNJ would have been thousands.
They heralded in the birth celebration as honorably as the little drummer boy, and that’s just fine with me. I’m proud to know these humble saints in this unique parish in this unique neighborhood, in this unique city – in a time when my heart breaks for the church in the west. Hark the herald angels and saints did and do sing.
Merry Christmas my friends, compatriots and strangers who are crazy enough to read my ramblings. May you find His favor that peace reigns in your life.
PS ~ Father Benson’s last week is next weekend – the New Year. He is ill, seriously ill with several issues, the worst being the lungs and they do not know why. His long service as a pastor comes to an end. I am heart broken, really, really sad. I was so looking forward to his friendship. He must go to a retirement place – though he’s only in his fifties – where they can care for him. I am sure he’ll do a fill-in here and there, but he’s too weak. I am so sad.
When I went for communion, he gave me the bread, and stopped me, held my hands, and prayed for me in Latin, then looked into my eyes. I wish I had words for what his eyes said. I had a rare moment of feeling God’s pleasure. We embraced afterwards at the door and had a few words. He owed me an email and had not been able to reply. I understood of course, but that he remembered – it was six weeks ago – is one of those amazing things about this guy that will make him hard, hard, hard to replace. The Dominican priest stepping in for a while has been in New Orleans before, is very relational and will do amazing. He’s fresh in from Guatemala. He’ll be wonderful.
If you would, pray for Fr. Benson and for this new pastor, a young guy, with a huge heart who knows he walks into awfully huge shoes to fill. Thank you much. ~ Mike