Wednesday, April 22, 2009
Image: Catholic Herald
I preached last night at the Saint Anthony Novena at St. Anthony Parish in Fitchburg. The parish is 101 years old and parishioners have prayed this novena to their patron saint for 101 years!
The service was standard novena fare with prayers, hymns, scripture and homily, two litanies (one to St. Anthony and one to the Sacred Heart) and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. About 100 people were in attendance and the response in prayer and song was beautifully strong.
The service ended with an invitation to come forward to venerate a relic of St. Anthony in a reliquary. The photo above gives a good image of what this looks like for those who may be too young to remember this from their youth.
I held the reliquary and offered it to each person who came forward to kiss it, wiping the small glass case with a napkin each time it was kissed.
As I watched the people kiss the relic, I thought of how I kiss the altar at the beginning and end of every Mass I celebrate. With a frequency that surprises me, as I kiss the altar at Mass I often think of the altars I've kissed in the parishes I've served in over the past 36 years. That's a lot of kissing!
I wondered about what was in the minds and hearts of the men and women who came forward last night to venerate the relic of Anthony. Mostly I wondered about the intimacy of this gesture: a kiss... Many people kiss the Cross as an act of veneration on Good Friday. In some churches, people kiss the feet of a statue of the Lord or his Blessed Mother or a particular saint. But kissing, such a warm, human gesture of affection, does not play a large role in our liturgy. Although we offer a "kiss" of peace to others at Mass, it's likely that most worshippers only truly kiss a family member or two and let a handshake or maybe a hug suffice for others. (And no, I'm not suggesting that we start kissing strangers, left and right!)
Honoring a relic of St. Anthony was certainly the reason for the procession to the altar step last night, but to honor Anthony with a kiss - that was beautiful!
Posted by Concord Pastor at 5:00 AM