Mangalore is a city in India that I had never visited. But with the news of the Ordination to the Priesthood of a close friend of mine, I desired to be present at his Ordination. I needed to go to Mangalore.
I flew with Singapore Airlines; my first time on an almost sixteen hours nonstop flight from Vancouver to Singapore. Then, an evening departure on Singapore Airways to Mumbai, another five and half hours. The night at Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport, and finally, my morning departure on IndiGo airways, a domestic Indian carrier and a one hour flight to Mangalore. In Mumbai I could look forward to masala chai and samosas.
Gavin Rodrigues had been a student of mine in Goa where I have been teaching philosophy in July/August at the Dominican Institute of Philosophy. I got to know many of the Dominican Fathers and students over the years. In the case of Gavin, he accompanied me on a walk through rice fields to a town called Margau. What was meant to be a short afternoon outing turned out to be about four hours returning in the dark on time for Evening Prayer. I also learned about Gavin’s vocational discernment and his calling to Religious life.
On my way to Goa in 2018, I stopped in Nagpur to visit Gavin who was in the formation house. When I celebrated a private Mass in English, Gavin joined me and served the Mass. A prayerful silence filled the chapel.
Deacon Gavin is by nature very obedient; our chats or video calls never interfered with his religious formation/activities/schedule. Even when he returned home for vacations, his family plans always took precedence. I realised Deacon Gavin was close to his family and attached to his mother; he knew his mother loved him very much. I hoped one day to meet his family; they sounded like wonderful people, and perhaps taste his mother’s pizza.
With Konkani spoken in Mangalore among Catholics, the predominant language for Church services, I decided to celebrate private Masses in English (except Sundays); Gavin offered to serve as Deacon; he was at my side performing his diaconal ministry.
On May 16th a change took place: Deacon Gavin was configured to Christ, Priest, Teacher, and Pastor -- an indelible mark by a special grace of the Holy Spirit: Gavin was ordained to the Sacred Priesthood, an alter Christus. I watched Gavin postrate himself, kneel before the bishop when his hands were consecrated; then, we kissed Gavin’s hands, and lay our hands on his head. With the Bishop, Dominicans, Pallotines, Pilar Fathers, a Carmelite, and Father Gavin, we concelebrated Mass.
The next day, Father Gavin joined me once again at my private Mass in English. However, I asked him to preside; I would be at his side to concelebrate and assist him. I stood with him as we pronounced the words of consecration, Father Gavin being more audible, and my words softly spoken. As I heard Father Gavin’s voice, he slightly bowed, holding the bread, “This is my body...” then, holding the chalice, “This is my blood...” This powerful experience that the person beside me in front of the altar was not the Deacon of the other day, but Christ the priest, consecrating bread and wine, the alter Christus.
Regardless of what I felt at consecration, whether it was powerful or emotional, is not so relevant. Consecration of bread and wine to become the body and blood, soul and divinity of Christ is an objective reality. I then asked myself why I should have this powerful and emotional experience of alter Christus from the Deacon to the Priest. After all, I’m a priest myself, I have been through the two Rites of Ordination, and I have never questioned the Roman Rite of the Sacrament of Holy Orders or any other Sacraments; my faith does not need reaffirmation.
A newly ordained priest – like all priests -- will have many challenges; battles against temptation and striving for holiness are ongoing. In this privileged context where I heard and observed Father Gavin celebrate his first Mass, God simply wanted me to taste his goodness, so abundantly expressed in the priesthood. That the Catholic priest continues the salvific mission of Christ, this truth, the alter Christus, Catholicism has taught and practised for two thousand years. Let us pray for Father Gavin, newly ordained priests, and all priests, that Christ may live in us. Amen.
Fr. David Bellusci, O.P.
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