Jan 4, 2011
I stood behind the altar, hands pressed together, glaring into the lights, seeing the faces of many of the fifteen thousand people gathered together to welcome the eruption of joy into the world that is the advent of the Christ. I waited. The servers rounded the massive altar, built over the tomb of St. Peter himself. From the other side of the altar, where the Vicar of Christ sat, smoke began to rise to heaven.
Then it was time. I rounded the altar, the place where centuries of Popes have celebrated the sacred mysteries. And then I was in front of the Holy Father himself. He was attentive, looking me in the eyes. His tired; mine nervous. I bowed, Iube, domne, benedicere — Father, give the blessing. He closed his eyes, bowed his head, and spoke words I did not hear. I saw his hand make the sign of the blessing, and I crossed myself. The Holy Father had just given a blessing intended only for me, that I might be a worthy herald of the Gospel.
About ten days after my ordination to the transitional diaconate, I was called by a priest from the Pontifical Sistine Chapel Choir requesting that I come to his office to audition for singing the Gospel as a Papal Deacon at one of his various public masses. The audition was nerve-wracking, but ultimately successful. I recall the wonder I felt as I watched Don Marcos write the word Natale next to my name — Christmas. Somehow, for some reason, I had been given the grace to be the Deacon of the Word for one of the various Christmas Masses.
When I was called again around December 15, I was overjoyed. I reported again to Don Marcos for a second audition and to discover which Mass I would be given. He listened again to several deacons, and then handed me the Gospel for Midnight Mass, instructing me to practice my pronunciation and to be sure to enunciate, because the echo in St. Peter’s Basilica is intense. That’s all there was to it.