By Daniel Rice, Seminarian
On Sunday, July 9, I went to the only weekly English Mass at the Korean Catholic Church, St. Paul Chung. I was welcomed by Joseph, whom I had met a couple weeks before, and shown to the sacristy. After vesting in my cassock and surplice, I spoke for several minutes with the three altar servers (some of the best and most reverent I have ever seen at a parish!) and a couple others who assisted with the liturgy. One young man, who was the head of the altar serving program, asked the servers if they knew why my cassock has thirty-three buttons. One answered correctly that they signify the years that Christ spent on earth. I was reminded of this encounter a few days later when I read an Old Testament foreshadowing of Christ. After the Scriptures say that King “David slept with his fathers, and was buried in the city of David,” it is recorded that “the time that David reigned over Israel was forty years; he reigned seven years in Hebron, and thirty-three years in Jerusalem” (1 Kings 2:10-11). Jesus, the Son of David, the King of Israel and of all creation, lived in Israel and Jerusalem for thirty-three years and inaugurated the new reign of the Kingdom of God, which will have no end.
Once Father Paul had finished hearing Confessions, he came back to the sacristy and quickly vested before Mass began, meanwhile giving us a sneak-peak into his homily about the yoke of Christ. He explained that when you have multiple animals plowing a field (e.g., two oxen), the yoke is the wooden beam that is placed on their necks and keeps them moving together. Christ says, “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light” (Matthew 11:28-30). When we are yoked to Christ, our work becomes one with His. When we let Him set the pace for our lives, not rushing ahead, dragging behind, or turning every which way, then our yoke is easy and we learn from Him. What a beautiful image of companionship with God Himself, Who became man for our sake and abides with us.
This Mass, which was fairly well attended, is packed during the school year, the time when Sunday CCD follows the liturgy. From my place next to the priest’s chair, I looked out upon families who had come there together. This Mass had been described to me as the “students’ Mass,” and a large portion of the congregation were indeed young people. The music was led by a dozen or so young people, who together made up a small choir and strings section. The three altar servers, vested in red cassock and white surplice, masterfully and prayerfully assisted at the altar and gave me pointers on how to serve in this particular church.
At the end of Mass, I was able to give a short version of my vocation story. Because Korean culture is family-oriented, I focused especially on my relationship with my family and their support in my journey toward the priesthood. I also shared this anecdote: The day after a priest is ordained, he celebrates his first Mass—I attended two first Masses this past June. At the conclusion of this Mass, it is a tradition that the newly ordained priest will give a gift to each of his parents. He gives to his father his first confessional stole, for it is his father who taught him justice and mercy. He gives to his mother a special cloth called the maniturgium. At his ordination, after his hands were anointed with Sacred Chrism, he used the maniturgium to wipe the excess holy oil from his hands. Upon his mother’s death, she is to be buried with this cloth wrapped around her hands. The tradition goes that when she comes before God, He will say to her, ‘I have given you life. What have you given me?’ Handing our Lord the maniturgium, she will respond, ‘I have given you a priest.’
St. Paul Chung, pray for us.