I went to the Mass of Thanksgiving celebrated by a priest who was ordained yesterday. He held his First Mass at our parish because he is (was, I guess) a parishioner, and the entire parish was invited.
I know that the priest, conforming himself to Jesus Christ, marries the Church, his Bride, and that is touching beyond understanding, if you put your mind on it for a little while, but I never realized how much a First Mass resembles a wedding in its temporal aspects:
1. Everybody faces the back when the priest, with many fellow priests and deacons, process up the aisle. There is a general gasp of joy seeing him vested. No bride in the most beautiful white satin could be welcomed with any more emotion. The imagery isn't hollow, either: waiting for the priest at the front of church is the altar on which he will celebrate the mystical and intimate union of Jesus with His Bride, the Church.
2. The priest actually changes his name: he is now permanently Father Don or Father Paul. He is changed at the very essence of his being, God has called him to a permanent union, and instead of physical children, he will have thousands of spiritual children.
3. There are rows reserved for family, and little kids are running around, misbehaving in their best fluffy dresses and little suits. All the older ladies of the family are wearing pastels and orchids, and the parents of the "groom" are wearing big smiles and flowers.
4. The music is all to be chosen by the new priest and his friends do the singing and the readings. Some of the family members really shouldn't be reading in public, or singing, but they were asked for the reason of love and love carries them through and makes them welcome.
5. There are the inevitable family members who don't have any power of concentration and are looking around the whole time. I was amusedly aware of a probable-cousin who chose to wear a dress that was so low-cut and revealing that she couldn't have sat anywhere but in row 3, directly in front of the pulpit (what was she thinking?).
6. There is a videographer and several photographers darting around, and every significant gesture is met with a set of flashes.
7. Everybody beams and everybody cries, even those people who don't know the new priest. I used all the McDonald's napkins I brought in from the car, for myself and my pew neighbors. People didn't even try to hide their tears.
8. There were some congratulatory speeches by priest mentors and the pastor and everybody clapped for everybody. There were priests there who were ordained last week, and fifty years ago, and seminarians who would be ordained next year and the year after. It was like having couples celebrating their silver and gold anniversaries, and engaged couples, introduced by the bride and groom.
9. We got favors: a holy card with the new priest's date of ordination on the back, and a blessing from him in the receiving line. I had a rosary that had never been blessed, so I toted that along and got a nice low-serial-number blessing!
10. The reception in the parish hall was WCC: wine, cheese, crackers (the only other option being a CBS reception (chicken, beef and sausage)) and there was a big white cake, in the shape of a cross, with a blue Holy Spirit Dove. A buck says the priest cut it and got his picture taken doing it, I didn't stay long enough to find out.
One surprise: the readings were those of today: Pentecost Sunday. A wonderful feast to begin a life of priesthood, but I kind of expected there to be a special set of readings for a First Mass.
It was all BEAUTIFUL. God's call was answered by this man with a total gift of self. A holy awe, please, for the grace that flows by and through the gift of the ministerial priesthood to the sacramental life of the Church!