The bells of the Cathedral rang out the “Angelus” as priests of the diocese chanted the “Salve Regina” — “Hail, Holy Queen.”
A plea for intercession from the Blessed Mother in times of difficulty, it’s what the priests sing together whenever one of them passes from this life into the next.
“As celibate priests,” Bishop W. Shawn McKnight noted, “we do not have progeny of our own to pray for us after we have gone to the Lord — except for the spiritual progeny of the members of the Church.”
Bishop McKnight, Bishop Emeritus John R. Gaydos and priests of the Jefferson City diocese offered a concelebrated Mass for Deceased Priests on Nov. 8.
It was the last day in the Octave of All Souls, a time when Catholics are especially encouraged to pray for those who died and are preparing to share the fullness of their Master’s joy.
“As I always used to say at the end of Funeral Masses, ‘See you in heaven!’” said Father Joby Parakkacharuvil Thomas, pastor of St. Pius X Parish in Moberly, who preached the homily.
“That’s my greeting and farewell to all of our brother priests who have left us already,” he said.
Each year, the Memorial Mass for Deceased Priests includes the solemn reading of the names of the priests of the diocese who have died since the diocese’s founding in 1956.
Fr. Parakkacharuvil, a missionary priest from the Archdiocese of Kottayam, India, has been serving in this diocese since 2011.
He recalled attending the first such Mass held in this diocese while he was in Columbia as a student about 20 years ago.
At that time, he was in residence with Father Edwin Cole, now deceased, who was pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in Columbia.
“At the end of the Mass, the names of the priests who have left us were recited, and we prayed for them,” Fr. Parakkacharuvil recalled.
While it was for him at that time “a liturgically rich and spiritually moving celebration,” he had never met any of the priests whose names were spoken.
“I knew in my brain that they are my brother priests in this diocese, but I could not feel them in my heart,” he said.
Several years later, he attended another Mass for Deceased Priests after coming to minister in this diocese.
By then, Fr. Cole — who had driven Fr. Parakkacharuvil everywhere he needed to go, had invited him to family functions, and with whom he had enjoyed many meaningful conversations — had died.
“I was not here for his funeral, but when they read his name, I could feel that — my brain and my heart coming together,” he said.
Fr. Parakkacharuvil would hear another name in the necrology at this year’s Mass — Monsignor Michael Wilbers, who was Fr. Cole’s closest friend.
Msgr. Wilbers died Sept. 19 of this year.
“He used to come visit at Sacred Heart, or we would go and visit him at Lake Ozark,” Fr. Parakkacharuvil recalled. “And this year, we remember.”
“These are people I knew, and they knew me,” the homilist stated. “They touched my life. They made my life different, and I think about them. I remember them. I pray for them.”
He said that in trying to help children understand “the end things,” he speaks of a house with three stories.
The first floor is analogous to people in this life.
The second relates to people who have died and are being perfected before being admitted to heaven.
The third floor is heaven, sainthood and the fullness of God’s presence.
The house also has a basement without windows and a door that only goes one way, he noted.
He placed before his fellow priests the idea that everyone carries a bit of that basement, that main floor and the two floors above it at any given time.
“It’s all in us,” he stated. “Where we end up just depends upon the yes or the no that we make in this life.”
“Imitate what you celebrate”
Fr. Parakkacharuvil noted how stained glass windows, with radiant images of saints and prophets, are all different.
“They all let the light of sun in differently, but they are all transparent to God,” he said.
“Allowing God to shine in us and through us — that’s what helps us get to heaven,” he stated.
He pointed to the example of St. Ignatius of Antioch, a priest who graciously declined all offers from those seeking to prevent his execution during the time of the Roman persecutions of Christians.
“His letter clearly states: Don’t do that. Allow me to be crushed by the teeth of the wild beasts, so that the wheat for the bread, I may become,” Fr. Parakkacharuvil noted.
The homilist reminded his fellow priests that they all celebrate the Eucharist, “even with all of our imperfections.”
“Many times, we bring with us all the brokenness,” he said. “Sometimes, even that wild beast attacking us in different ways, maybe breaking us into dust. Into flour.
“We offer, we celebrate the Eucharist,” he said, “and we become the Eucharist.”
He thanked the priests of this diocese for being like Fr. Cole and Msgr. Wilbers.
“Each of you have made my life a blessing in different ways,” he said. “That’s the great thing about our brotherhood as priests. We are from different places, but in Jesus, we are brothers.
“And we make the Body of Christ present to anyone and everyone,” he stated. “And sometimes, we, too, become the Body of Christ.”
Called by name
After the homily, Father Christopher Cordes, pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Columbia and diocesan vicar for priests, and Father David Veit, pastor of St. Brendan Parish in Mexico, read the names of the deceased priests of the diocese.
Between each group of names, the priests and congregants sang the refrain from the Song of Farewell, “Receive their souls, O Holy ones. Present them now to God most high.”
After all the names were read, the cantors chanted the “In Paradisum” — an ancient Catholic hymn inviting saints and martyrs to lead a person who has died into heaven to be with God.
Deacon William Seibert and Deacon Brad Jones assisted at the Mass.
Julie Wilbers and Mary Helen Norfleet, sisters of Msgr. Wilbers, presented the bread and wine at the offertory.
Bishop McKnight; Bishop Gaydos; Monsignor Robert A. Kurwicki, vicar general of the diocese; and Fr. Cordes prayed part of the Eucharistic prayer.
After Mass, the priests gathered downstairs in Cana Hall to share a meal.
Laughter filled the room as they shared stories and memories of priests they had ministered with and been inspired by.