New priests’ first Masses provide opportunity for thanksgiving

| Susan Klemond | May 29, 2019 | 0 Comments

Father Bruno Nwachukwu, center, celebrates his first Mass as a priest May 31, 2015, at St. Joseph in West St. Paul.  Courtesy Father Nwachukwu

Priestly ordination at the Cathedral of St. Paul in St. Paul May 25 was the culmination of years of prayer and preparation for the archdiocese’s four new priests — but the next day also was momentous.

All four priests celebrated Masses of thanksgiving at their home parishes May 26 — their first Masses serving as the main celebrant — with family, friends, teachers and others in the congregation. Father Seraphim Wirth of the Franciscan Brothers of Peace also was ordained at the Cathedral, and celebrated his first Mass the next day at St. Casimir in St. Paul.

“The Mass is very significant and special to me,” said newly ordained Father Louis Floeder, 26, who celebrated his first Mass at St. Louis King of France in St. Paul. “My Mass of thanksgiving is thanking God to be one of his priests to serve, and also seeing lots of family and friends who’ve been a huge support to me and my vocation as a priest.”

Before their ordination, Father Floeder and his classmate, Father Andrew Zipp, 26, spoke with The Catholic Spirit about plans for their first Masses.

Two archdiocesan priests ordained in recent years — Father Aric Aamodt and Father Bruno Nwachukwu — recalled their first Masses and the opportunity to celebrate with family and friends in a way that brings Christ to the center of the gatherings.


First Masses

All celebrated May 26

Father Joseph Connelly
Cathedral of St. Paul, St. Paul

Father Louis Floeder
St. Louis King of France, St. Paul

Father Joseph Gifford
Church of Saint Paul, Ham Lake

Father Seraphim Wirth (Franciscan Brothers of Peace)
St. Casimir, St. Paul

Father Andrew Zipp
St Michael, St. Michael

Special indulgence

People attending a priest’s first Mass can gain a plenary indulgence if they also receive Communion the day of the indulgence, pray for the Holy Father’s intentions and go to confession within 20 days. No plenary indulgence or special grace is attached to receiving a newly ordained priest’s blessing, said Father Tom Margevicius, director of the archdiocese’s Office of Worship and of liturgy and homilitics at The St. Paul Seminary.


First Mass traditions

The first Mass tradition may have started in medieval times, said Father Tom Margevicius, director of the archdiocese’s Office of Worship, as well as The St. Paul Seminary liturgy and homiletics director. Technically, a priest’s ordination Mass is his first Mass, but the first one he presides over from beginning to end commonly is referred to as his “first,” Father Margevicius said.

The first Mass also is a time when some newly ordained priests give special gifts to their parents. Mothers sometimes receive the “maniturgium,” a cloth used during the ordination Mass that was wrapped around their sons’ hands after their hands were anointed with holy oil.

Father Zipp, for example, gave his mother his maniturgium and his father a rosary at his Mass.

Among his guests, Father Zipp invited Auxiliary Bishop Juan Miguel Betancourt Torres of the Archdiocese of Hartford, Connecticut, a former instructor at St. Paul Seminary, to concelebrate and preach the homily. He also asked his pastor, Father Peter Richards, and five other archdiocesan priests to concelebrate.

Father Louis Floeder concelebrated the Mass with several priests, including his uncle, Father John Floeder, the dean of seminarians and an instructor at St. Paul Seminary, who also gave the homily.

While they celebrate only one first Mass, priests are not restricted to one Mass of thanksgiving, Father Margevicius said. Father Zipp planned to offer Masses at two other parishes where he has served.

Father Louis Floeder said he was grateful to offer his first Mass with the Society of Mary (Marist) priests at his parish, where he and his family have been members for five years and where he’s served at Mass during seminary breaks. He also invited people who have written him letters expressing their support for his vocation.

“God’s people are really good at caring for vocations, so sometimes people send letters,” he said. “I’ve never met some of these people, but I sent them an invitation.”

Expecting the unexpected

Father Aamodt’s and Father Nwachukwu’s memories of their celebrations included an unexpected complication for Father Aamodt.

After practicing thoroughly beforehand, Father Aadmot said, he was less nervous about his first Mass last year at St. Odilia in Shoreview. But he didn’t anticipate having to shout opening prayers when his microphone malfunctioned.

Still, as he celebrated the Mass, he realized it wasn’t about him, said Father Aamodt, 28, now associate pastor of St. Hubert in Chanhassen.

“My whole family was there,” he said. “But as celebrant it wasn’t about me. Even as I was praying the prayers, I recognized this is an offering. I now have a different role. … God was coming to meet us on this unique occasion.”

But while the new priest is not the center of attention at his first Mass, neither is he irrelevant, Father Margevicius said. Since it is possible to gain an indulgence at a priest’s first public Mass, “the fact that it is him celebrating it and not another priest indicates that who it is matters.” he said.

Recalling his first Mass, Father Nwachukwu, 39, said he was grateful for all those who attended the celebration at his teaching parish, St. Joseph in West St. Paul, in May 2015 — including many who traveled from his native Nigeria.

At the end of the Mass, Father Nwachukwu, now chaplain at North Memorial Health Hospital in Robbinsdale and De LaSalle High School in Minneapolis, gave his mother his maniturgium. He gave his father the stole he wore while hearing his first confession.

Father Nwachukwu also gave the parish a chasuble embroidered with an image of its patron — St. Joseph — and a papal blessing.

Both new priests’ parishes prepared light receptions following their first Masses. Father Nwachukwu recalled that his parish reception of food, music and dancing reflected his home country’s hospitality and respect for priests.

“Seeing all those people coming to celebrate with me made me feel like I was in Nigeria,” he said.

Father Zipp said his first Mass was an opportunity to thank his parish, where he and his family have been members since 1998, and to use the chalice that parishioners and Father Richards gave him.

It was important “to be at the parish with the people that helped foster this vocation in me growing up, even though I first heard the call in high school,” Father Zipp said.

Along with support from his parish, Father Louis Floeder thanked God for his life and for choosing him to be an “other Christ.”

“When you think of the Mass, it’s the most powerful thing we have as Christians,” he said, “and so to be chosen by his free will — me — to do that, that’s amazing.”


Saints and their first Masses

Priests typically offer their first Masses soon after ordination. But St. Ignatius of Loyola, who was ordained in 1537, did not celebrate his until a year and a half later. The saint had hoped to offer the Mass in the Holy Land, but the prevalence of pirates prevented him from getting there. He celebrated the Mass on Christmas Day in Rome at the Basilica of St. Mary Major.

In the 12th century, St. Norbert’s homily on the transitory nature of worldly pleasures and Christian duty toward God wasn’t universally welcomed at his first Mass, celebrated in what is now Germany.

When young clerics responded by insulting him and spitting in his face, he reacted with patience.

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