Turning to 'A Prayer Ever Ancient and Ever New'

Turning to 'A Prayer Ever Ancient and Ever New'

Sept. 11 tragedy reveals the role and power of the liturgy, say priests

Rev. Richard McGowan, SJ, an adjunct associate professor in the Carroll School of Management, had gone to Nyack, NY, 10 years ago to marry Boston College classmates Stacey Sennas '85 and Thomas McGowan '85 (no relation).

He returned Sept. 28 to give the homily at a memorial service for Stacey McGowan, who left behind a grieving husband and two daughters ages five and four when she was lost in the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center Sept. 11.

The following day, in the same Grace Episcopal Church in Nyack, Fr. McGowan gave the homily at a memorial service for Welles Crowther '99, a former BC lacrosse player also lost at the Trade Center.

It marked the third time in 11 days Fr. McGowan had performed the sad duty. On Sept. 18, he presented the eulogy at a funeral Mass in Towson, Md., for Daniel McNeal '94, another former student who perished in the Twin Towers assault.

"If liturgy does anything, it brings us together," said Fr. McGowan. "It gives hope. It's a communication with God...The communitarian aspect of the liturgy is essential: You need to be with other people at this time."

Last week, Fr. McGowan again witnessed the role of the liturgy when he accompanied University President William P. Leahy, SJ, Vice President and Special Assistant to the President William B. Neenan, SJ, and others in the BC Jesuit Community to celebrate a Mass in New York City's St. Ignatius Church for BC alumni and parents lost in the Sept. 11 attacks.

Recently, Fr. McGowan and several fellow priests at Boston College reflected on the place of liturgy at such a time of trial and sorrow.

"The most impressive part is how we as people come together now," he said. "It doesn't make it any easier, to say the least. But coming together and sharing the Eucharist means a lot to people. It's a great comfort to all concerned.

"I can say this," Fr. McGowan added. "There aren't many tears left."

Director of Campus Ministry James Erps, SJ, said: "It was appropriate that we, as a Catholic and Jesuit school, should turn on that terrible Tuesday to the prayer of the Eucharist - a prayer ever ancient and ever new.

"On the evening of the 11th, more than 4,000 students, faculty and staff of Boston College joined hands after communion and prayed. They joined hands and joined hearts: joined hearts with so many in the nation whose hearts were broken; joined hearts with the very heart of God; and one could imagine God sharing our tears that night."

Rev. Prof. Michael Himes (Theology), a priest of the Brooklyn Diocese, said: "There is grief too deep for words. There is literally unspeakable evil. When we feel such grief and meet such evil, one of the reasons why we turn to the Liturgy, especially the Eucharist, is that the words we pray and the actions we perform are not simply ours...

"From one point of view, prayer, even the communal prayer of the liturgy, changes nothing; it cannot undo evil or take away grief or fill up loss. But from another point of view, prayer changes everything because it places us in communion with God, the Mystery that supports and surrounds us always.

"It is like knowing that one is loved: no particular thing is changed; yet everything is different. If a homily were a lecture, no one would have dared to preach on Sept. 11 or the days following."

Center for Ignatian Spirituality Director Julio Giulietti, SJ, said: "The Eucharistic liturgy is both a remembrance and enactment of the sacrifice of Jesus and a simple meal where Christians gather to celebrate together the Incarnation of God into the world. The Incarnation is about Jesus Christ, the Word of God, who emptied Himself and become one with us.

"In all He did and said and in how He lived His life, Jesus reached out to those in need: the hungry, blind, deaf, and crippled; to questioners, mourners and the emotionally ill; and to outcasts and ritually unclean sinners of all kinds. He knew the effects of sin upon the innocent and it often moved Him to tears. Jesus also laid down His life to save (read: to heal) the world...

"What happened in New York and Washington, DC, has no explanation other than the reality of evil in the universe. Yes, we can trace the near-term and long-term triggers of the violence, but we are unable to explain the way violence exists in the first place. It is this violence, which caused so much destruction, pain and long term sorrow to so many.

"...In the Eucharist we can live our sorrow and loss deeply as Jesus did, denying nothing. And we are also challenged to be open to the different and new ways Christ's healing will manifest itself to us.

"This healing comes through the Holy Spirit and the community to move us gently beyond loss, anger and immense sorrow to acceptance and a desire to go on living. This can happen because Christ overcame death itself. It is this mystery we celebrate most profoundly in the liturgy of the Eucharist."

-Mark Sullivan


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