Very Rev. George Mockel, vicar general of the Oakland diocese, top row, far right, joins with bishops from California, Nevada, Hawaii and Utah concelebrating Mass on April 16 at the Basilica of St. Paul.
CNS photo/Paul Haring
Mass with St. Paul
Father George Mockel
Monday — April 16— the Bishops fulfilled one of the three essential dimensions of the ad limina apostolorum (to the threshold of the Apostles) by making a pilgrimage to the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls.
The first church built on this site was constructed by the Emperor Constantine after his conversion and the proclamation making Christianity legal in the Roman Empire. There is a long standing tradition that Constantine built the original church directly over the tomb of the apostle Paul.
Excavations done between 2002 and 2009 confirmed this tradition. A tomb was indeed discovered directly beneath the high altar. Carbon14 dating was done on bone fragments from the tomb and confirmed the fact that they could be dated to the first or second century. One can walk down the steps in front of the altar to see the tomb.
St. Paul's Basilica has some of the most beautifully preserved mosaics in all of Rome (excepting St. Peter's).
The mosaic in the apse brought recollections of the figure of Christ in our own cathedral. It portrays Christ seated upon a throne surrounded by Paul, Peter, Andrew and Luke.
The purpose of the pilgrimage was to pray at the tomb of the Apostle. Before Mass started the procession gathered in front of the stairs leading down to the tomb to chant the Profession of Faith. As the sound of the chant echoed throughout the nave of this great church one could not help but feel a chill down one’s spine as the memory of so many like St. Paul who have made this same Profession of Faith by the very shedding their blood.
I also thought of the many historic events that have taken place within these walls. Just during my own lifetime, the year of St. Paul was inaugurated here as well as the annual celebration of the Week for Christian Unity.
But perhaps most significant for most of us, it was here that Pope John XXlll announced his intention to convoke the Second Vatican Council.
The principal celebrant of the Mass was Bishop Tod Brown of the Diocese of Orange. The bishop and I have been friends for many years going back to when he was a priest of the Diocese of Monterey working in its chancery office.
He has family in our diocese and the bishop presided at the first wedding in our new Cathedral of his nephew. Bishop Brown gave the homily during which he made reference to the fact that martyrdom was a reality, not only for the early church, but throughout the church’s history. He alluded to the recent challenges the church faces in our own nation and the fact that the same faith convictions that led St. Paul to a martyr’s death could lead to great difficulties for Catholics today. The bishop left me with the impression that he felt "rough waters" might be ahead for the church in our country.