When the hand-held candles light up the church, with the Paschal Candle in front of the altar, at the beginning of the Easter Vigil: Christ triumphs, and we rejoice.
The ritual of our Church gives us the meaning of all the toil and pain of this difficult mortal life.
“We owe God a death” (Shakespeare, Henry IV, Part 2, Act III, scene 2). God gave us life, and everything. And we thoroughly messed the business up, we human malefactors. We owe Him the death He calls us to.
He, however, went ahead and paid off our debt, on the Holy Cross. So now we can live under the canopy of His sky and trees; His sun, moon, and rain–we can live under His shelter, as the heavenly Father’s hopeful children.
We can light up the dark church with little candles, knowing it’s all true, His Gospel. He paid the full debt of death, and came out of it alive.
At the Vigil, a clergyman holds the big candle, the light of Christ. The flock all hold little candles. It’s the Church, Head (Jesus) and members. The Redeemer and the redeemed.
Praised be the Lord Jesus Christ: the night of Saturday, April 10, 1993, found me holding a little candle in Dahlgren Chapel in Washington, D.C.
We all owe God a death. I will gladly pay that debt anytime, whenever God wills. The heavenly grace that found me that Holy Saturday night, the grace of communion with the Church of Jesus Christ: that grace outweighs death more than a lion outweighs a flea.
I became a Catholic to become a priest. As a seminarian, I learned the Holy Week ceremonies, in close detail. Then I spent two decades of Holy Weeks celebrating those ceremonies.
I think I mentioned before how I served as Cardinal-Archbishop Theodore McCarrick’s deacon on a couple occasions during the Lent and Holy Week of my tenth anniversary as a Catholic.
On the First Sunday of Lent, 2003, I sat next to McCarrick at the big ceremony where the parishes present their RCIA candidates to the Archbishop.
Before the final blessing, I had a moment to whisper to the Cardinal, “Ten years ago, that was me, Your Eminence.”
He loved it. He stood up, and before giving the blessing, told the whole crowd what I had just said. Then he encouraged the young, unmarried men there to consider the seminary.
I also deaconed for McCarrick at the Chrism Mass during Holy Week that year. That’s the annual Mass when all the clergy gathers at the cathedral. The priests renew our promises, and the bishop blesses the holy oils for use during the coming year. That includes the Chrism oil, which you need for Confirmations (anointing the forehead) and Ordinations (anointing the palms).
I stood next to Cardinal McCarrick, and helped hold his chasuble back from his wrist, as he consecrated the Chrism he would use a month later at our ordination as priests.
We’re all sinners. No one is perfect–not even priests, bishops, popes. There’s no such thing as a Church with 100%-holy clergy. But that doesn’t mean it’s okay for criminals to hide from justice behind the altar rail.
During Holy Week 2003, a lot of people knew that McCarrick was a criminal hiding from justice. People in New Jersey knew, and people in the Vatican knew.
The Vatican ambassador was at our Chrism Mass in 2003. He knew at that very moment that multiple victims of McCarrick’s abuses had tried to report what had happened up the clerical chain of command.
And yet here McCarrick was, presiding over the sacred ceremonies, as Cardinal-Archbishop of the national capital of the most-powerful country on earth. Some other men in miters at that Mass also knew some of the secrets. But they just stood there, consummate cowards, as a criminal pederast consecrated the Holy Chrism.
Most of us there would not have tolerated the situation, had we known.
If the Vatican ambassador had somehow decided to throw the Code of Silence to the winds, and marched to the microphone, and declared to everyone in the cathedral everything he knew about what McCarrick had done; if such a miracle of truth-telling had occurred, I believe that:
We would have stood in silent shock for a moment. Then we would have applauded the whistleblower’s courage for speaking. Then we would have knelt down to pray for the patience to wait for the Lord to send us a different Archbishop, one that we could actually respect and trust.
At least that’s what I hope I would have done. Instead, though, the Code of Silence prevailed, as usual. The criminal remained hidden behind the altar rail for another 15 years.
Every year, the bishop invites his priests to the Chrism Mass at the cathedral. For three years running now, though, I have not been invited. I am not welcome.
The bishop here probably knew some of McCarrick’s secrets, at the Chrism Mass in 2003. (Monsignor Barry Knestout was right there, near McCarrick that day, just like me.)
If Bishop Knestout didn’t know anything that day, he certainly came to know some of it, in the subsequent few years. He dutifully kept the Code of Silence of the mitered mafia.
Now, two decades later, with some of the McCarrick truth known to the world, Knestout has left me outside, to fend for myself spiritually. Because I think the Code of Silence is bull–t.
I will participate in the Holy Week ceremonies this year, not as a priest celebrant, but in the back of a strange church, praying quietly among people who don’t know me.
I have peace about this.
Because: If you take all the wrongness of a criminal presiding over Holy Week as Cardinal Archbishop–if you take the whole invisible wound caused by that, and try to look at it, honestly and carefully, you see: we still owe the Lord a lot here.
We still owe Him for all the cruelty, the hypocrisy, and the cowardice, hidden behind the altar rail two decades ago.
I think of the good, honest souls with me at that Chrism Mass, 2003, in McCarrick’s cathedral. People who knew me then, and who know the truth as I know it now. I believe they think like this, about the situation as it now stands:
It’s a shame that Barry Knestout has thrown Mark White in the trash. It’s a shame, because Mark turned out to be a halfway-decent priest.
But it makes sense. It makes perfect sense that the tall, idealistic deacon then would wind up the unjustly ‘canceled’ priest now, considering all the hidden evil involved. It’s no surprise that the tall, bookish dude would find himself on the forgotten fringe of Holy Mother Church. Because it’s better to suffer in the back of the church than stand up in front and pretend everything is fine, when it isn’t.
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