Published January 10, 2017
Through email, Atlanta’s Rev. Mr. Bryan Kuhr answered questions about assisting as Pope Francis celebrated Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica. His answers have been lightly edited.
Georgia Bulletin: How do these opportunities come up?
Deacon Kuhr: Several times a year, the various seminaries in Rome are asked to provide altar servers and deacons for the celebration of a papal liturgy. The Pontifical North American College was asked over the Christmas break to help. I was privileged to be one of four deacons from the college to serve on the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God (Jan. 1).
GB: Did you have the chance to chat and engage with the pope? What’s he like in those settings? What did you talk about? Do you prepare for Mass with the pope?
Deacon Kuhr: Before the liturgy, the altar servers and deacons vest near the altar of Saint John Paul II. After vesting we circle by Michelangelo’s Pieta statue. Before vesting, the pope will come and greet us all personally. Usually each server is able to say a few words. I told him it was a pleasure to meet him and happy feast (in Italian). The pope usually doesn’t say much as he is passing through the line, mostly smiling. The pope asked us to pray for him. After he greets us, he goes into a separate room and vests with the help of the master of ceremony. Then we process out from the Pieta statue as the beautiful liturgy begins.
GB: How has this experience touched you?
Deacon Kuhr: It was an exciting and moving experience. As I waited to greet the pope, I was staring at the Pieta statue up close, mentally preparing for Mass. Of course there was the added significance of it being the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. It is hard to put words to it, but it was profound … during the Mass, looking out into the massive crowd in the basilica with the beautiful choir voices in the background, as well as exchanging the sign of peace with Pope Francis will be lasting memories (amongst others). As Pope Francis emphasized in his homily, Mary is our spiritual mother. In a unique way Mary understands the life of a priest, knowing the sacrifice, which is a comforting thought. The whole experience was a great way to start 2017, especially as I approach priesthood ordination in roughly six months.