By CHRISTINE ECKEL, DDS, Special to the Bulletin | Published June 7, 2018
COLLEGE PARK—What a perfect start for the American Sign Language track at the Eucharistic Congress—a visit from Bishop Joel Konzen, SM, carrying the monstrance with the holy Eucharist.
His prayer about St. Thomas Aquinas spoke of using all of our senses to deepen our faith. About 35 participants knelt before the Eucharist while listening to him. Those who are deaf and hearing impaired gathered June 2 in a conference room at the Georgia International Convention Center for this ASL track. Maggie Rousseau, director of the archdiocesan Disabilities Ministry, and Kathy Daykin, coordinator of deaf services, were on hand to welcome all to the track.
Father Sean Loomis, the presenter, shared his life story of growing up in a non-Catholic military family where religion was not a priority. He grew up thinking that happiness is what the world offers if you have enough to eat, drink and party with friends, but these things did not make him happy. His independent searching led to conversion. He had been missing the Eucharist in his life.
After earning a degree in philosophy in college, he entered St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, outside Philadelphia. An unanticipated summons to the dean’s office at the beginning of his first semester sparked fear that he was getting kicked out of school. He was surprised to learn he had been chosen to learn American Sign Language. He soon fell in love with ASL, and a few years after his ordination in 2013, he started working as archdiocesan chaplain to the deaf apostolate in the Philadelphia area. He regularly celebrates Masses in ASL in several churches and other sacraments and funeral rites, while also serving part time in a parish.
God’s covenant with his people
Father Loomis was a lively, energetic and enthusiastic speaker with a great sense of humor. He started his presentation showing everyone a picture of Jesus on the cross and asked, “What do you see?” He explained how people have different reactions seeing this same image and that most Christians see “the sacrifice of the Son of God.”
“St. Paul, however, sees Jesus on the cross as our bridegroom at our wedding,” he said.
With a PowerPoint presentation and references to Scripture, Father Loomis explored how God is a bridegroom and in the New Testament, Jesus is a bridegroom, too.
Repeating the story in the Old Testament of the covenant of Sinai, he explained that “God and the people made a vow to each other in which God promised to bless and protect his people, and in return his people promised to follow his Ten Commandments.”
“This marriage was sealed by a sacrifice when Moses splashed blood on the altar, symbolizing God, and also on the elders, symbolizing the people,” he said.
God is the bridegroom in this marriage between God and Israel.
Father Loomis made an analogy between God, who invites his people to a wedding feast, the Mass, and “a husband who makes plans to have dinner with his wife and sits at the table waiting for his wife.”
“Where is the wife? Hanging out with her friends and partying,” the priest said.
“The husband gets angry and his heart hurts, just like God’s when we act like the uninterested wife,” he explained.
Jesus is the bridegroom in the New Testament, foretold by the prophet Jeremiah, Father Loomis pointed out. In the Gospel of John, John the Baptist named Jesus as a bridegroom, saying, “he hears the voice of the bridegroom,” and the prophet Jeremiah said, “The voice of the bridegroom will be heard when the Messiah comes.”
In Mark’s Gospel, “John the Baptist is out there washing (baptizing) the bride with living water preparing them to meet the bridegroom,” the priest said. He makes it clear that Jesus is the bridegroom and that the bride is the church.
“When is the wedding day?” Father Loomis asked. A clue is in Mark 2:18 when “Jesus identifies himself as the bridegroom and says when he is taken away then the wedding guests can fast.”
Father Loomis continued, describing that at a “Jewish wedding the bridegroom leaves his friends and family to enter the bridal chamber to consummate the marriage.” He further explained that “God consummated the marriage to Israel in the tabernacle of Moses through the blood of the covenant, so Jesus will consummate the marriage to his bride (the church) through the blood of the cross.”
St. Augustine describes this wedding with these words, “Like a bridegroom Christ went forth from his nuptial chamber. … He came even to the marriage bed of the cross, and there ascending it, he consummated a marriage.”
When is the wedding supper of the Lamb? Father Loomis pointed to Revelation 19:7,9, but St. Augustine explains it with these words, “Every celebration (of the Eucharist) is a celebration of marriage; the church nuptials are celebrated and the Bride is joined to the Bridegroom in the flesh.”
Jesus prepares a dwelling place
Traditionally the groom takes the bride from her family to live with him and his family. When does Jesus, the bridegroom, come back to prepare a home for his bride?
Father Loomis quoted the words of Jesus in John 14:1-4: “Let not your hearts be troubled: believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”
Father Loomis ended his presentation with the Bible verses of Revelation 19:6-7 to describe the wedding feast of heaven and “unveiling the bride of Christ at the end of time, the glory of his bride, the New Jerusalem.”
ASL track participant Barbara Eckel commented, “This presentation gave me a new slant on participating in the Mass until the end of our lives, when we will meet our bridegroom face to face as it were and join him in his home for all eternity. We were re-educated as well as entertained in Father Sean Loomis’ most animated and dramatic presentation.”
Christine Eckel, DDS, has served in the deaf ministry for more than 10 years at Transfiguration Church, Marietta.