Cardinal Dolan comes through at St. Patrick’s first ‘reopened’ Mass

dSaint Patrick’s Cathedral on Sunday reopened its doors to Gotham’s Catholic faithful for the first time since public Masses in the archdiocese were suspended 14 weeks ago.

Thanks be to God.

For a city suffering from viral disease, economic devastation and racial unrest, it was a joyous moment — a reminder that whatever hellish cycle our nation is trapped in is but a blip from the standpoint of things eternal. And for New York’s cardinal archbishop, Timothy Dolan, it was a moment of ­undisputed triumph.

Before the lockdowns, I used to attend daily Mass at Saint Patrick’s. And almost ­always, I used to see an older woman, immaculately dressed and with her silver hair immaculately coiffured, kneeling in one of the front pews. We never spoke, but her ­devotion at Mass — her stillness, her prayerful poise — was something to behold. What, I wondered during the lockdown, had become of that old lady?

You can perhaps imagine the ­euphoria that overcame me as I spotted her at the reopening Mass, elegant as ever in chic booties, kneeling near the front, smiling subtly but generously at everyone, as if to say: What, you thought I’d miss this?

She’s the very image of Catholic New York, this lady. All of my own gloom of the past few months — my dark fantasies of fleeing to some farm, holed up with chickens, shotguns and survivalist manuals — seemed to vanish in her presence. The church, the people of God, can endure this, too. If she can endure, so can we.

Yes, there were some unusual elements of the “new normal” that meant this Mass didn’t quite feel like an ordinary Mass from the Before Times.

Only every third pew was available for seating, and the pews that were available were filled sparsely by usher’s orders. Masks were, of course, de rigueur. There was no holy water but plenty of hand sanitizer at every corner. I, for one, worry about the smell of isopropyl alcohol replacing incense as the dominant scent associated with Roman Catholicism.

Still, if the choice is between this ultra-antiseptic Mass and no Mass and no sacraments, well, that’s no choice at all. At any rate, that first blast of the organ pipes wiped away the antiseptic scent and, with it, more of our accumulated sorrow.

As the cantor sang “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee,” Dolan and his retinue of priests entered ­almost with an air of bravado; the procession had the feel of our boys returning home from the war.

The cardinal didn’t wave at his people. No, a more dramatic flourish was called for: He held up his episcopal-ringed hand and shook it in midair in a majestic gesture; you can find footage online of Pope Pius XII making the exact same gesture. And somehow, it befit Dolan in this moment, too.

The man loves to be with his people; he has the smell of the sheep, as Pope Francis says of good priests. At a gathering of journalists and diplomats pre-pandemic, I watched the cardinal spend nearly 15 minutes talking intently with one of the waiters, asking about his family, consoling or counseling him about some personal matter. To those who know him, this is Dolan at his best.

It must have been hard for such a man to be away from his flock for so long. “All right, where have you all been?” he jokingly asked on Sunday. “Since you’ve been gone 14 Sundays, there will be 14 second collections today, all right?” He was beaming. He was enjoying himself. And the people laughed along. Not even the dourest traditionalist could have helped smiling.

It was fitting, too, that the readings emphasized the virtue of hospitality: “He who receives a prophet because he is a prophet shall receive a prophet’s reward.” For Catholics, to be hospitable means foremost to worthily receive Jesus in the Eucharist; having consumed divinity, we are supposed to radiate it to others in our otherwise broken world.

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That about sums up how Dolan has met this extraordinary ­moment in the city’s history: patiently enduring the lockdowns, rolling up his sleeves and feeding tens of thousands of newly jobless and hungry New Yorkers.

Take a bow, Your Eminence.

Sohrab Ahmari is The Post’s op-ed editor. Twitter: @SohrabAhmari

Source: New York Post


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