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For the First Time

ConsecrationI saw the wonderful actor Judd Hirsch perform in Yasmina Reza’s play Art on two occasions.
In the play, Hirsch’s character is outraged when he learns that a close friend has spent a lot of money on a painting that consists of a white background and a few additional strokes of white paint.
By the time I saw it the second time, Hirsch had performed in this play hundreds of times.
I asked him how it was possible, after having done it again and again, for him to appear as though he was seeing that painting for the first time.
He interrupted me by holding up a forefinger and saying emphatically: “I am seeing it for the first time.’’
In other words, I infer, the actor empties himself of all of his previous experiences with this scene and lives it again as something brand new — something he no doubt has to do whenever he gives multiple performances of the same work.
This conversation reminded me of Monsignor Leon Kasprzyk, a priest of the Diocese of Metuchen who died last year.
I attended many Masses celebrated by Father Kasprzyk and on several occasions assisted him at the altar.
It was impossible to miss the intensity with which he celebrated the sacrament.
He appeared as if he were conscious of nothing but the ritual he was engaged in.
As he consecrated the bread and wine, beads of perspiration formed on his forehead, his voice quavered, and his hands visibly trembled.
When I met Father Kasprzyk, he had been a priest for about 25 years. He probably had celebrated Mass more than ten thousand times. It would have been understandable — wouldn’t it? — if the rite had become somewhat routine for him as it had for a friend of mine, an excellent priest, who once unwittingly skipped over the consecration of the wine.
I can speak for myself here: I have more than once blanked out during the eucharistic prayer and suddenly realized that it was time for me to elevate the chalice.
How was it possible that Father Kasprzyk, after having celebrated Mass again and again, could become as deeply immersed in it as if it were the first time?
I never asked him, but my guess is that as he approached the altar each time, Father Kasprzyk realized anew what he was about to undertake, that he was going to be the medium through whom the bread and wine brought to that altar would become — would actually become —the body and blood of Jesus Christ.
In the hymn “How Great Thou Art,” we sing, “And when I think that God, His Son not sparing, sent Him to die, I scarce can take it in.’’
My guess is that that same sense of awe, of amazement, overcame Father Kasprzyk each time he played his part in making that sacrifice real again, in the here and now.
I find quite a challenge in his example: When I am at Mass, when the body and blood of Jesus become present on the altar, is my reaction, “One more Sunday obligation fulfilled,” or is it, “I scarce can take it in!”
Charles Paolino is a member of the RENEW staff and a permanent Deacon in the Diocese of Metuchen.

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One Response to “For the First Time”

  1. Barbara Fitos says:

    Deacon Charles – I grew up in Metuchen – my family were parishioners at St. Francis during Msgr. Foley’s tenure – long before it became the Cathedral of the Diocese of Metuchen encompassing four NJ counties and numerous parishes including yours. I have lived in Florida since 1976 but always returned to St. Francis on our many visits home over the years. My parents are now deceased and my family and I returned to St. Francis for their Masses of the Resurrection. Blessings and thanks for your beautiful tribute/message…and for the memories…

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