Priests from our diocese reflect on what it was like celebrating their first Mass
Father Michael Berndt
Our ordination was on a Friday evening, and I wasn't going to wait until Sunday to celebrate my first Mass. So, I celebrated the first Mass where I was the main celebrant at the small chapel at the Villa Maria Conference Center in Springfield where I had stayed the night before. There were probably less than 10 people as I remember it in the little chapel there. One of them was a priest from Rockford, Father Ervin, who was making sure I was doing everything right, and his friend in the congregation who I didn't even know. I think there was another priest concelebrant? I can't even remember! Sort of anticlimactic, but it's not about me! My vocation never was. I remember forgetting the Prayer over the Offerings, and Father Ervin gently finding that place for me in the Missal and pointing to it.
My first Mass of Thanksgiving where I had family and friends present was at Sacred Heart in Effingham. I cried, giving the "thank-yous" at the end. How do you thank your parents and grandparents for giving you the faith? I remember genuflecting to the tabernacle after one of my first Masses which contained a Sacred Host which I had consecrated, thinking that through my priestly hands I have brought Christ to earth. That was awesome. God is so good.
Father Michael Berndt is parochial vicar at St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Effingham.
Father Zach Samples
Awe, splendor, wonder, amazement, beauty, grace, gratitude, peace, joy, mercy, and most of all, love. It is impossible to capture what was going through my head while celebrating my first Mass in a single word, but this list begins to get to the point. I think that last word gets us especially to the point: love. At the end of the day, the Eucharist is about love. It is about the love of God sacrificed, shared, and poured out for His people — poured out so that we might experience joy, peace, mercy, forgiveness, and a foretaste of that heavenly banquet table.
As I celebrated my first Mass, I was so incredibly moved by the love that God has for me and for all of us. Saying those words that Jesus first uttered at His Last Supper, consecrating simple bread and wine into Jesus's Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity, and sharing that Real and True Presence with others for the first time was as overwhelming as it was humbling. I thought about the love, mercy, and forgiveness I have received time and time again from our Lord. I remembered all those who had played such an important role in bringing me to an encounter with Jesus, most especially my late mother. Above all, I was overcome by inestimable and unconditional love that Jesus has for you and for me.
Father Zach Samples is parochial vicar at St. Peter Church in Quincy and associate chaplain at Quincy Notre Dame High School.
Father Paul Lesupati
It was on May 29, 2022, that I celebrated my first Mass of Thanksgiving at Blessed Sacrament Parish in Springfield. The experience I felt at this first Mass was some nervousness, overwhelmed by the joy of celebrating my Mass of thanksgiving among the parishioners of Blessed Sacrament.
I traveled back to my home country of Kenya for a Mass of Thanksgiving at my home parish of St. George Catholic Parish in Laisamis (Marsabit Diocese) in Kenya on June 5, 2022, the feast of Pentecost. It was a great joy to be back in my local church, a church that nurtured my faith. I was baptized when I was an infant, received first holy Communion, the sacrament of confirmation, and served as an altar server there. Now, I was now celebrating a Mass as a priest!
It was with great joy, humility, and gratitude that I gave thanks to God for the gift of priesthood. The experience I felt was overwhelming, standing in at the altar in persona Christ (in the person of Christ), offering the holy Sacrifice of the Mass, surrounded by my brother priests, members of my own family, relatives, friends, and many parishioners who travelled from different places just to witness and give thanks to God with me and for the gift of my priesthood. I owe a lot of respect to my brother priests and mentors (Father Jeff Grant and Father Dean Probst of our diocese) who travelled all the way from Illinois to accompany and support me. That day was filled with the Holy Spirit as we celebrated the descending of the Holy Spirit to the Apostles (Pentecost Day).
The experience of my Mass was like seeing God’s grace working in my life, thanking God for those who helped me to reach the Altar of God, and seeing the Holy Spirit guiding me in my vocation journey to the priesthood. I never thought that one day I would be a priest in a foreign country like the U.S., but once we let the Holy Spirit guide us, He will lead us to where He wants (us) to be.
Another thing I experienced at my first Mass was the decoration and participation of the community. Everyone was singing, dancing, and clapping their hands as they sang a thanksgiving song. I will also never forget this particular experience at my first Mass which touched and stayed with me: Before the final blessing, I walked from the altar over to my mother who was sitting in the front pew, and I placed a white cloth in her hands. I explained to her this white cloth was called a manutergium, and it was used at my ordination to wipe the excess chrism from my hands after being anointed by our Bishop Thomas John Paprocki. I explained to her that traditionally, this white cloth is given to a mother of a priest, as well as placed in her hands upon her death, so that, at her last judgement, she is to present this cloth to our Lord. It is a symbol of a great honor and sacrifice to have born a son who is a priest. I can still remember tears flowing in my eyes and both my mother’s and sister’s as I passed the manutergium from my hands into hers. The whole congregation was sobbing with tears and after Mass, everyone approached me and told me that it was a touching experience, and that was a precious gift I gave my mother. This was one of the greatest, joyful moments in my life. Tears of joy flowed from me. I thank God for such precious gift, the gift of the priesthood.
Father Paul Lesupati is parochial vicar at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Springfield.
Father Piotr Kosk
My journey to the priesthood began in 2013, beginning with my formation in Poland and culminating with my ordination in May of 2020 in Springfield. On my way to Quincy five days before my ordination, I learned that because of the COVID shutdown, Masses could only be celebrated online. To say that my ordination, which took place on May 2, 2020, differed from the annual ordination ceremony known in our diocese is an understatement as unsent invitations sat in a box and a trip to Poland was canceled. Also, a Cathedral that would normally be filled with a joyful congregation was empty. Those special people in my life I had expected to attend to celebrate this most extraordinary day with me were also missing: My mom was not there to cry with happiness and my family and friends were not present to bestow their congratulations. The collective joy of the faithful gathered in the Cathedral was also missing. Instead, those present were just me, Bishop Paprocki, a handful of priests, and Jesus Christ, who came to give the world a new priest. And yet, amidst all of this somberness, an unusual, though not unpleasant, silence enveloped my heart.
During the ordination Mass, I cried three times. The crying was a mixture of both sadness and great joy. Sadness, because during the readings, I looked around at the empty building of the Cathedral, and joy, because the bishop gave a beautiful homily in Polish that touched me deeply. The third time I cried with happiness was when the bishop placed the Body and Blood of Christ in my unworthy and unsteady hands. Tears flowed from my eyes, because I experienced the exquisite beauty and love of God, who allowed me to embrace Him and feel Him. Christ entered my life even stronger, giving me His grace, strength, love, gift of forgiveness, and above all, His Spirit, so that I could preach His Good News and be an example of what I believe in. It was the most beautiful moment of my life. The culmination of this was an unexpected surprise as a group of my loved ones were waiting in front of the Cathedral with applause and balloons.
The next day, Sunday, I was scheduled to celebrate my Mass of Thanksgiving at Our Lady of the Holy Spirit Parish Mt. Zion. I couldn't sleep Saturday night as I was so excited and overwhelmed by all that had happened at my ordination. As in the Cathedral the day before, there were the allowable 10 people at this Mass and several hundred watching online. With a shaky voice and broken English, I celebrated my first Mass. The most beautiful moment was when I said the words of consecration, "This is my Body” and “This is my Blood.” Then I reflected for a few seconds about what God has done for us and is still doing for us, so that we can be holy and gain eternal life. I knew then what a great gift I had received. Today, celebrating the Mass is a great gift for me, being in union with God and adoring Him in His Flesh and Blood. There is no greater joy than to lay down my life, who I am with my joys and my crosses, on the altar with Christ.
While my journey into the religious life began 10 years ago, I have been a priest for less than three years, and a pastor for less than one. It has been an incredible journey thus far, filled with higher highs and lower lows than I could ever imagine, but through it all, God’s grace and the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit have guided me. So, it is with all of us. God’s plans are so much greater for us than we can imagine. We need only trust in Him. I cannot wait to see what more God has in store for me and you. We are truly blessed to be called the children of God!
Father Piotr Kosk is pastor of St. Mary in Taylorville, St. Rita in Kincade, and Holy Trinity in Stonington.