By Dorothy K. LaMantia | Correspondent
For parishioners of St. Justin the Martyr Parish, Toms River, Holy Thursday was tinged with excitement as they anticipated having Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., visit their parish to celebrate the Mass of the Lord’s Supper.
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“We are excited,” said Father Mark A. Kreder, pastor. “It is great when the shepherd comes to a parish. We are joyful that he will celebrate the Mass of the Lord’s Supper with us because it is the source of three gifts: the Eucharist, the priesthood and service in the form of the washing of feet.”
“I am so happy to be here on this night we celebrate the institution of the Eucharist, the center of our lives,” said Bishop O’Connell in his greeting.
Father Kreder and Father John Bogacz, parochial vicar, concelebrated Mass with the Bishop.
Bishop O’Connell’s homily brought the meaning of the washing of feet and the Eucharist home: “The gesture of foot washing has special significance…Jesus used what was common to make it a holy…symbolic…teaching moment intended to make the point that we owe each other great respect and care.
“The symbolism of respect for another person by humbling oneself, showing humility by washing feet, and the sharing one’s life by giving it totally to another — Jesus’ gift of His own Body and Blood — is the essence of what we celebrate together on this Holy Thursday evening as a community of faith at St. Justin’s Parish.”
Twelve parishioners, including seven eighth grade students preparing for Confirmation, two elect and one candidate for Confirmation, were among those who participated in the Washing of the Feet.
The community was well represented in participating with great care during the Mass through the proclamation of the Readings, processions of the oils and Eucharistic gifts, the dressing of the altar, and distributing Holy Communion.
Young people — from second grade to high school upperclassmen —served on the altar or sang in the children’s choir. This was the first time the children’s choir sang at the Mass on Holy Thursday or that a child served as cantor. Grade school pupil Regina Messenger chanted the Psalm and the Gospel acclamation.
At the end of the Mass, as the choir sang “Pange Lingua,” Bishop O’Connell carried the Blessed Sacrament in procession to a specially prepared alcove in the church foyer set up for Adoration.
“It was special to have him here because he represents the Apostles,” said Deacon Jim Campbell. “To have a descendant of the Apostles here on Holy Thursday to share the Mass with us is beautiful. The Triduum is started off right.”
“I feel blessed and honored to be part of this Mass,” said Patsy Di Pasquale. “I feel blessed to have served as an extraordinary minister [of Holy Communion] and to have had my daughter Gina serve on the altar tonight. All the kids were petrified at the beginning of the evening, because the Bishop was here. But he is such a calming influence.”
Gina Di Pasquale agreed. “It was awesome! It was a great honor to serve with the Bishop, even though I was nervous in the beginning.”
Tara Snock agreed, “It was such a huge honor to be part of this. The Bishop is such a lovely guy, always a smile. Tonight was beautiful. You could feel the warmness of everyone.”
“To hear the Bishop’s homily and to hear the children’s choir tonight put me more in the presence of the Lord,” said Lee Ferrara.
Jim Harmon, a first-year seminarian for the Diocese who is studying in St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, Wynnewood, Pa., was happy to be in St. Justin the Martyr for Holy Thursday.
“Having our shepherd here was important to me as a seminarian. He is an example of what I hope to be,” said Harmon. “He is a representative of Christ’s love not just as a bishop but as a priest.”