March 15, 2013

Archdiocesan seminarian proclaims first reading at Mass for the Election of a Pope

By Sean Gallagher

Seminarian Anthony Hollowell lives and receives his priestly formation at the Pontifical North American College (NAC) in Rome, which sits on a hill overlooking the Vatican.

From this setting, he has been a witness to the history that has been made there since Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI announced his resignation on Feb. 11.

A month later, his closeness to history was magnified.

Hollowell proclaimed the first reading at the Mass for the Election of a Pope celebrated on March 12 in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican by Cardinal Angelo Sodano, dean of the College of Cardinals, and concelebrated by the 115 cardinals who later that day began the conclave to elect the next bishop of Rome. (Related: More coverage of the papal transition)

“Sitting in my chair before Mass, I was convinced of one thing: I didn’t plan this,” Hollowell said in an e-mail interview with The Criterion. “It was created by God, for some mysterious reason in his loving plan. There is a much bigger story going on in the world than the small perspective I can form in my own mind, and if I remain obedient to God, I will be able to play my part.”

That part was given to him three days before the Mass when he was called to the office of the rector of the North American College.

“Fortunately, I wasn’t being kicked out of the seminary,” Hollowell humorously said. “He told me that someone from the Vatican called and asked if he could give a name of someone at the NAC to do the first reading for the Mass, and he gave them my name. So it was the rector’s choice, and I told him, ‘Of course, I’ll do it! My mom is going to be so excited.’ And she was.”

As the Mass started, Hollowell considered some of the deepest beliefs of the Church.

“The procession of the cardinals into the church moved me to tears,” Hollowell said. “God was showing me, ‘This is how I remain in my covenant with humanity.’ … Today, I was able to see the living continuation of Christ’s Church, his instrument for bringing the Good News of God’s love and freedom to people so desperately in need of both.”

The text assigned to Hollowell to proclaim during the Mass was Isaiah 61:1-3a, 6a, 8b-9. The beginning of that passage is what Christ is recorded as having proclaimed in a synagogue in Nazareth at the start of his public ministry (Lk 4:16-21).

Hollowell proclaimed it to a packed basilica, with the cardinal electors spread out before him—likely one of them being the next pope—and just feet away from the tomb of St. Peter.

The seminarian said he wasn’t nervous at first when he went up to proclaim the reading.

“The opening line of my reading was ‘The Spirit of the Lord has been given to me [Is 61:1],’ ” he said. “That line strengthened me, as I knew that the Spirit of the Lord would use me how he deemed worthy, and I had only to respond. I told myself that even if I went up there and tripped and fell, if that would glorify God in some way, I would be grateful to do it.”

But the enormity of the moment seemed to overcome him as he continued.

“Midway through the reading, my legs were shaking,” Hollowell said. “But I still felt God’s peace—and I didn’t trip.”

Reflecting afterward on participating in the historic liturgy, Hollowell found it difficult to find words that fit the meaning of it for him.

“To know that Christ himself proclaimed these same words to a congregation,” Hollowell said, “that he viewed these words as central to his mission, and to then proclaim it to so many of his shepherds gathered in that holy sanctuary—this touched my soul in a way that is ineffable.”

Although he stood in the heart of St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican during a historic moment in the life of the universal Church, Hollowell’s mind still turned to his home in Indiana and the people he loves here and hopes in the future to serve as a priest.

“They were the only reason why I was nervous,” he said jokingly. “I pictured my family watching me back home, and I didn’t want to embarrass them.”

Diane Hollowell learned about her son being a lector at the historic Mass while she was at a track meet. She and other members of their family woke up a little after 4 a.m. on March 12 to watch the liturgy live.

“I don’t think it’s totally soaked in yet,” Diane said. “My mind could hardly grasp it. I’m going to have to ponder it in my heart for a while. It’s just unbelievable.”

Hollowell said that he “felt very close to home” before and during the Mass.

“I spent the hours before the liturgy thanking God for all the good people he has put into my life and who helped form me into the person I am today,” he said.

He also looked forward to the priest that he may become in the future, seeing his service of proclaiming the Scriptures during the Mass as a symbol of what God may be calling him to do in ordained ministry.

“Ultimately, I feel drawn to proclaim the Gospel that was revealed in my reading, ‘To bind up hearts that are broken, to proclaim liberty to captives, freedom to those in prison [Is 61:1],’ ” Hollowell said. “No matter where God calls me in life, I hope those words become engraved on my heart and embodied in my actions.

“I would die a very rich and happy man if those words could be said about me when I pass from this world.” †

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