St. Thomas More Church was blessed to be visited by His Excellency Bishop Bernard Fellay, who administered Confirmations the morning of Sunday, April 25th. Including the Confirmandi, around 600 Faithful were in attendance for the outdoor ceremony, coming from all the SSPX chapels in Florida and as well as from several states across the country.
The Gifts of the Holy Ghost
In his sermon for the occasion, His Excellency spoke of the purpose of the sacrament of Confirmation, which was instituted by Our Lord Jesus Christ to bestow strength of soul and provide the seven Gifts of the Holy Ghost.
These seven gifts allow us to be more responsive to the daily inspirations of the Holy Ghost.
Wisdom: A relish for the things of Heaven and a dislike to worldly things;
Understanding: Enlightenment of the truths of the Catholic Faith;
Counsel: A sure direction in pleasing God and gaining heaven;
Fortitude: Supernatural courage to bear our cross and overcome all obstacles to salvation;
Knowledge: Realization of God and myself and so grow perfect in the science of the Saints;
Piety: Joy in God’s service;
Fear: A profound respect and reverence for the things of God and a dread of displeasing Him;
A Floridian Storm
A few minutes into the ceremony, the Florida skies let fall an hour-long deluge, a downpour that left everyone drenched head to toe in their best Sunday outfits. A power surge briefly took out the camera and audio equipment, and even when the speakers came back online, half of the crowd seated at the back of the gathering could not hear the rest of the bishop’s sermon because the sound of the rain drowned him out.
“Nobody complained,” smiled the prior, Fr. Marc Vernoy.
Indeed, the choir sang its part, the servers performed their duties, and hundreds of drenched and shivering Faithful gave witness to the gift of the sacrament of Confirmation administered to over 120 new soldiers in Christ.
“Before the ceremony started, we were talking about the weather,” said Mr. Jeff Rhea a long-time St. Thomas More parishioner and choir member. “We rarely get rain in the morning outside of the storm season. We are in the dry season now, so I confidently let everyone know not to worry because it is not going to rain. Boy, was I never more wrong. After the ceremony, I asked Bishop Fellay if he ever had a Confirmation like ours. His Excellency said, ‘Yes, I have had Confirmations outside many times, but no, I’ve never had it in the Florida weather like this.’”
“The devil did not have his way and we all stuck it out,” said Mrs. Elizabeth Harpe of St. Mary’s, Kansas, who had traveled to Florida to serve as Confirmation sponsor for her niece Eileen. “It’s a beautiful area, from the lawn to the awnings that provided shade from the sun but not cover from the rain. It was a much bigger group than I was expecting, and everyone stuck through it. I have never been to anything like that before.”
“It was like Fatima!” said Mrs. Serina Mertus, another St. Thomas More parishioner. “It was a torrential rain that was like the end of everything, just a downpour. Then the sun came out and everybody dried off and was happy. It was beautiful.”
Mrs. Renee Hunt concurred. “We deserve to kneel in the mud for Our Lord. When I was tempted to complain, I thought, ‘This is God’s will – it’s for our good, this is what He wants us to do.’ It also made me think of the Irish Catholics in the time of persecution who had Masses outdoors on Mass rocks – they would have Masses in the open air and get rained on. This Confirmation was a reminder of our Catholic ancestors.”
“I was edified by all the Confirmands and their sponsors in the rain sticking through it, not going anywhere,” said Mr. Justin Alf. “I don’t think anyone left. It was like a Godsend penance. It was a way for all of us to get our own slap in the face like the Confirmands received from the bishop – it was God saying, ‘Get ready, you’re going to suffer ow.’ The downpour slapped everybody in the face, on their heads, on their shoulders, down their backs.”
“Humanly speaking, it seemed like a disaster unfolding,” said Mr. Rhea. “I was so surprised at how the 500+ people that were standing out in semi-cover getting completely rained on, that they all stayed, and none of them were complaining. Everyone just seemed to be accepting the will of God. You had all these men were in their suits, all the women in their dresses, the nice shoes were being ruined, very few people had their umbrellas, and everyone just stayed focused on the ceremony for Confirmation. I didn’t see a single person who seemed angry or upset or frustrated. Everyone just had this beautiful spirit of accepting God’s will."
“We have had many things to do in this parish the last several weeks,” said Fr. Vernoy. “After Easter Sunday we had the annual Pascua Florida pilgrimage, which was a major project that took a lot of planning and work. Then on Good Shepherd Sunday we received Fr. LeRoux and 100 seminarians. And in a few weeks, we are looking forward to a visit from the District Superior, Fr. John Fullerton. In all of this, the parish worked together. I am sure that Our Lord Jesus Christ is pleased, to give us these trials and to see how the Faithful respond.”
As the Confirmation ceremony ended, the rain stopped. Then followed the Mass, which saw the soggy Faithful kneeling in puddles of water and mud. After this, a celebratory banquet was held.
The Blessing of the Bell
In the afternoon, Bishop Fellay also blessed the bell for the church’s bell tower, baptizing it with the name “Joseph Teresa.” The ceremony began with the choir singing three penitential Psalms. Then Bishop Fellay performed a cleansing rite and the casting out the devils and the bad spirits.
A blessed church bell is a Sacramental that gives God another voice. The bell tells us at the Consecration that God is coming down to earth. A blessed bell invited us to pray, to kneel down, to take a moment and draw closer to Him. The ringing bell also invites us to celebrate the mysteries of the Church, the mysteries of the Redemption. Every time we hear the bell ringing, we are invited to come to the Church. We are also invited to think of our eternal destination. We hear the bell, and we know that we are created for Eternity. Every time we hear it ringing, and we unite ourselves to the Church, we receive the graces God wants to give us. Every time there is a threat to Christianity, we should ring the bell. We ring the bell to cast and to keep away the bad spirits. It was the custom in former times – when there was danger such as a storm –ringing the church bells calmed the storm, or the storm would be directed in another direction to protect the Christian house. We also compare the sound of the bells to the voice of our Lord Jesus Christ who was asleep during the storm. When the Apostles woke Him, He stood up and commanded the sea and the storm to be calm.
Mr. Rhea said, “I am the godfather of the bell, which gives out an astonishingly loud ring - a sign of good things to come. The bell’s name ‘Joseph’ is in honor of St. Joseph, and the name ‘Teresa’ also serves as a memorial to Teresa Wright, a long-time and faithful parishioner of St. Thomas More Church who passed away last year. Teresa Wright was part of the beginning of the chapel. She was the early coordinator; she was always fighting to keep the Mass, and she passed away about a year and a half ago. She would have loved to have seen the ceremonies.”
A Book Signing
Before the Confirmation banquet, Professor Brian M. McCall signed copies of the book A Voice in the Wilderness, which is a collection of the major writings of Archbishop Viganó from August 2018-January 2021. The writings give a clear insight into the causes, remedies, and present crisis in the Church. Dr. McCall edited the compilation of these writings and added an introduction, commentaries, and notes. On Sunday, May 2, Dr. McCall will give a conference following the 9:30 a.m. Mass on how Traditionalists should understand Archbishop Viganó.