By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
It was a long-shot, or so he thought. Deacons preparing for the priesthood at the North American College in Rome don’t often get the opportunity to serve at a papal Mass, but diocesan seminarian John Lamansky was willing to try.
“It’s the best role you can have during a papal Mass because you get to be very close to the Holy Father, only a few steps away, for a large part of the Mass,” he said. “Altar servers and concelebrating priests are positioned much farther back.”
The Vatican might call the seminary once a year to request a deacon or two for a major Mass, typically around Christmas or Easter when, coincidentally, most students are away for break. “The few who remain behind might get asked,” said Deacon Lamansky.
Ordained to the diaconate in September, Deacon Lamansky anticipates being ordained a priest this summer, God willing. He wanted to make sure he had a chance to serve as deacon at a papal Mass “if at all possible.”
So, this past Christmas, after a short trip home to Brighton, he returned to the college in the off-chance that the Vatican would ask the North American College to provide deacons for a papal Mass.
“I completely lucked out, because that’s exactly what happened,” said Deacon Lamansky. He was one of six deacons, including two from his college, to serve at Mass on New Year’s Day in St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City.
The Vatican generally takes turns calling on the various seminaries in Rome when it needs altar servers, deacons or concelebrating priests for a Mass. “Many countries or regions have their own seminary in Rome,” Deacon Lamansky said.
For him, the experience of serving Pope Francis on the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God was unforgettable.
Before the Mass, all the deacons and altar servers lined up in the Chapel of the Pieta and Pope Francis went down the line and shook everyone’s hand. “I told him in Italian, ‘I’m praying for you, Holy Father.’” Deacon Lamansky then presented Pope Francis with a white zucchetto (skull cap). “It’s a tradition that if you meet the pope and give him a white zucchetto, he’ll put it on his head and then give it back to you. So now I have a zucchetto that Pope Francis wore!”
During Mass, Deacon Lamansky placed vessels on the altar and removed them after Communion. He knelt at the foot of the altar during the consecration and used the thurible (a metal censer in which incense is burned) to incense the Blessed Sacrament. “When I wasn’t doing that, I was standing just a few steps behind and to the left of Pope Francis during the Liturgy of the Eucharist.”
Due to his proximity, Deacon Lamansky had the opportunity to give Pope Francis the sign of peace. The deacon and the pope smiled as they shook hands.
Observing the moment was Deacon Lamansky’s mother, Anne. Tickets for papal Masses are hard to get because of high demand, he said, so he was fortunate that he was able to get two tickets — one for his mother and one for his aunt, Monica Hadley.
“It was such a blessing to even be at a papal Mass,” said Anne, a member of St. Wenceslaus Parish in Iowa City. “And then to see my son on the altar with Pope Francis… it was an incredible, humbling experience.” She was also struck by the beautiful reactions of people back home. “All demonstrated respect for the office of the pope and rejoiced in my opportunity, along with my sister’s, to be there. “
As for Deacon Lamansky, “serving at the papal Mass was “a once-in-a-lifetime blessing.”