A day after being ordained by Bishop Robert Deeley, Father Alex Boucher celebrated his first Mass as a priest of the Diocese of Portland, expressing gratitude to God for his vocation.
“I give praise and thanks to God for calling me to be his priest. The words of Scripture come to mind: ‘How can I repay the Lord for his goodness to me?’ And, while I can never repay him for the great gift of the priesthood, I resolve to serve him faithfully as a priest of Jesus Christ,” he said.
Father Boucher gathered with family and friends at St. Joseph Church in Biddeford during the afternoon of Sunday, August 23, for a Mass of Thanksgiving, his first Mass as a priest of the Diocese of Portland. St. Joseph is the same church where he was ordained and is the church he attended while growing up, receiving the sacraments of confirmation and first Eucharist there and then serving as an altar server.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, attendance at the Mass was limited to 50 in the church and 50 in the hall below. Many of those present played significant roles in Father Boucher’s life and discernment, which he acknowledged, with gratitude, during the Mass.
“Priests don't just appear out of thin air but are formed and nourished by loving and supportive people. You are the ones that have formed me into the man and the priest that I am today, and I am so grateful for your love,” he said. "I am honored by the presence here today of so many that have shown me the way of humility, the way of trust, the way of love, the way of faith. I am also aware of the many, many people who cannot be here today. Their presence is greatly missed.”
Among those not able to be present, whom Father Boucher especially acknowledged, was Father Renald Labarre, his childhood pastor.
"It was Father Ron who first asked the question, 'Have you ever considered a vocation to the priesthood?' when I was 13 years old. I had thought about it but didn't yet have the courage to respond. Father Ron's constant encouragement, love, support, and example have been a great blessing for me and countless others throughout his 60 years of priestly ministry. I owe him an immense debt of gratitude,” Father Boucher said.
While Father Labarre, who now lives out of state, was unable to make the trip due to the pandemic, a dozen priests did join Father Boucher for his first Mass, including some from other states who took COVID-19 tests so they could participate.
They included Father Frank Donio, SAC, who delivered the homily during the Mass. Father Boucher came to know Father Donio while attending The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. Father Boucher said Father Donio became a mentor to him, helping him to get over his fears of responding to God’s call to the priesthood.
“It's a custom to have a priest-mentor preach at a newly ordained priest's first Mass, and I couldn't have thought of a better priest and friend to preach today,” Father Boucher said. “Father Donio has been a spiritual father and friend in the truest and best sense. I first met Father Donio during my earliest days as an undergraduate at The Catholic University of America, where he still serves as the chaplain of their Knights of Columbus council among his other responsibilities. I had the opportunity to serve alongside Father Donio as an officer beginning my freshman year. From there, we became coworkers and friends.”
In his homily, Father Donio counseled Father Boucher “to work with the power of the Holy Spirit to love deeply and serve well the people of God.”
“As a priest of Jesus Christ, it is your mission, Fr. Alex, in holy cooperation with Christ, in and through his Church, to teach, to govern, and to sanctify the people of God, not to serve your mission but in selfless service so that all live their mission in Christ more fully. You have been configured in Christ and sanctify not simply in his name but in persona Christi capitis, in the person of Christ, the Head.”
Father Boucher asked the bishop’s permission to celebrate a votive Mass of the Holy Spirit for his first Mass, recognizing that his original ordination date, delayed by the pandemic, was to be on the Solemnity of Pentecost and acknowledging the important role that the Holy Spirit will play in his priestly ministry, something Father Donio noted in his homily.
“It is the Holy Spirit who guided your vocational discernment which began and came to fruition here in this parish and in the Diocese of Portland after years of study and continued discernment at St. John’s Seminary. It is the Holy Spirit who gave you strength in the midst of suffering and confusion at times. It was by the power of the Holy Spirit and the laying on of hands that you became of a priest of Jesus Christ. It is by the power of the Holy Spirit and the words of institution that you will say during the Eucharistic Prayer that the bread and wine will become the body and blood of Christ, the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist,” he said.
Because the Mass was in honor of the Holy Spirit, Father Boucher wore red vestments, which symbolize the Holy Spirit, a gift from his parents.
At the conclusion of the Mass, embracing a longtime custom, Father Boucher presented his mother with the manutergium, a white, linen cloth traditionally used to wipe the priest's hands after the bishop anoints them with sacred chrism during the ordination Mass. The cloth represents the burial shroud that protected the body of Christ when he was in the tomb.
“The manutergium is given to the mother because she was the first protector of the newly ordained priest during his time in the womb,” Father Boucher explained. “When the newly ordained priest’s mother is called home to God, she is buried holding the manutergium so that all in heaven and on earth will know that she is the mother of a priest.”
Father Boucher also presented his grandmother with a manutergium because of her role in his formation. When he was a child, she took him to daily Mass with her, and it was then that the seeds of his vocation were planted.
Father Boucher concluded by giving his father the purple stole he wore while hearing his first confessions, which occurred on the same day of his ordination. As with the manutergium, it is to be buried with his father to let all in heaven and on earth know that he is the father of a priest.