Davenport Diocese’s Deacon Close treasures honor
By Barb Arland-Fye
ROME — Deacon Corey Close of the Davenport Diocese had the privilege of chanting the Gospel at a papal Mass Feb. 19 concelebrated by 22 new cardinals who’d been installed in their ministries the day before.
The honor came as a result of initiative and Deacon Close practicing his God-given talents. He said seminarians studying for the priesthood at the Pontifical North American College (NAC) in Rome have a “reputation for being able to sing and pronounce Latin.”
But Deacon Close, who will be ordained to the priesthood in June, also made inquiries at the beginning of the academic year about the possibility of chanting the Gospel at a papal Mass.
“A couple of weeks ago I received an email which made my heart stop for a couple of seconds – it was from the head of the Sistine Chapel Choir, Father Marcos Pavan.”
Deacon Close was asked to set up a time for a voice check, which happened to be at the end of a day of exams. “Normally, when you take a last exam you’re like ‘whew, glad I’m done.’ But I thought, ‘Now I have to prove I can sing!’”
The voice check went well because he’d been practicing chant with NAC’s choir director, Gianfranco DeLuca, weekly throughout the academic year. After Deacon Close learned he’d chant the Gospel at a papal Mass, practice intensified to daily sessions.
Less than a week before the Mass, “I chanted through everything I was going to chant.” That included the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 16: 13-19, the intercessions, sign of peace and the dismissal. The next day, he and four other deacons practiced their roles in St. Peter’s Basilica and again before the 9:30 a.m. Mass on Feb. 19.
The nervousness he felt in the days leading up to the Mass dissipated as Deacon Close focused on his specific responsibilities during the Mass.
“I processed in with the Book of the Gospels, asked the pope for his blessing before chanting the Gospel, brought the book to the ambo, incensed the ambo, chanted the Gospel, then chanted “Verbum Dòmini” (This is the Gospel of the Lord) and brought the book back to the pope to bless the people with.”
Being in close proximity to Pope Benedict XVI and the new cardinals was an amazing experience, Deacon Close said. The new cardinals sat in a semi circle and wore white vestments. Their brother cardinals sat farther away in what looked like a sea of red. As the pope consecrated the Eucharist, “I was a few feet away from him. That was pretty cool.” Other “cool” moments were vesting in a room that held the statue of the Pietà and dismissing the congregation at the end of Mass.
Afterward, the cardinals and deacons kissed the ring of the pontiff. “I got to shake his hands and kiss his ring. He said something to me in Italian, but I was so preoccupied I didn’t hear it. I said ‘Thank you’ in English and he said, ‘So you’re from America,’ and that was it. That was our conversation.”
The deacons had been instructed ahead of time to not take too long in greeting the Holy Father.
“I’ve been here for almost four years — coming over here was a hard enough decision for me — the first couple of years certainly were very difficult. It’s kind of amazing that I get this very rare, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Many people in my family told me it was a great gift from God and proof of what can happen when you trust him in a radical way. It was really cool to see how the trust I placed in God got paid off in such a beautiful way.”
Bishop Martin Amos expressed joy for Deacon Close and for the diocese.
“I’m excited for him to be able to do this, but I’m also excited for someone in our diocese to be chosen to do this. I emailed and asked him if he’d introduce me to his good friend Pope Benedict when we come for our ‘ad limina’ visit (in March),” the bishop said.