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“Twenty-nine days a month I watch Catholic Mass on this iPad of mine and one day per month, we get to have a weekday Mass here at the residence.”

These were the words of a 95-year-old woman named Rita who inspired 32-year-old Amanda Achtman to organize what she calls a “Mass of a Lifetime.”

After hearing that the devout woman longed to attend Mass yet was rarely able to experience it at her retirement home, Achtman felt called to organize a special Sunday liturgy and reception for retirement home residents.

Achtman told CNA in an interview that the Mass of a Lifetime was created to “intentionally affirm, involve, and inspire” the residents. 

The Mass, celebrated by Father Nathan Siray of the Diocese of Calgary, took place at Evanston Summit Retirement Residence in Calgary, Alberta, on Oct. 15. More than 50 people attended, including students from the St. John Choir Schola who sang, served at the altar, and socialized with the seniors during the after-Mass reception. Various residents of the retirement home did the readings. 

In an interview with CNA, Achtman quoted the Catholic philosopher Dietrich von Hildebrand, who said: “Wherever anything makes Christ known, there nothing can be beautiful enough.” She said the Mass of a Lifetime was organized to put those words into action. 

“Organizing this Mass was an experiment in sparing no expense or effort to take that seriously and show seniors they are worth it,” she said. “A volunteer spent three hours preparing gorgeous floral arrangements for the Mass. We added Stations of the Cross and poster-size reproductions of some of the best religious art in Europe as well as photography of holy sites in Israel to adorn the walls.”

Immediately following the Mass was Eucharistic adoration and Benediction.

Achtman shared that the seniors were thrilled to have this special liturgy and asked if they could have Mass every week.

“The Mass really did have a heavenly quality to it — particularly with the afternoon sunlight streaming in,” Achtman said.

“Father Nathan gave a fitting homily about three different scriptural images of what heaven is like: the mountaintop, the Lord’s pasture, and a wedding banquet. I think that, during this Mass, there was this common sense that we were all living a beautiful experience together in the sight of God.”

The event was one of numerous efforts Achtman has undertaken since launching a multifaceted cultural project called “Dying to Meet You” on Aug. 1, which seeks to “humanize our conversations and experiences around suffering, death, meaning, and hope.” This mission is accomplished through interviews, short films, community events, and conversations.

In her interview with CNA, Achtman called euthanasia the “opposite of love” and said that premature death “cuts short the capacity to show and receive kindness in the world.”

“Love says, ‘I want you to be! How wonderful that you exist.’ Euthanasia sends the message that we are not sure whether or not it is good for you to be in the world after all,” she explained.

“The presence of euthanasia in a society renders life more precarious for everyone because, as soon as there is a threshold at which life can become ‘less dignified’ or devoid of ‘meaningful activities,’ we are in trouble.”

She continued: “Every euthanasia death short-circuits our opportunities to love. And if someone is asking for euthanasia because they do not feel loved in the first place, then the right response is not lazy indifference … but rather a loving and urgent intervention.”

Achtman pointed out the work Pope Francis has done in his 18-part series of general audiences where he shared the meaning and value of old age.

“Pope Francis is also stressing that a crucial part of the vocation of the elderly is to remind the young that they are a blessing,” she expressed. “Many young people do not know this, and desperately need to be affirmed that it is good they exist. Young and old need one another.”

Although she faced several hurdles while organizing the Mass of a Lifetime, Achtman hopes the seniors took away from the experience that “it is worth going above and beyond to elevate people to a sense of their proper dignity” and that “their community has not forgotten them and is not indifferent to them.”

“We, the young, need all that the elderly are. We need even what they suffer because, by their suffering, they summon us to love, make sacrifices, and become more human,” she said. “Such experiences of communion help us grow in patience, including with ourselves. I think that is why Pope Francis is continually saying that the alliance between old and young will save the human family.”

Thanks to the great success of the event, the executive director of the retirement home intends to provide a similar Mass for the residents at least on a quarterly basis moving forward. 

By Francesca Pollio Fenton

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