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Shrine liturgist is now diocesan director of divine worship

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Father Michael D. Weston spent the past 14 years at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington — the largest Roman Catholic church in North America. During that time, he greeted pilgrims from around the world, witnessed the completion of the basilica’s final dome and welcomed Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis during their respective visits to Washington. He believes his time as director of liturgy for the basilica prepared him well for his new role as diocesan director of divine worship, which he started late last month.


“(The shrine) was a wonderful place to have been, to have worked and to have prayed,” said Father Weston. “(I’m grateful) for the immense treasure of experience that I had at the basilica, which I know will help me in my position here in the diocese.”


Father Weston grew up in the Arlington diocese, attending St. Michael School in Annandale and graduating from Annandale High School. He spent a few years working in banking before attending St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood, Pa. One summer as a seminarian, he worked at the shrine. He was ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Paul S. Loverde at the Cathedral of St. Thomas More in Arlington June 8, 2002.


He served as parochial vicar of St. Mary of Sorrows Church in Fairfax (2002-05) and St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception Church in Fredericksburg (2005-07), before being assigned to the basilica, replacing Father Andrew J. Fisher, now pastor of St. Ambrose Church in Annandale. Father Weston currently lives in the cathedral rectory. His Arlington diocese predecessor, James Starke, is assistant professor of systematics and director of liturgy at St. Mary’s Seminary and University in Baltimore. At the shrine, Father Ismael “Mel” Ayala, a priest of the Archdiocese of Washington, is now director of liturgy.


Father Weston helped prepare the liturgies for the past two papal visits to the basilica. “Pope Benedict came to the shrine and met with the bishops of the United States in the crypt church for evening prayer and then gave them a talk. I was master of ceremonies at vespers,” he said. “For the visit of Pope Francis, I was one of the co-chairs for the liturgy committee for the papal Mass held at the shrine — the canonization of St. Junipero Serra, the only canonization on American soil. To be a part of that was an incredible experience.”


While papal liturgies involve quite a lot of preparation, a good liturgist always should pay attention to the details and be ready to plan ahead, said Father Weston. Among other things, before special liturgies he lines up lectors and servers and helps select fitting readings and prayers. “One of the aims of the master of ceremony is to do all the worrying so that the celebrant may pray and lead the people in prayer,” he said.


Spending years focused on all the aspects of the liturgy has given him a greater appreciation for how worship can bring people closer to God, he said. “(I have a) desire to make sure that the celebration of the Mass, the celebration of any of the sacraments, is done with great reverence because it is in that that people are drawn toward the mystery of God. And isn’t that what the goal is?”


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2021