HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — As venues for religious services go, the Rev. Thomas Hoar says you could do worse than a submarine.
Hoar, who presided over a Mass aboard the USS Missouri last Sunday, said there was a quiet calm to the sub as it surged through the Atlantic Ocean, and he was touched by the thanks from sailors who crowded into the officers’ ward room to pray.
“When I started I said, ‘Let us remember we’re in the presence of God, even though we’re 650 feet beneath the surface of the ocean,’” Hoar said.
It was a first for Hoar and the Navy, which had never before had a Mass performed on a Virginia-class attack submarine. Unlike sailors on the Navy’s surface ships, which are large enough to accommodate chaplains during deployments, submariners almost always rely on specially trained members of the crew to provide services as lay leaders.
Hoar, the 60-year-old chaplain to the Roman Catholic community at Naval Submarine Base New London in Groton, was looking for an opportunity to learn more about the work of submariners. He was invited to join the crew of the Groton-based Missouri, one of the Navy’s newest and most advanced submarines, as they took it on a four-day sea transit.
Since American war ships are dry, he was apprehensive about bringing aboard wine for the service. But his small bottle did not set off any alarms.
The service itself was no different from Mass at Hoar’s chapel in Groton, with two exceptions: He kept the homily shorter than usual, in a nod to the many duties awaiting the sailors, and there was no collection. He also heard confession, but with space at a premium, he had to do it sitting on the floor of a passageway behind computer equipment.
The Catholic lay leader for the Missouri, Lt. Anthony Roa, did readings for the Mass as roughly 18 people crowded around a table in the ward room.
“It meant a lot to me to have a Catholic priest on board,” Roa said.
U.S. submarines, which have crews of about 130 people, each have at least two lay leaders — one Protestant, one Catholic — and some have lay leaders who are Jewish or represent The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, according to Navy Cmdr. Steven Moses, the Hawaii-based chaplain for the Navy’s Pacific submarine fleet.
When chaplains are made available, Moses said submariners are particularly grateful, perhaps because of their isolation at sea.
The Missouri, which was commissioned in 2010, is the Navy’s seventh submarine in the Virginia class.
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