Mass was at a church that had been reclassified, rather, to use the Bishop’s words, “suppressed” as an Oratory. After a priest created a rift in the faithful the number of parishioners had dropped. The decline in the worshipping community never regained its former attendance.
I sat back and lifted the kneeler having offered the prayers brought with me. I looked at the many beautiful, although disparate images and statues about the modern octagonal structure. On the wall behind the altar a modern mosaic framed a crowned and stylized risen Christ the King. To each side of it were hung large cloth portraits of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and matching Immaculate Heart of Mary, reminiscent of 1950s prayer cards. Each of the side walls framed an assortment of Marian statues and images, statues of saints, and portraits and crucifixes of Jesus. It felt crowded, jarring, as if by adding more, more holiness would come.
We stood as the priest and deacon advanced down the main aisle. I groaned to myself. The priest was in his nineties. He is a holy and dedicated priest who had served our churches well and for a very long time. Of late he would get confused while at the altar. His homilies would ramble on and on as he included bits of well worn verses from the whole of the Bible. Cohesiveness had escaped him, though the love for shepherding had not. It was going to be a long service.
The accompanying deacon exaggerated all that he deemed appropriately holy. His slow and deliberate affectations, and singing everything, were a distraction. When he read the Gospel he paused for drama. At every. Single. Word.
My expectations for being nourished by the Word of God were thwarted. I was irked by the whole of it all with these two presiding. I was not into Mass and numbly recited the Penitential Act, barely listened to the readings, and mentally checked out as the priest hobbled to the ambo for what I anticipated to be one of his long disjointed homilies.
Finally. We were at the point of the Eucharistic Prayers.
After the aged priest offered a cursory, and what appeared painful, genuflection, the tremors in his hands stopped as he raised the host inches above the altar. Having lowered his arms we the congregation chanted “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof…” And it hit me—my judging heart had come close to silencing communion with God!
The shame of my critical nature caused me to pause before I moved into the communion line. I realized I needed the Eucharist more than ever that morning. Tears welled up as I ate and drank His body and blood and felt—begged—the words “…and my soul shall be healed.”
I didn’t understand why I felt impatience toward a loving and dedicated priest who for decades had given powerful homilies that fed the soul and encouraged the mind. And what business was it of mine how a deacon is inspired at Mass?
I am still praying about my sense of entitlement that long ago Sunday…and a strong need for Grace.
Image courtesy morguefile.com.
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