Because of the Preparation

Posted by Webster
My preparation for the Catholic Church took 56 years, Frank’s something more than 40 years. I think that’s what people appreciate about converts. Like good Boy Scouts, we were ready. I thought of this today, as it was my day to serve on the altar and I had the privilege of watching Father Barnes prepare for Mass.

Father is the friendliest of priests, and if you start a conversation with him before Mass, he will not ignore you. But he will bring the conversation to a close as efficiently as possible. This is his time for preparation, and he does it silently. I do not know if every priest approaches the moment of the Mass the same way, but during the eight to ten minutes before the seven o’clock bells ring over St. Mary’s, the sacristy is, true to its derivation, a sacred or holy space.

It’s a joy for me to be there waiting one day a week when Father enters the sacristy, my duties done: I have already set the missal on the altar and prepared the chalice, the gifts, the ewer for washing the priest’s hands. I have lit the candles and turned on the overhead lights in the nave. Oh, and the sound system, I always need to remember to turn on the sound system.

But when Father Barnes arrives, the Tuesday lector, Bill Foley, and I stand still with hands folded and wait as Father vests, with a prayer for each article of priestly clothing. (Or so it seems, his prayers, if any, are silent.) Then a few minutes before the crucifix, where he reviews again the readings and maybe, just maybe, takes a final peek at his Blackberry. Then a final silent minute contemplating the crucifix, until the bells ring and we process into the sanctuary.

These moments of preparation are so important in all aspects of the religious life, aren’t they? Which is why I appreciate having the opportunity to observe Father Barnes at work one day a week. And which is why my many years in the wilderness before being received into the Church are so important to me. I sometimes envy those who were born to the Church, often regret the 56 years I “missed,” not being a Catholic.

But then I see how cradle Catholics envy me! And I remember that the readiness is all, as Hamlet said before dying—and so it is before Mass, or anytime we go before the Lord.

"Vaya con Dios, Leonard; Rest in Peace."

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  • Warren Jewell

    Darn tootin’ it’s a privilege, and deep honor. One’s only a kid, even at a hundred years old, in the presence of Christ preparing Himself for Mass.I remember standing there at attention in our ‘uniform’ before our celebrant as he prepared, awed by his own whispered prayers over each ritual garment, from amice and alb to maniple and chasuble, garbing as ‘alter Christus’ to bring our Lord to the world in the Mass and Eucharist. No word, not a sound from us, just smiles and honor. No, no Marines in full dress uniform could have stood prouder. And, about the same time reveille would have had us at first lineup. Only one like Father Shaunessy, who insisted on early arrival (like [Y-A-W-N] 5:30 for 6AM Mass), then may ask “Anybody need confession?” with that broad grin and willing air to forgive. Oh, my Lord, how You bless us in Your priests. Thank You – thank You – thank You.For more on growing the altar service corp. in any parish,

  • Warren Jewell

    Completely aside, but . . . if Belloc and Lewis both win, will we be reading two books? (THAT would be a rich experience.) Or, will you toss a coin to see which goes first?

  • Maybe a quickie two day run-off. Or a coin toss. We'll keep you posted. ;^)

  • Webster Bull

    Hey, Warren, thanks for your reflection on serving at Mass. My fondest memories of Episcopal Church-going as a 10-15 year old are of serving at the altar–carrying that cross (not a crucifix), counting "the crowd" so the minister knew how many wafers to use, and looking just absolutely as serious as I was able. I loved every minute of it.

  • I was first an altar server at the church we attended in Lamar, CO when I was a child, St. Francis de Sales and Our Lady of Guadalupe parish. My experiences there helped me to fall in love with the mass. I continued to serve when my family moved to Missouri and it was there that my interest in the priesthood was initially piqued. I went to a high school seminary for a couple of years and also to Conception Seminary College studying for the Diocese of Jefferson City. So much of my motivation and interest in that vocation was from my days of serving mass and the example of several holy priests. I eventually left the seminary and went on to get married but that sense of the sacred has stayed with me for all these years.On another note, I voted for Lewis' book solely based on name recognition but now I am pondering changing my vote as Belloc's book sounds really interesting after doing a bit more research. Either way it should be good.

  • Maria

    I can't speak for all 'cradle Catholic', but, I suspect they might feel as I do about converts. Like a parent with a child, one begins to see one's world with new eyes and ears. And it is all such a wonder.Thank you Webster and Frank et al. I am starting to think of Warren as VP! You open the window for the Holy Spirit who moves us as he will–like the wind. Was reading the Spiritual Exercises yesterday-contemplation on mortal sin. Ignatius reminds us: we are no more than " a leaf,sport for the winds". Isn't that a beauty?

  • Matthew: Come into the light (change your vote) ;^)

  • Hey P: Muchos gracias!

  • Webster Bull

    P82, Warren definitely deserves some sort of title. Maybe we'll make that the next matter put to a vote? "That" is a beauty!

  • Maria

    Yes,definitely. Here is the full post re Spiritual Exercises:HIRD EXERCISE ON SINON THE INFINITE MALICE OF MORTAL SINFIRST CONSIDERATIOJNGod Offended ManConsider Attentively–2. The nothingness of the sinner. What is man? Flesh full of pollution, dried grass ready to fall under the scythe, a leaf the sport of the winds, a vapour scarce formed and already dispersed in the air, a little dust and ashes. And it is this man who dares to say to God, I will not obey. " Thou hast lifted thyself up against the Lord of heaven , and said, I will not serve". (Dan v., 23; Jer ii. 20).I cannot recommend the Exercised enough.Maria

  • Webster Bull

    Thanks, Maria,I read the Spiritual Exercises once, in 1971, in French, during a long stay in Paris. Lived around the corner from St. Sulpice which, if I remember well, was around the corner from a Libairie Catholique (Librairie=Bookstore), and there I picked up a copy, which I still have. Maybe that's what I need right now, have gone a bit "dry" with the Liturgy of the Hours right now, and might need a break from it. Thanks again!

  • Maria

    Either I can't spell or I cannot type or both. Should be third exercise at top.

  • Maria

    We can anoint Warren Pater Blogger. Senior Statesman. He is so wise and all.

  • Maria

    Webster: In french. Oh, Lord. I am such a dunce. There is a reason it is still used after 400 years.

  • Webster Bull

    I really think we should have a vote for Warren's "position." Being from Chicago, he could be many things. . . .

  • I loved this post! What an honor to have such a wonderful priest and a privilege it must be to assist him at Mass!

  • Webster Bull

    Thanks, Anne. As you can read elsewhere in the archives of this blog, we in Beverly are blessed to have Fr. Barnes as our priest. And I might not be a convert without him.

  • Maria

    Warren: GREAT blurb on altar boys "The boys have also been motivated by the hierarchy of ranks, along with the program’s high standards of order and discipline"And, they SHOULD be BOYS! Amen!!! It is utterly ridiculous to have "altar girls". Oh, please. Don't get me started on the subject. You should not have girls doing something to which they cannot, by definition , aspire.

  • Webster Bull

    Maria,I wonder what percentage of Catholic women would agree with you about that "should be boys"! I'm almost thinking we should make this a survey question.

  • Maria

    That would be intersting. I was a deranged loose cannon of feminism in a prior life , before the Holy Spirit re-arranged me, in right order. All priests are men. Girls cannot be priests. Therefore, only boys, NOT GIRLS, can be altar boys. It is one of my pet peeves. Just one.

  • Webster Bull

    Maria,What would you think of writing us a guest post or two about your experience "converting" from loose cannon (lc) to Loyal Catholic (LC)? If you want to discuss it, you can e-mail me at

  • Maria

    Webster:ROFLMAO!. Yes,Webster. You could charm the birds right out of the trees with your word-smith-manship. Literary birds, that is. I will think about it and E-mail to discuss; however, it is SO long and SO wild and SO full of an avalanche of sin, I do not know how I would ever begin to tell the tale. I don't know that it is safe to put into the atmosphere.I hope I have not been a hog here.

  • Webster Bull

    P82, I'm convinced there are some stories that each of us has to take to the grave with them, which is why confession is such a blessing: We can unburden ourselves of the worst without turning it into slander or gossip or something worse. We do have to be careful what we say even about ourselves. The story of one's life, the memoir, is inevitably an interpretation. Sins are sins, granted, but there are vast gray areas on the canvas. So follow your heart, no pressure, and meanwhile please keep up the great comments! You're an important part of the YIMC community (as Frank says, or Shakespeare: "We few, we happy few"!)