Sunday, October 22, 2006


The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass

Posted on the 1st Day of the 29th Week of Ordinary Time - 2006 AD - (Year B)

The Mass I attended today looked nothing like that pictured in the holy card above. In its tattered ordinariness, in the small bare prefabricated church I attend at the end of my street, there was infinitely more beauty and unimaginable grace. In the vernacular new order Mass made by man for man, Christ still enters, charging our sacred space with such immediate power and awesome presence, that the holy card fantasy fails to compare in any way, shape or form. Such is the power of the Holy Mass where the Lord of all Creation becomes present, new or old, modern or traditional, Latin or vernacular, the distinctions are as nothing in the presence of the Holy One.

This was brought home to me today. I am very fond of the Catholic church which I attend in my village. It is a tattered pre fabricated building, constructed I think in the mid 1970's in the grounds of an old peoples home at the end of my street. The Mass is usually fairly well attended, by ordinary people, not the wealthy or the distinguished, many of them are poor. Sometimes the organ works well, other times it makes the weirdest of noises, but our skilled organist toughs it out every Sunday and makes the best job possible. The interior is sparse, but there are some hangings made by school kids and the place is always spotless. The Blessed Virgin always has fresh flowers. To be honest, I love the place though many wouldn't see that much to love in it. It will be a shame if they close it down, which is currently being considered by the Diosesce.

A strange thing happened today. I have never felt offended during Mass before and have always tried to keep an open mind with regard to the Priest's Homily. Putting aside my personal views and acknowledging that whatever a Priest may say during the Homily, he will go on to confect the Blessed Sacrament during the consecration, enabling us all to become joined to Our Lord via the Holy Communion and that our recieving of Our Lord is in itself the real lesson and benefit of attendance at the Holy Mass.

I won't go into details with regard to Father's Homily. All I will say is that I was left with the distinct feeling that maybe he really wanted to be a Methodist Preacher and that he didn't like Catholics very much and tried to make us feel a little guilty that we were, in fact, all Catholic. Crusades and papal states and ecclesiastical landowners were all dragged in and given a bit of a liberal bashing. Even the battleship 'The Immaculate Conception' was mentioned (you learn something new every Homily I guess). It was very quiet after the Homily, icily quiet. Not even the coughing and grunting that usually goes on. Silence. People were sitting a little stiffly, the way you do when you feel you may have just been offended but can't quite work out how or why. I felt that, had I been at that point, wavering in my Faith a little, or uncertain over the history of my Church, the congregation may have lost a member that day. I felt as if our congregation had been weakened a little, rather than strengthened by the Priests Homily and that seemed wrong. The irony was that the Gospel reading today was all about service. But I did not feel that our Church had been served. I began to chew over whether to write a letter of complaint, or send an email to the Parish Office etc. I even began to consider walking out of the Mass at that point and resolved to pray for guidance in the matter. Father started to announce the Bidding Prayer, his voice seemed strange, tight, far away and I'm sure I wasn't imagining this, his voice seemed to be becoming thinner, more inconsequential as if lost in the air and the emptiness of what had been said.

A lady came to the lectern to read the Bidding Prayers and then I had to smile. Whether in conscious response to Father's Homily or by the pure good grace of Our Lord she started, in a very loud and confident voice, in stark contrast to Fathers introductory words, to say the Prayer calling for the obedience of the clergy, asking God to help those Clergy who found servility to Holy Mother Church difficult. And then the Mass was back in full colour. In all its vividness and splendour. The Hail Mary was said, the internal logic and process of the Mass resumed, the rollercoaster ride that cannot be stopped, that washes everything clean in it's path, that levels all other parts of itself so that the congregants come away having been in the Real Presence of the Lord of All, His Precious Body, Blood Soul and Divinity. A Gift so awesome that all falls in its wake. The words of man rendered nothing more than dust and blown away in the wind.

I guess there are occasions where a Priest, for whatever personal reason, may wish to conduct a ceremony which fails to result in the Real Presence of Our Lord. But this ceremony is not a Holy Mass. All thoughts of complaint left me as I recieved communion from the Priest, thankful for this awesome gift which only he could give me at that particular place and that particular time. And God teaches us in situations like this that, despite ourselves and our sometimes less than perfect shepherds, it is He, not the Priest, who initiates and realizes His Own Presence in the Mass. No mere man could call down the God of All Creation, Lord of the Universe and make him Victim in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. It is all Gods Work, just as we are all His Creation.

In some strange way, the poor Homily and less than servile Priest gave me confidence. Confidence that through all our imperfections, our constant 'getting it wrong' the end result, by the Grace of Our Lord, can still be good, and right and proper if we cooperate with his Grace.

I thanked the Lord for another beautiful Mass and resolved to include Father in my prayers and also to pray that our beaten but wonderful Church stays open.

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