Saturday, October 07, 2006

A Friday Mass

Allelulia by Thomas Cooper Gotch

Posted on the 7th Day of the 26th Week of Ordinary Time - 2006 AD - Year B

The setting is a County Durham Roman Catholic church in the UK, built circa 1975. It's a squarish building that looks more like a temporary storage facility. It has an impossibly long ramp up to the main door to the church, this is so that a multi purpose public area could be housed underneath. I think on Fridays it's used as the local Catholic youth club.

There are a few cars parked on the rough tarmac parking area, which is larger than the church itself. I entered the church through the 'youth club' area beneath, taking the stairs up to the main area. I hold the door for an elderly couple who seem suprised I've just appeared behind them. The man says to his wife, "Don't get excited now", I smile at them and try to look courteous and non threatening (not easy in my case). The stairs have a stairlift and I can hear a faint discussion suggestive of the fact that it's non functional.

I walk down the central isle and gesticulate, kneeling breifly before taking a position on an entirely empty pew on the right hand side of the altar, two thirds of the way back. This always seems to be my habitual spot, whenever there's a free choice. There are about three or four people already kneeling or seated, it's about 7 or 8 minutes before the Holy Mass is due to begin.

A strange thing happens then. I sense and can see out of the corner of my eye, a small group, maybe three or four people clogged up in the central isle. A woman is talking fairly loudly. At first I think she is saying 'It's good', possibly as part of a conversation, the rest of which is too quiet to hear. Like conversations you can half overhear when one of the parties is hard of hearing, you hear their loud answers to quieter questions. Then I realise the woman is thinking out loud, not talking as part of a conversation, what she is saying is: 'It's God' and then, 'It's God here' in a matter of fact voice. As she says this I can hear loud shaking or rustling coming to a crescendo. I think it's the plastic bag she is carrying but I can't be sure as I don't turn round to look, the shaking sound gets more violent and louder as if she can't contain something, 'It's God..' matter of fact. People stand concerned for a moment, I think to keep an eye on her and make sure she is ok, then they drift off to the pews. She walks past me normally, an old lady, unconcerned, round shouldered, wearing a heavy coat, carrying a plastic bag, seemingly alone. What is God teaching us through her?

The Priest enters. I notice 2 crucifix shadows on the cieling above the altar but can't work out how they're being cast. Not one but 3 Priests enter. We say 'Good Evening Father' he introduces his colleagues and explains why they're there, I forget now. A nervous lady reads from the book of Jobe and the words just clear away the fog and nonsense in me. Like Jobe, I wasn't there either, when the foundations of the world were laid, like Jobe, I know nothing, understand nothing, am a creature and creation and miracle of God, made from nothing and returning to nothing, and the small group I am sharing this with, the elderly, the sick, the ordinary, the poor the beautiful, we struggle to make sense, to love and understand, to be worthy of ourselves and to our Lord and our brothers and sisters, to be the Children of God that we are. Servants of the Sick and Poor, who are our most high masters.

And there's the noise, the coughing and grunting, creaking and too loud traffic sounds, and kids shouting harshly outside, and the wind tearing around outside like it does in October. There's responses shouted, grunted, whispered, oddly intoned, in broken and nervous and resplendent voices. But then the great hush and the Great Secret that every Catholic comes to Mass for. When the host is consecrated and God Himself enters the church, the silence when everything in the world stops because Our Lord and Creator of the Universe, sick with His love for us, consumed and burning in His desire to be one with us, accepts our humble beaten gifts, our sad and sorrowful offerings, and in His love and sorrow He possesses the Host, becomes the Victim in the eternal sacrifice and offers himself to us in an act of infinite abandon, a giving away that cannot be stopped and cannot cease, in Love, Humility and Sorrow as the river of tears that we are accepts this free and ultimate Gift which transcends all and everything. And the church is no longer the church but the seat of Heaven, the House of the Lord God Almighty, where he dwells among us. The Lady with the plastic bag, no longer an elderly, infirm dependent, but a temple of our Creator, Lord of the Universe, infinite in her dignity as she recieves the Host, begins shaking a little and is helped toward the precious Blood by a companion. Into her God is recieved and dwells, his real Flesh and Blood, His whole Self, Body, Blood Soul and Divinity.

Like Jobe, I know nothing, understand nothing, was not there when foundations were laid. Just wonder and gratitude and awe on this good Friday in October.

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