Monday, January 31, 2011
An Unexpected Moment of Privileged Grace
God works in unique and surprising ways. This weekend presented that unexpected moment of privileged grace.
I met a young priest at the Society for Catholic Liturgy Conference in Houston. He was one of the presenters and a priest that I have long admired. As the conference drew to a close, I mustered up enough courage to ask him if he was going to celebrate Mass before he left. He was very kind and patient with me and he said that I could come. As it turned out, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass would be celebrated in the Extraordinary Form.
It was a very long time since I had been to Mass in the Extraordinary Form. The Mass was celebrated in a small chapel (pictured above) called Holy House, at Our Lady of Walsingham, the Anglican-Use Catholic Parish. There were five of us, including Father. After Father vested, he began the Mass. I admit that I was flustered with myself because I felt this need to have a Missal in my hands so that I could follow along. However, after the Confiteor, it hit me that I just needed to let go of the notion that I needed a book and simply join my feeble prayers to Father's. I found myself praying the Mass and it was quite liberating. Father's brief homily was also something that I needed to hear. He reminded us that no matter what storms we may face in life, Jesus is there with us.
As the Mass progressed, I came to the realization that "active participation" has a truly profound meaning. "Active Participation" does not mean that I have to engage in vocal prayer at every moment. The heart and the soul need to be engaged in this "active participation." Granted, there were times when I joined in the prayers (Pater Noster, Agnus Dei, Domine non sum dignus), but, the rest of the time, I was focused on the Holy Sacrifice, adding my own supplications to Father's.
Father was leading us in prayer. We were all facing the same direction. He was mediating on our behalf. One thing is for me to read about Ad Orientem in the Holy Father's book, "Spirit of the Liturgy" or to hear about it in an address, like that given by now-Cardinal Ranjinth, but, it is an entirely different thing to actually experience this for myself. It is a fallacy to say that in the Extraordinary Form of the Mass the celebrant is giving his back to the people. He is not doing that. He is leading us in prayer. We are all facing the same direction because we are literally turning towards the Lord.
At the moment of the Consecration, I prayed for the repose of the soul of my beloved mother (Father graciously offered the Mass for the repose of her soul) and I also prayed for my priest friend back home, the Holy Father and our celebrant. I quietly prayed the Pater Noster in Latin and then joined in the praying of the Agnus Dei and the triple recitation of the "Domine, non sum dignus". Communion was a little awkward because I was not sure whether or not I was supposed to respond "Amen." I hope Father understood my confusion. After the final blessing, he read the final Gospel from St. John.
After Father recited his prayers of Thanksgiving, he asked me what I thought. I felt so much joy, peace and tranquility. I told him that I really enjoyed it. Perhaps that was not the word. In retrospect, I suppose that my comment could be similar to St. Peter's odd request to erect three booths on Mount Tabor during the Transfiguration.
The joy was not fleeting. When Father and I said our farewell, I still had that joy about me. I promised Father that I would pray for him every day, starting that evening. Somehow, I could not fully express to Father what that Mass meant to me. The previous evening's Mass with Cardinal DiNardo was certainly incredible, but, this particular Mass in the Extraordinary Form pierced right through me.
I do not know if I will ever see Father again, but, I will always be grateful to him for the great gift he gave me and I will always be grateful to God for that unexpected (and undeserved) moment of privileged grace.