Wednesday, April 6, 2016

The Mass: Heaven On Earth

Parhelia (sun dogs) hanging out above the grocery store parking lot last December.

Last week, when I went to Mass on Wednesday, it was for the 43rd day in a row. Then later that day, my toddler had a fever and developed a cough. I knew we wouldn't be able to go Thursday morning. My teenagers were willing to watch her Thursday evening so I could go to a 5:15 Mass, but the Mass had to be cancelled. I was disappointed, although I knew eventually the day would come when I'd not be able to make it to Mass. My toddler was better that night, and so we went the next day on through Monday, the Feast Day of the Annunciation. Yesterday, I caught the crud that's been going around Boise for weeks and have had to stay home.

I can honestly say I miss Mass, which surprises me. I thought that once Easter Sunday came and went, I would no longer feel compelled to go to Mass each day, that my Lenten experiment would come to an end. Instead, daily Mass has become my new normal. "It's a habit now," my husband said. So it is, and I feel like something is amiss when I can't go.

During Lent, I began going to a Bible study at our parish on the Bible and the Mass from the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology. The instructor and other participants thankfully didn't mind me bringing the toddler along, and I thoroughly have enjoyed the study, which will wrap up next week. The study does a beautiful job of connecting the Mass to the Old Testament and then bringing in its eschatological meanings. The Mass is truly a meeting of the transcendence and immanence of Heaven, of the sacrifice of Christ (once and for all, through all time), and of His very Self.

I am reading Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body (John Paul II. Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body. Trans. Michael Waldstein. Boston: Pauline Books and Media, 2006.). There are so many things to love about this work, and there are too many to go into now. Two aspects that I find myself dwelling on, though, is the primordial sacrament of the human being and the necessity of communion with one another. Mass, whether daily or on a high holy day, is an affirmation of these truths as we enter not only into the Sacrament of the Eucharist (which is its center), but in all aspects of worshiping God together. We are body and spirit, and Mass grounds us in our need for communion with each other, physically and spiritually, as the sacraments that we are, and the ultimate Sacrament that He is. The Mass is Heaven on earth.

Going to Mass every day has also shed light on the priesthood. I used to joke that if any of my sons were called to the priesthood, then they could get married and become a priest in an Anglican Ordinariate. Being a celibate priest seems so lonely and difficult. But after weeks of daily Mass and reading Theology of the Body, I see now why having celibate priests is so important. The parish priests, even the retired priests of this diocese, are incredibly busy. They are truly devoted to the Church in a way that married priests simply can't be, without it being a detriment to their families. In order to keep a married priest from spending too much time away from his family, you'd have to double or triple the amount of priests over a parish. I still don't dismiss the Anglican or Eastern Rite priests who are married, but I also see the necessity of having priests who are fully dedicated, body and spirit, to the Church.

After we became Catholic last August, I went to Mass once, sometimes twice, during the week. I mentioned to an older friend that I was worried that I was being weird, but she encouraged me to indulge my compulsion to go to Mass as often as I could. It wasn't until Lent that the time seemed right to give it a go. At first it was easy, before going to bed each night, to offer up whether or not I went to Mass the next day. When a week went by, I figured God had indulged me, and it was still easy to let go of the possibility of attending. When three weeks went by, I had to brace myself for the inevitable conflict--illnesses, schedules, etc. The conflicts never came though. By the time I reached six weeks of Mass, it was difficult to accept that I might not make it the next day.

One day, a priest prayed that those who went to daily Mass would find that they did not do so in vain. I have incorporated that prayer into my own prayers. At first, the hour or so (including my travel time) out of my day didn't seem significant. As the weeks went on though, I questioned whether the time spent at Mass was worth it. "Perhaps I shouldn't go to Mass tomorrow," I thought aloud one day, while going through a to-do list with my teens. "No, Mom! You have to go!" my teenage son was aghast that I'd suggest otherwise. "So much good has happened since you started going to Mass every day." In some ways that has been true. The laundry is still piled up, various illnesses pass through our family, and bills and repairs continue to come in their waves. However, there seems to be a fresh grace that hangs about us to get through it all, and no one in the family wants me to stop going.

I told my husband that I was worried going to Mass was just a phase. He comforted me that I wouldn't be me if I didn't love going to Mass every day and that when he retires he wants to go with me. "We'll go to Mass, and then we'll go out to breakfast before doing whatever needs to be done that day," he chuckled, knowing that I'll hold him to it. When I see the couples in their 80s holding each other's hands as they leave Mass, my hope is that one day that will be us. I once overheard someone talk about a woman who had passed away, "She was a daily Masser." Perhaps when I die, someone will be able to say the same of me.

©2016 Emily Woodham

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