Tonight I received a notification that this was my 365th consecutive post. One year ago today I re-tooled what had been a personal blog for over ten years and began writing about the only thing dearer to me than my family – my Catholic faith and the state in which we find ourselves as a Church. Within minutes of hitting “post” someone alerted me that the post was above the fold on Canon212. I was shocked! A quick check of my stats confirmed that it was true. Canon212 has literally been my homepage since George Numayr, may he rest in peace, in one of our few conversations told me, “You need to be reading that site every day.” I am most grateful to Frank for continuing to frequently post my daily rants. I decided when I made the change in theme that I would post every day so long as I was able to. I don’t do this because I love to read my own work. I don’t need the adulation. I don’t need the clicks. I don’t have a donate button – not because I think there’s anything wrong with that, simply because this is my labor of love. I do it because I love to write and I love teaching the faith. It’s what I’ve done most of my life. I can’t say I’m very good at either but I sure amuse myself in the process. I have also had the great joy of being able to use my blog to spread devotion, particularly to my patron saint, Rita of Casica. I have gotten to connect with other Catholics and seen that we are not alone in this world and I am most grateful for all those who’ve written to me over the past year. All of this by way of saying thank you to everyone who has clicked onto this page in the past year. It’s like I used to tell my students at the end of class: “Thank you for being here today. If you hadn’t stopped by I’d have spent the past ninety minutes talking to myself.”
One of my highest ranked posts this past year was a piece I wrote about how the altar boys at my parish inspire me. I wrote at the time:
This morning was no different except that God was pleased to show me just a little bit more of that picture of manliness.
I attended the morning Mass at my parish as I do every day. It was the Vigil of the Ascension as also the feast of St. Pascal Baylon. If you’re new to the blog, I attend TLM at a parish staffed by priests of the FSSP. I had a big day ahead of me as I was preparing to head out on the road with my wife and our kids for a two month road trip. That’s a long story in itself so for now just accept it and move on with me. The Mass, after almost five years of attending this beautiful treasure exclusively in the ancient rite, still moves me to my core. I still thank God. I am a cradle Catholic who learned from his father the value of a man attending daily Mass and it took me 40 years until I could see a sacrifice in the words “Sacrifice of the Mass”. I marvel at God’s mercy to bring me, a sinner, to the foot of His Holy Altar every day. Father said Mass with greatest love and devotion. I followed along in my Missal. I’m getting better at memorizing the Latin responses. I feel like a little boy myself, studying to eventually be able to serve Mass. That’s because I want to be of service whenever I might be needed. I’m 45 years-old and hoping for a gold star on my test.
Because of the aforementioned road trip, as a dad I knew I would need to stick around the church a little bit longer this morning to run through my prayers for all sorts of intentions – safe travels, good weather, the people who would be looking after our house, as well as all the usual things a father thinks of to pray for his family – that son starts taking his responsibilities more seriously, that daughter gain a sense of inner peace, etc. Father and his servers exited the sanctuary. I knelt back down and I prayed my St. Joseph novena. I prayed my Incarnation novena. I prayed my St. Rita novena. And then I looked up. I must have been there a few minutes longer than I had thought. For just like that, another priest entered the sanctuary and began setting up for Mass all over again. And this moment pierced me to the core.
The private Mass.
I lowered my head just a bit so as not to seem like a gawker or some kind of spy as Father moved through the sanctuary like a cat but I couldn’t help myself. I was fascinated. There were no other scheduled Masses today. He slipped through the door and slinked up the steps with a lit taper in his hand. He reached up high and lit two candles, then he walked almost on tiptoes down the steps to light the paschal candle before blowing out the taper. He went back through the door and re-emerged carrying cruets, a glass basin, a towel, and possibly one or two other things. Honestly he looked like a child who brings in the groceries but doesn’t want to make two trips. There was all something wonderfully innocent in how he set the items down and then remembered that he had to remove the altar cover. So he picked the cruets and all back up, balanced them carefully on the edge of the altar, removed the cloth, and replaced the vessels. We never made eye contact but I know he was aware of my presence. There were others in the church as well and the presence of all of us in that moment as Father set up for his Mass made me realize one key difference between TLM and NO that I adore and appreciate and it isn’t simply in the rites.
No, the theology of the priesthood (among other theological points) is vastly different. In the post-V2 Church, private Masses are discouraged. I learned that in my first year in seminary. “Liturgy,” they tell us, “is a thing of the whole of the people of God!” whatever that’s supposed to mean. “See, we even turned the priest around so he can face you because you’re priests too! You’re all offering the sacrifice together!” Um… WRONG. Yes, I am offering my sacrifice; but mine is a sacrifice of praise, as Fortescue brilliantly summed up. I feebly offer Our Lord my heart, mind, and most of all my will. I unite my prayers with the priest. But it is Father alone who is offering the sacrifice in persona Christi. He does what none of us ever could. The two are not the same. And because he offers THE sacrifice (first for himself and then for us), he can and sometimes should offer that sacrifice even when no one else is physically present. It’s not as if the entire company of Heaven isn’t right there with him…
But back to this Father this morning. When I wrote that the boys become men when they put on the cassock I had no idea that one day I would see the man become a boy. I never saw such unmitigated joy and sheer delight in anyone’s countenance as I did this morning when this young priest, ordained in the past year, strode up the altar steps to set up for his Mass. There was a good pride in his step and a swagger too, like a kid who’s just gotten his first hit in a baseball game and gets to run the bases into the arms of his teammates. It was almost as if he was thinking to himself, “Man, I can’t believe I get to do this!” He had an air about him of knowing what he was about to do and that he was going to give it his all.
I felt like I shouldn’t have been there. I felt like this moment was between him and God alone. But I took comfort knowing that what he was about to do he would do for me. He was going to step across the chasm between space and time and into the eternal now that is the brutal Passion of Jesus Christ and this man, this priest was going to become the manliest of men in doing it. No words can express what was in my heart as I witnessed all of this.
I finished my prayers and thanked Our Lord for having given Himself to me and for having blessed me to see all of this and I went home, overjoyed knowing that there are priests like him. And I pray too for all priests – the good, the bad, and the ugly – because I know full well the assault they face from the one who does not want them to go unto the altar of God, the God who giveth joy to my youth.
Mary, Mother of Priests, pray for us!
And thank you from the bottom of my heart for following along with my daily life and musings as a “trad dad”.
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