Today, my boyfriend came to visit. Generally when he visits on Fridays or Saturdays, the one certain thing in our plans is that we go to church. Usually, we go to Eucharistic Adoration. Sometimes we go to Reconciliation (Confession). But we rarely have the opportunity to go to Mass together. Today was special because we did just that.
When the afternoon began to wind down and it was about 3 PM, I remembered that they’re painting the interior of the church St. Thomas the Apostle here in Ann Arbor, and reminded Joe (my boyfriend) that the Vigil Mass would likely be held in the school gym, just like last week. Of course, one of the things I love most about Joe is that he’s a traditional Catholic with a deep love for all things sacred, and so the idea of having Holy Mass in a sweaty gym didn’t particularly appeal to him. “Mass is still Mass,” he told me, and I agreed. But we both feel that there’s something special about celebrating the Mystery of our faith in a sacred space.
So we drove to Old St. Pat’s.
I had never been there before, and wasn’t sure what to expect as we got out of the car and entered the church. The first thing that crossed my mind was, “Wow, it’s smaller than I expected.” The second thing was, “It is absolutely beautiful.”
This church looked as though it had been untouched by time – as though all of the terrible misinterpretations of Vatican II had never happened, and the old, elegant beauty of the ad orientem altar/tabernacle and side altars, the communion rail, the utter reverence for the Blessed Sacrament had somehow remained here, for all these years, touching hearts and souls. I felt at home, kneeling with Joe before the altar, my head covered in my black lace veil. It was so peaceful.
Mass was unlike any Mass I had ever been to before. Father led the congregation in singing almost the entire Mass; nearly every hymn was completely in Latin; the Consecration of the Eucharist was facing ad orientem; the whole congregation used the Communion rail in order to receive the Eucharist. Even though it was a Novus Ordo Mass, it was powerful and emotional for me in a new way.
There were several things that really stuck out to me and touched me deeply that I want to address in greater detail.
First, the way Father recited the Eucharistic prayer and performed the Consecration. He was gazing up at the crucifix for most of the Eucharistic prayer, and it was clear that he wasn’t just saying it out of habit: he was really praying, really speaking to the Lord. When he said the words of Consecration, he did so haltingly – almost painfully slowly. I say painful because in that moment, I could see in my heart Jesus breaking the bread and giving it to His disciples, His voice breaking as He struggled not to begin weeping for love of them, knowing that in just a few short hours His agonizing Passion would begin and He really would be giving up this, His Body, for them. Most priests blow through the Eucharistic prayer and prayers of Consecration, with little emotion in their voices, because they have celebrated Mass so many times that it appears to have become habit for them. This time was different. This time, we were really there – really present at the Last Supper with Christ, and Father knew it.
Second, the significance of the Communion rail. Most American Catholic churches do not have anything resembling a Communion rail, and Communion basically looks like the entire congregation stands up, herds into lines, and then waits in their respective line for a free sample. At Old St. Pat’s, each row would come forward and find an open place at the Communion rail and then wait for Father or the deacon to come to them with the Eucharist. It was profound to watch. How many of us get angry when someone cuts us in line, or get irritated when we have to wait for something longer than we would like? The Communion rail is incredible because when you kneel down, you kneel in the first available place – regardless of what order you were in line – and then you wait for Jesus to come to you. You make that first step, and then He responds. You seek Him, and then you wait for Him. And the most incredible part? You wait on your knees.
How to receive the Eucharist during Communion is something I am very passionate about, because I personally feel that most Catholics have far less reverence for the Blessed Sacrament than they should – and it shows. Walking up, receiving Him in your hand, and then popping Him in your mouth like He’s a piece of candy is not reverent, respectful, or loving. Very few people even bow or genuflect before receiving the Blessed Sacrament, which breaks my heart. He is the King of the Universe. We would bow before the Queen of England, but we won’t bow before the King of Kings? There’s something wrong here. That’s why I love the Communion rail. Not only do you wait for the Lord to come to you, but you also wait while kneeling before your King. You receive Him on the tongue – as a small child who must be fed by his mother or father, who depends on them for his every need. It’s beautiful. It’s powerful.
I have fallen hopelessly in love with Old St. Pat’s, after only having attended Mass there once. There, the Novus Ordo Mass was celebrated as it is meant to be celebrated – with love, significance, and reverence present in the worship. If you have a love for Christ, I strongly recommend that you go straight to Old St. Pat’s. God bless you.