Normally, we ask the servers, lectors, and extraordinary ministers to arrive thirty minutes before Mass. I was coming from work, and due to the train schedule I arrived an hour before Mass was scheduled to begin.
I walked from the train station to the church in a refreshingly cool evening rain.
Father was hearing Confessions, and there were a small number of people in the church, but it was mostly empty. About half of the lights hadn’t been turned on yet, so the church was dim and cool.
The floral decorations of the church are quite sombre for Advent. In addition, we’re getting the carpet replaced this week, so many of the statues and movable objects had already been taken out of the nave.
Our magnificent Neo-Gothic church was looking a little bare, and you could plainly see the places where the plaster walls are crumbling, where new paint was needed. Bare and threadbare.
It might have looked a little depressing, but to help compensate the sacristans had decorated the Blessed Virgin’s altar for her feast.
There was a beautiful floral setting with three rose-coloured pillar candles. These three had been lit, as had the two normal candles upon the altar at either side of the statue of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary with the Christ Child.
It was beautiful, made more so no doubt by the contrasting raggedness of the rest of the church.
I took the opportunity to pray vespers in front of the lady altar. It was the most natural thing in the world, of course, but somehow it touched a deep chord in me. The prayer and the altar were somehow an island of glory in the vast sea of melancholy.
It’s been a rough time at work lately – the place where I spend most of my waking hours – and there have been other stressors lately as well. Nothing serious, but so many little things that I’d found myself being generally grumpy and sharp with people. It’s not a good place to be, and I’ve been there for a few months now.
But there, praying the vespers of the Immaculate Conception on the feast in front of the altar of Our Lady, there was a kind of timeless peace.
When I’d finished praying vespers, I spent some time on my knees, thanking the Lord for that moment and praying for the intercession of the Blessed Virgin and Saints Benedict and Scholastica.
Had this been the extent of it, it would have been an amazing evening. But it was just beginning.
It was time to vest, time to make sure that all of the various details were seen to, time to brief the Altar Servers.
We had a good turnout for servers. I had scheduled four, but we had six. This allowed me to make some adjustments in their duties that would add to the solemnity of the liturgy.
And then as the choir and people sang “Immaculate Mary”, we began the procession: incense, processional cross, two ranks of candles, Gospel, priest celebrant. Sometimes, the kids have a tendency to rush through. Not tonight. Slow, dignified, without dragging.
We’re learning a new Mass setting for Advent, and it’s been a little tentative and weak as you often get when people don’t know the tune. Unfortunately, this particular setting sounds rather precious and weak-kneed when sung this way.
Tonight, however, the choir provided a straight spine for the congregation to put flesh to. The setting was dignified and beautiful.
In fact, the singing tonight was superb all around. Marian hymns, of course, familiar and powerfully sung.
I’m not going to say that the Mass was perfect – we will never have perfection this side of heaven – but there was no rush, no hesitation, no pretense.
We were worshipping Almighty God and honouring His mother in unity of purpose and rite. Sometimes when you serve at the liturgy, you can find yourself so busy organizing, anticipating, problem-solving that you forget to pray.
Not tonight. Tonight, we prayed. The liturgy was not a thing we did. Rather, it was a thing that happened and we were part of it, swept up in it towards God.
When Father elevated the host and the bells rang in perfect unison while a cloud of incense billowed past him, I had a great moment of consolation. Here we were, participating in and anticipating, however imperfectly, the magnificent heavenly liturgy. The immeasurably vast host of angels and saints pressed in close around us, joining us in adoration. It was as if time itself paused for breath.
The little worries and irritations and slights that had consumed me for months were melted away in that instant.
God gives us consolations now and again, and I am grateful for them.