Friday, October 1, 2010

On the Population of Heaven

Most of us who attend Mass regularly have a few favorite priests, and possibly even friends who are priests.  When one of these priests is the celebrant (or, in some cases, even in the sanctuary), it brings me great joy, but also presents a great temptation.

See, it'd be so easy to get wrapped up in the prayer of the priest, and not the prayer of the Church - to go to Father Ed's Mass more for Father Ed than for Mass.  And I've seen this happen unintentionally countless times - whether Father's ars celebrandi causes people to refer to his Mass as "The Father Bill Show" or Father gets transferred and a quarter of the congregation moves with him (or stops coming)...

We're supposed to be more or less immune from that in the Roman Rite.  Our worship is liturgical and ought not to be based on the personality of the priest.  In fact, I try to take a step back and let the priest be Christ to me before he is Father Scott (doubly so because my knowledge of liturgical minutiae is so high).

But the via media is usually the best way, balance the key to solving the equation.  And sometimes reason cannot triumph over emotion; sometimes knowing the altar servers (and knowing how you experience God's love through them outside of Mass) does raise one's heart and mind to God just that little bit further.  The tension remains, however: how to keep focused on God with beloved people right in front of you?

Recently, I was at Mass with one such friend.  He sat in choir in the sanctuary; I, in the nave.  I had been managing to ignore him and focus on the sacred action, thankful for the statue that blocked him from my line of sight.  But at the Communion procession, such aids to prayer were gone, as my spot at the altar rail required me to look right over his head to gaze upon the tabernacle and crucifix.  I took a deep breath, hoping not to be too distracted.

And then it hit me: We know that heaven is populated (by saints, angels, and the Holy Trinity Himself).  And we hope to see our loved ones again in heaven.  The liturgy is heaven on earth.  Having friends who serve in the sanctuary is an even more perfect prefigurement of heaven, for heaven is populated by people we love.  Marriage does not exist in heaven; they say this is not because we will love our spouses any less, but rather because we will love everyone so much and more.

One ought not get caught up in Father Joe presiding or Deacon Bill preaching or little Johnny serving, but neither ought we meto ntally berate ourselves for caring who is there.  Allow the presence of our loved ones in the earthly sanctuary to lift us up to the heavenly sanctuary, where we will worship with those we have loved who've gone before.

Benedicite Angeli Domini Domino: laudate et superexaltate eum in saecula.
Benedicite caeli Domino: laudate et superexaltate eum in saecula...

Benedicite servi Domini Domino: laudate et superexaltate eum in saecula.


  1. I actually prefer not to sit near anyone I am close to when assisting at mass; I am easily distracted and it splits my focus. This is also why I strongly prefer an ad orientem mass -- it de-emphasizes the role of the individual priest, particularly at a low mass. My general method of compensating for these types of things is to either have a laser-like focus on the tabernacle or the crucifix (which is one reason I really like the so-called "Benedictine Altar Arrangement" in versus populum masses -- it gives the priest and the people a single focal point, getting us like 50% of the way to what ad orientem brings.

  2. i think finding a priest that you like or prefer is a great window or doorway into understanding one's faith and spirituality better. so much of these great big concepts of the Catholic faith are so hard to grasp on one's own, if someone is fortunate enough to encounter a clergy who they like to say Mass, or that they share a bond with, who can bring the Word down-to-earth in a way that is "grockable", or relating the tenets of the faith in manner to be comprehended so they can go on to share it, then this should be celebrated and embraced, not shied away from.

    there is so much that separates us all from each other here on earth, from connecting and sparking, do we really not need to look at one another when sharing something so deep and sacred as the gift that is the Mass. what are we afraid of finding out?

    Communion is not simply the Eucharist, but communing together as one body to celebrate the Mass. i don't want my clergy turning their backs to me during this because too many people turn their backs on each other every single day.

    i say, if you've found a priest or clergy who you can easily connect to, who sparks and bumps you, this isn't one other thing to deny yourself for your faith, but rather probably a gift the Holy Spirit is guiding you or prodding you to encounter.

    also, that clergy won't always be there. they will move or you will, or one of you may even die. in the meantime, take advantage of the connection God has given you to this person, this servant of God and allow the connection to allow you to encounter something new and good and beautiful about your faith and the Church, something that won't always be there, something you must take with the here and the now and the ever present presence of God.


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