Here in our diocese, the Bishop offers a Blessing Mass for Homeschoolers at the beginning of each new school year. We are all very appreciative that our Bishop takes time to do this for us, especially since this has not always been the case. A lot of prayers and hard work have gone into working with the Bishop to offer these annual blessings. He (or his office) chooses the parish where the Mass will be held, and we all do our best to show up, ‘with bells on’.
It was especially important for me this year, because this is our last year of homeschooling. Our daughter is in her “Senior” year, and after a quarter of a century, our journey is coming to its end. And I am suffering terribly from “short-timer’s disease”! I keep fantasizing about all the non-school things I can do, (quilting, writing a book, getting that midwifery license. . .) and thinking that I don’t need to volunteer for anything, because I’ve already done my time in the trenches and paid my dues, so-to-speak. But then, on the flip side of that, I don’t want to miss a moment, and want to be involved in every single thing that happens this year. Either way, I know I’m going to need a full dose of God’s grace to make it. What better way to embark on our final year of homeschooling than with a blessing from the Bishop?
Last year, the Blessing Mass was held at our own parish. My daughter was one of the lectors. I, myself, did the opening announcements and greeting. We had a huge turnout, and took lots of pictures of everyone afterward, gathered under one of the massive Live Oak trees that grace our parish campus. It was wonderful!
This year, the Blessing Mass was held at a small parish in one of the small towns that border the Austin/Round Rock metroplex. My first clue that I wasn’t going to feel comfortable was when we drove up to the building and it reminded me more of a small elementary school than of any sort of church, let alone a Catholic church. When we entered the building, everyone was very friendly and welcoming, and they all seemed to be sort of prepared to welcome our homeschooling community to their tiny parish. I felt encouraged, until we walked into the sanctuary. There were no kneelers! So, it was nigh impossible to kneel and pray before the mass began, to try to quiet my heart and mind and prepare myself for the Sacred Mysteries. But I tried. I really did try. Until the young lady got up to the podium to do the opening announcements and greeting.
She was wearing a chapel veil, so I felt hopeful that perhaps the parish was in some sort of transition, and when they were finished, there would be kneelers and a proper tabernacle on the altar. So I was dismayed, but not shocked, when she informed us that there was a sound system in the Cry Room “for our listening pleasure”! It seems to be far too common these days for Catholics to adopt the Protestant mindset that the music played during the service (or more appropriately, Liturgy) is for our personal enjoyment, and not a vehicle for transporting us to the Throne Room in Heaven, where we can participate with all the angels and saints celebrating the Supper of the Lamb.
Next, she suggested that we all turn and greet all of our ‘neighbors’ seated around us, in “friendly, St. XXXX fashion”. I gasped. Loudly. Yeah. . . not the best thing to do when visiting a parish, but I didn’t actually mean to gasp out loud. And I don’t suppose it would’ve mattered if I had managed to stifle it, because I’ve never been good at hiding my my emotions. I know that my horror was reflected on my countenance. The nice lady in front of us turned around to give us a good ol’ (Protestant) greeting, and I just gaped at her. She asked if I was okay. I mumbled something about never talking to others before mass, and she asked if it was okay with me, and I don’t think I even managed to answer. I think Gaylon shook her hand. Abby sat beside me in the same horrified stupor I was experiencing.
Honest: I did not mean to be rude! But as Catholics, we don’t “meet ‘n’ greet” before mass!! I was taught that one enters the sanctuary silently, with reverence. Before entering the pew, one genuflects before the tabernacle, because it contains the Host. The Real Presence of Our Lord and Savior. We are supposed to be gathering our thoughts and praying, asking God to help us prepare our hearts, minds and souls to receive this precious gift of Holy Communion. This is sacred ground!
Which brings me to the next issue. . . there was no tabernacle! I genuflected out of habit when I entered our row of seats, but when I started looking around the altar for the purpose of our being there, I couldn’t find it. I took a deep (silent!) breath, and kept trying to make myself focus on the fact that the Bishop would soon be offering the Mass, and that the point of my being there was to worship Jesus. And to receive that blessing for our homeschool.
But, somehow, I am never quite able to conquer my thoughts and heart when I am in a Catholic Church where the tabernacle is missing. The fact that we have the Real Presence of Jesus in our churches and in our masses is. . . well. . . the point! That’s what makes us different, special! We have something that nobody else has, and to not put that tabernacle front-and-center is, in my opinion, akin to heresy. But, I’ve seen it before. So, I tried very hard to focus on the Mass. Bishop’s homily was wonderful, and I did my best to take it to heart. (FWIW: I have been to several masses with this Bishop, and I always enjoy his homilies very much.)
But then, when it came time for the Consecration, I realized I had to make a choice. I have very bad, arthritic knees. I tore the meniscus in my right knee a couple of years ago, and it’s not been quite right since. Kneeling in the best of circumstances is difficult for me. From past experiences, I knew that most of the congregation would simply remain standing during the Consecration. Suddenly, I heard that small, still voice deep inside me that I’ve come to identify as belonging to God. And He asked me: “Do you believe this is real, or not?” And I had to answer, with all of my heart and soul, “Yes!” And so I took a hard look at the crucifix, and knelt on the concrete floor. I glanced around and realized that pretty much all of my homeschooling friends had made the same decision. Almost all of us knelt for the consecration. The regular members of the parish, for the most part, remained standing. Except for the young lady in the chapel veil who’d made the welcoming announcements. She also knelt, beside her parents who remained standing.
I did not receive communion. My heart wasn’t right, I couldn’t get past the missing tabernacle, and I didn’t want to receive unworthily. (“Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord” 1 Cor. 11:27) While I sat in our row, waiting for everyone else to receive communion, I prayed for our Church, as a whole. And I felt tears welling up in my eyes, because, for whatever reason, I have started to become very aware of what a precious and sacred thing the mass is, and it breaks my heart to see the ancient liturgy watered down. Isn’t that what Satan would want? To water our liturgy and our faith down to the point that it becomes completely impotent? A joke, even?
I don’t want to become Pharisaical about it, but it really matters deeply to me. I left the Catholic Church for about 12 years, and I came back for a reason! Well, for many reasons, actually. I crave the deep Christian symbolism and mysticism that only the Catholic Church can offer me. I love sacred music and beautiful, old churches with high, ornate altars. Kendall once said that you can tell how a people views God by the way they build their churches. I think he’s onto something with that!
I don’t want to minimize how precious it is to me (and to all of our homeschooling community, I think) that the Bishop offered a mass for us. I wonder what his thoughts are about the lack of kneelers and the missing tabernacle? I don’t know about the tabernacle, but I know for sure what Cardinal Arinze thinks about the absence of kneelers, and I will leave you with this video: