One thing you’re going to have to get used to if you want to start coming to Mass with me – I’m bringing a box of tissues. I don’t know if you’ll need them; you might – but I know for a fact that I’ll need them. I’ve been Catholic for 9-1/2 years now, and I’ve cried at every Mass.
I’ve gotten better, really I have. When I first started attending Mass early in the millennium, I was a wreck. I bawled from beginning to end, and you really wouldn’t have wanted to be the “lucky” parishioner sitting next to me. My kids took turns on Kleenex duty, and did such a good job of it that when I would occasionally be fortunate enough to attend weekday Mass (without them, because they were in school) I would forget to take tissues with me. I’d rather not talk about those Masses….
I used to think it was the music – maybe I just got emotional when the music swelled…. But then I attended a Mass where the music was provided by a band, complete with two saxophones and a drummer with a very heavy hand. Their rendition of the Gloria was reminiscent of a one-man band with a kazoo. But when we began to sing:
For You alone are the Holy One, You alone are the Lord,
You alone are the Most High, Jesus Christ…
I dissolved into tears, hoping all the while that no one would think that I was crying because the band was that bad. No, I was crying because the Mass is that good.
But as I said, I’ve gotten better about it. I used to start tearing up at the opening hymn. Now I almost always make it all the way to the Penitential Rite. There’s just something about those words:
Let us call to mind our sins.
Lord Jesus, You were sent to heal the contrite of heart!
Lord, have mercy!
Lord Jesus, You came to save sinners!
Christ, have mercy!
Lord Jesus, You are seated at the right hand of the Father to intercede for us!
Lord, have mercy!
He is there, I tell you! I know it! When we ask His forgiveness in the Penitential Rite, He Who has been waiting all along hears us and grants us His pardon, thus enabling us, the priesthood of believers, to assist worthily at Mass. That’s one reason why I get teary-eyed. I beg for mercy, and He grants it. Oh, wondrous love!
But I break down during other parts of the Mass as well, most especially during the consecration. I can’t sing along with the Agnus Dei, and I have yet to be able to utter a coherent, unchoked, “Lord, I am not worthy that You should enter under my roof, but only say the words and my soul shall be healed.” He is there! – now not only in Spirit but in Body and in Blood! I know it!
For years I petitioned my beloved patron saint, Thomas Aquinas, to come to my assistance and obtain for me the elusive grace of not falling apart at Mass. It didn’t work – my prayers were never answered. I finally understood why when I heard a homily by Archbishop Augustine Di Noia, O.P., on the occasion of the feast day of St. Thomas Aquinas. The archbishop said:
In his premiere biography of St. Thomas, Gugliemo di Tocco wrote of the saint that “he celebrated Mass every day, his health permitting, and afterward attended a second Mass celebrated by one of the friars or some other priest, and very often served at the altar. Frequently during the Mass, he was literally overcome by an emotion so powerful that he was reduced to tears, for he was consumed by the holy mysteries of this great sacrament and strengthened by their offering.”
So I guess I was petitioning the wrong saint! Or maybe the right saint – for who would not want a saint praying for them who knew, to the point of tears, just as I know, that we are not just talking about God, not just singing about God, not just thinking about God, but literally standing in the very physical presence of the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world? He is there! – and St. Thomas knew it! It is He Who has invited us to this banquet. It is He Who is calling us to the wedding supper. It is He Who makes all this possible!
When I was a Protestant, my worship experience varied considerably from Sunday to Sunday, and from church to church. At my old Baptist church, services were televised nationally, and the singers were professional performers. It left me cold. I have heard innumerable stories over the years about how Protestants have experienced Sunday-morning-letdown syndrome if they didn’t care for the hymns that were sung, if they didn’t “feel” the Spirit moving, if the pastor preached on a topic they considered uninspiring, if a guest preacher showed up and they didn’t get to hear their preacher-of-choice, and so on. The biggest complaint overall tends to be “I didn’t get fed.” What are the chances of that happening at Mass? Absolutely ZERO – for He Who is the Bread of Life, the Manna Come Down from Heaven, is there in the Flesh, and He is there for that very purpose. Despite bad music, poor preaching, kamikaze kids, despite every obstacle imaginable – I WILL be fed.
And the very thought of that makes me teary. So you don’t have to sit next to me if you don’t want to – I’ll understand. Of course, if you come to believe about the Mass what I have come to believe about the Mass, you’re gonna have to sit next to me!
I’ve got the Kleenex!
On the memorial of Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity
Deo omnis gloria!