Godhead, I adore thee fast in hiding; thou
God in these bare shapes, poor shadows, darkling now:
See, Lord, at thy service low lies here a heart
Lost, all lost in wonder at the God thou art.
Seeing, touching, tasting are in thee deceived;
How says trusty hearing? that shall be believed:
What God's Son has told me, take for truth I do;
Truth himself speaks truly or there's nothing true.
~from Gerard Manley Hopkins' S. Thomae Aquinatis
The scent of incense greeted me as I entered the door, the rosary was being prayed. My weekend wanderings brought me to our diocese's only indult parish. A friend, Edmund C., was singing in the choir providing the music for today's Tridentine High Mass, so I made the almost two-hour drive to hear and to taste and see once again the beauty of 'heaven on earth'. It had been almost a year since I was last here.
I put on my chapel veil, relishing the scalloped edges in my peripheral vision, and slid into a pew. The little chapel was almost full at a half-hour before the Mass. I took out my rosary and quickly fell into the rhythm of the prayer...Hail, Mary, full of grace...as I gazed on the Crucifix, there was Our Lady's statue in front, a crown of flowers ringing her head.....the Lord is with thee....I glanced above at the cerulean-blue ceiling. I had remembered it to be a darker shade, but here, together with worshipers gathered from around the region, the sky-blue somehow seemed fitting, as the prayer proceeded to Mary's Assumption and Crowning as Queen of Heaven and Earth. Gradually, we were being prepared to delve into the mystery of Christ-come-down-to-earth as Victim and Priest. Yes, we had come to meet with the Lord here in this holy place. Through Mary, the earthly cares were shed and put aside.
At the end of the prayer, there was silence, a pregnant waiting. Then the Introit began, in that timeless chant: Jubilate Deo, omnis terra...., the solemn procession moved toward the altar. Vidi aquam egredientem a latere dextro, alleluia. Ah, living water, it is still Easter and we were sprinkled with the waters that reminded us that we were brought out of death into life. We had barely begun, and already my heart was full. Tears pricked my eyes as the chant washed over me. I closed my eyes to try to make out Edmund's voice from among the voices. But the liturgy bid me to open my eyes and pay attention.
Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison, Kyrie eleison, Mozart's Mass ensconced in its proper place within the liturgy. Further and further we were drawn and our hearts were lifted to God...Gloria in excelsis Deo....glory to God in the highest...laudamus, benedicimus, adoramus, glorificamus...we praise you, we bless you, we adore you, we glorify you. A tinge of regret, why can't we sing in this reverent manner each Sunday. But then, I remember where God has called me to serve and I am grateful for this one moment in time to praise him in this way, in beauty and in holiness.
The Mass moves forward and then the drama of the altar began--the incense, the music, yes, it is indeed fitting and right, our duty and our salvation to give thanks to you, O Holy Father. Agnus Dei...Lamb of God we remember your Passion, your Sacrifice, You, Victim most Holy, most Perfect, Bread of Eternal Life. At the altar rail I knelt, knowing of my unworthiness to receive such a gift, humbled that my God should come to me as Bread upon my tongue. For this I am thankful for the veil that covers my head--I am in the presence of the holy.
I returned to my pew and knelt, such a simple action denied to us in my parish in obedience to diocesan norms, but so right after the gift of so great a magnitude. All too soon, the Mass comes to a close, Salve, Regina is chanted, the prayer that was my companion in my conversion into the Church. Vita, dulcedo, et spes nostra, salve. The tears that had been held back finally trickled down my cheeks. Sweet Virgin Mary, bid me to go into the world again, your Precious Son within me, if only for this brief moment.
We emerge out into the late afternoon sun, the brisk breeze helping to lift the veil off my head. Father imparts a blessing as we shake hands. How do I return to my ordinary existence after that?