While more than 11 million people nationwide sat in theaters watching a bombastic Hollywood amusement attack the Catholic faith, our family of seven participated in a quiet experience that testified to its truth. Our “screening” took place in a different kind of theater — one I might call the “theater of life.”

As part of a sesquicentennial celebration, a local Catholic college here invited families to come and enjoy on-campus concerts, food and fun. While there, we decided to stop in to the adjoining monastery to visit an aging priest friend. I had been there alone on several occasions, but the priest had never met my family.

Father Paul seemed genuinely excited to have visitors. He wondered whether we might be able to stay for Saturday evening Mass and a meal. In a rare moment of spontaneity — with kid chaos an ever-present threat, the Drake family prefers things mapped out ahead of time — we agreed.

We followed the elderly priest, dressed in a T-shirt and pushing his walker, to a chapel on the monastery’s third floor. There we found a dozen or so retired and infirm priests and brothers in silent pre-Mass prayer. One of the priests, we would later find out, was 106. Another was 99; a third, 86. Lack of seating forced us to sit apart from one another. Mary sat with the two youngest on one side. Our three oldest sat a row ahead of me, and I was situated in the last row between two priests.

As the Liturgy of the Word started, I sensed not only that we were celebrating Mass, but that were part of something truly special — something that few others are privy to on a regular basis, if ever.

“Lord, use this opportunity to reveal what it is that you want to reveal to me,” I silently prayed.

At the Liturgy of the Eucharist, all of the priests, each wearing a stole, uttered the words of consecration. Most, too weak to walk, stand or kneel, prayed around us from their chairs and wheelchairs.

There, in that moment, whatever might have separated these men — worldviews, philosophies, styles, ideologies, devotions, hobbies — was gone. At this moment they were all one in Christ. United. Concelebrating.

During the Our Father, my eyes welled up and my voice cracked. I was unable to continue the prayer audibly. During Communion, as the priest brought Jesus in the Eucharist to each of the aging priests, I glanced over at my wife. She, too, was crying.

The words from Psalm 109, verse 4, came to mind: “Thou art a priest forever.”

Even if they no longer have their parishes, their schools or their hospital chaplaincies, priests never cease to be priests. Nor is the badge removed when they are aging, unable to walk, ill or dying. Even death cannot take the priestly mark away from a priest’s soul.

“We haven’t had a death all year,” Father Paul gleefully remarked afterwards, as we shared dinner with him. For any one of the priests, I thought, that Mass could very well have been their last. Well, their last Mass on earth, anyway. Something far more glorious awaits each of them in heaven.

I wonder if anyone left The Da Vinci Code that opening weekend feeling as full of faith, hope and love as the Drakes did after that very special Mass.

Tim Drake writes from

St. Joseph, Minnesota.