This Sunday, I went to Mass at the “other” parish in town. It’s smaller, and less pretty than our usual church, the priest is not a great speaker, and the music can often be described as painful. So, of course… I like it better.
With a sick 4-year-old recuperating and an 11-year-old daredevil on the mend, my husband and I split up for Mass. He took the boys to the gorgeous church we usual attend, and I went to the unfortunate looking one down the street. It lived up to its imperfect reputation.
This time, it was the sound system. The speakers and microphones crackled. It was a persistent static punctuated by an occasional snap that sounded like lightning and make the congregation jump. The lectors, choir director, and priest worked feverishly at it until right before Mass began, but were unsuccessful in fixing it. As the bells tolled their five-minute warning, the priest said with a laugh, “When we renovated, we tied the speakers in with the lights. We can turn off the sound system, but we have to sit in the dark. I can see now, that that was a mistake.”
With a smile plea for understanding, he left the altar and made his way to the back of the church.
As Mass began, the electrical cracking became more persistent. The choir tried bravely to sing above and beyond the distraction, and the congregation winced along with the opening hymn. We followed along determinedly in the missals, and limped along for the Responsorial Psalm. By the time we got to the homily, the people in the pews were attempting to lip read and piece together what the priest was saying.
As he reached the Consecration, the look on his face announced that his nerves were as frayed as the sound system. He raised and then set down the chalice several times as he tried to wait out the worst of the popping. He stepped back from the altar and whispered into a suddenly cleared mic, “Patience and perseverance here, please, God.” We could see he was completely over it, but trying to be calm. Then he repeated, “patience and perseverance,” and finished the Mass.
There was no discernible homily, and the Gospel could hardly be heard, and the noise was offensive to everyone’s ears… and yet it was one of the most moving Masses I’ve ever attended. The sheer determination of everyone involved to honor and worship our Creator in spite of everything, their unwillingness to be distracted from the Focus of the Mass. They took their cues from the celebrant, and accepted the difficulties with the same unruffled calm that he did. He was neither amused nor visibly frustrated, but carried on with an amazing peace and resolve.
I don’t know who or what was trying to interrupt Sunday evening’s Mass, electrical failure or the devil himself. Whatever it was was unsuccessful in the face of the faith of a priest and his congregation whose focus wasn’t on anything other than God, and standing on that rock, they were unshakable.