On Thursday I went to a mass celebrating the Day of Ascension – that part at the end of the gospels and the beginning of the book of Acts where Jesus is taken up into heaven. I had been invited by a young friend of mine. He told me that his confirmation class would be there and he would be taking an active role in the service.
He has plans to become a priest, my young friend. The teenage girl in me cries out for him not to enter the priesthood. He would make someone a fine husband one day. He's a lovely boy! His mind is not quite made up but nearly there.
My husband is wrestling with the idea of going to confession so that he can participate in Holy Communion. It has been a while, years, since his last confession. He fell out with the church in his teenage years, as many teenagers do. He began wearing a beret and talked of Marx and socialism which the church didn’t encourage. Confession was more of a negotiation rather than a flat acknowledgment of sin, and penance and absolution were skillfully worded.
My friend and my husband both love the Roman Catholic Church. They are both comfortable with the ritual. It doesn’t replace God, or become the focus of their worship. All the elements that make up mass are like stepping stones drawing them nearer to God’s throne. Where some might see meaningless actions, they don’t.
I have to admit that there is a bit of me that’s jealous. I grew up in a Catholic home and went to mass. I went through all the rites of passage. I didn’t love it though. It was what we did, a kind of external thing without the warm beating heart. I learned only that God was remote and I was far away from Him and would never measure up.
A friend reminded me today that a lack of ritual and the empty walls of a modern, non-Roman Catholic Church, for all its charismatic leanings, can be unsatisfying too. It can be hard to engage the spirit when there is nothing that appeals to any of the senses. It makes for a bland feasting menu when it comes to worship. We see only the danger of turning the objects into what we worship and fail to grasp that they can lead us to the throne of God.
I loved what the priest said during the service as he talked to the confirmation class. He commented on the evening light shining through the stained glass windows and the patches of colour on the walls. He waved his hand at statues and candles, at the altar and the vestments. He reminded us that we were not there to merely look at all that stuff but to be drawn onto a higher path. As we sing the songs and speak the litany something of God’s way of living should filter into our soul and spirit and be seen in how we walk through our daily lives serving one another.
A cloud of sweet fragrance
An echo of another cloud
an encounter with God on
a holy mountain
He loves the smell of incense
A steady rhythm, a slow chant
Sounds and words on his tongue
He loves the sound of the liturgy
Stain walls as evening light floods in
Stories told in rainbow colours
Dust motes transfigured
Beams of soft haze
He loves the play of light
Dry on his tongue
Melting wafer that bears so much
Wet on his tongue
Crimson fullness of wine
Transforms soul and spirit
He loves the intimacy of communion
Skin thin and fragile
Ink black and paper white
Their words, his heart in harmony
Read and consumed
He loves the feel of the prayer book in his hands
A priest’s graceful wave
At all this ritual
This isn’t the end of the journey, he says
These things are only lights along a path that
Leads to the Saviour
And lets us lean on Him