I should have known that something was wrong a few Sundays ago when I arrived at my parish church just before noon and saw yellow tape stretched across the side street. It was unusually quiet in front of the church; one priest and one parishioner stood there. As I approached, they said, “There’s no power.” It had failed that morning.
But that wasn’t going to stop the noon Mass from being celebrated, and I was the assigned lector, so I walked in. The church was dim, illuminated only by candles and lanterns, but preparations for Mass were under way. Two battery-operated lanterns stood on the altar, and a flashlight had been placed in the pulpit for the celebrant and the lector to use when reading the Scriptures. Without light and power in the choir loft, there would be no organ, but our music director had moved a piano to the top of a side aisle.
I climbed the steps into the pulpit for a dry run. The flashlight was there, the lectionary was open to the right page and the binder containing the petitions was in place. I looked out over the congregation, into the nave, and in the light that filtered in through the stained-glass windows, I could see that people had begun to fill the pews. Attendance seemed lower than usual, but the people looked as though they weren’t fazed by the outage.
Mass began, and despite the darkness and the lack of air conditioning in the summer heat, everything went smoothly. The flashlights and lanterns gave enough illumination to read by. Open doors allowed for some flow of air.
Looking out from the pulpit as I read, I realized that the pews were more crowded than they had been earlier. When it was time for the Eucharist to be distributed, I was surprised to see how many people lined up in the aisles. It looked like the regular Sunday crowd. I felt impressed and inspired. Talk about “the faithful”—there they were, my fellow parishioners, walking carefully up the aisle, giving assistance to anyone who needed it. No power? No problem. They showed up and they stayed.
Later, reflecting on the experience, I thought, Isn’t that what so much of life is about? Show up. Stay with whatever you’re doing. Don’t fret when there’s a glitch. Stay calm, adjust to circumstances and do what needs to be done. Which, on that Sunday, meant participating at Mass.
Weekly attendance at Mass is a requirement for Catholics. The Catechism of the Catholic Church cites Canon law: “On Sundays and other holy days of obligation the faithful are bound to participate in the Mass.” That rule is rooted in the third commandment: “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.” Catholics and other Christians celebrate the Lord’s Day on Sunday as a memorial of Christ’s Resurrection and the new creation it brought into being.
The Catechism presents a beautiful explanation of the significance of Sunday Mass. But its significance is obvious to anyone who thinks about it. At Mass, we listen to God’s word; we unite ourselves and our lives with the priest’s offering up of bread and wine; the priest consecrates the bread and wine and we receive the Body and Blood of Christ. We are united with the Son of God, who died for us out of love so that we might share in His life here and in heaven.
Theologians and philosophers—some of them saints—have written enough about those simple facts to fill libraries. No human being will ever understand the full meaning of the Mass and what it achieves in the soul of the believer. Its riches can never be exhausted.
I think it is sad that so many Catholics don’t attend Mass regularly on Sundays. I am so grateful for the example of those who do. They understand where the real power is, and they see by a light that can never, ever fail.