As I am starting to write this, it is 10:45 PM on Friday night, the night before my parents are due to leave for their first real vacation since 2010. They are going to Spring Training, and they’ve worked incredibly hard and they deserve it. However, some of the events of the evening leading up to this moment have been, shall we say, less than ideal.
About 6 hours ago, I left work early in order to run some errands and eventually end up in West St. Louis County to go to a fish fry with the men of my bible study, an event I was partially in charge of putting together. My bible study operates on a group text which I don’t really have access to during the day because my office at my main job is in the basement of a building which has giant freezers and refrigerators on the ground level that block most of the signal. As I begin to run my errands, my phone catches up on text messages, and I discover that basically no one in my study can make it anymore. Not their fault. It just seems like life did it’s thing. Then a bunch of great things happen which I will tell you about.
After the great things happen, I get home around 9 PM to more less than ideal news. Keep in mind, I’m getting this less than ideal news the night before my parents are leaving for Spring Training and I am in charge of the house, 3 dogs, and feeding myself for a week. First, my mom tells me that some folks who were working on our yard today dumped a bunch of yard waste where they shouldn’t have (they knew not what they did), and it would be my responsibility to move it all and the other trash that was placed with it to the proper receptacles in the alley by our house. Not an impossible task, just inconvenient. Second piece of bad news is a bit more dire. My mom tells me that the freezer portion of our refrigerator is out, and I would be in charge of making sure it got repaired while they were gone. Again, not an impossible thing, but way more inconvenience for me.
I’m unloading some things into the refrigerator, and I notice it’s not entirely cold in the main cabin of our refrigerator. I wasn’t too alarmed. I don’t trust myself as a great gauge of temperature and I thought it was probably as cold as it needed to be. I open the refrigerator about 20 minutes later, having been outside for another reason, and I realize that there is for sure no air circulating and no cold air at all. Thankfully, it’s cold enough outside that the essentials of what I need will be safe sitting in the trunk of my car overnight. Quick research on the part of our entire household determined that our refrigerator was 12 years old, and we found several candidates for a new refrigerator which we will be going to look at in approximately 6 and a half hours. We cried and laughed hysterically about the whole thing as it was happening. It was terrible. And hilarious. But mostly terrible. We did laugh.
Now if nothing else had happened this evening, I wouldn’t be writing about all of this in the first place, and I probably would have been really annoyed and angry about the whole set of circumstances and asking myself what else could possibly go wrong this evening. The only good thing I could have said about the evening is that I finally got the $0.88 blackberries at the grocery store after 3 attempts. The experience I had during the intervening hours has made all of this seem like small potatoes.
I decided to try to salvage the evening by getting a fillet o fish and heading to Mass and Stations of the Cross at the church where I most often attend daily Mass, St. Francis de Sales in South St. Louis City. I invited one my friends from my study who was still available that evening, and we had a few minutes of great fellowship at the nearby McDonald’s before heading to Mass. Now normally what I do is that when I go to Mass on Monday, I pick up a bulletin and put it in my bag so I know what Masses are being celebrated throughout the week, and I can change the 6 ribbons in my fancy Baronius Press hand missal accordingly before Mass. However, I hadn’t been to Mass since Sunday at the church that I work at, and hadn’t picked up a bulletin yet and wasn’t as prepared as I normally am. I opened the bulletin just before Mass to discover that this evening’s celebration was a votive Mass that I knew wasn’t in my Missal because I had looked for it once before in vain. It was the Votive Mass of the Five Wounds. So I started off Mass with not the greatest attitude, frustrated that I wouldn’t know what the propers were. I did however quickly recognize the Introit as I was hearing it as a verse very similar to one that is etched in my brain eternally, the infamous Christus factus est.
“Christus factus est pro nobis obediens usque ad mortem, mortem autem crucis. Propter quod et Deus exaltavit illum et dedit illi nomen, quod est super omne nomen.”
“Our Lord Jesus Christ humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore, God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name.”
Those who know church music or liturgy know the text of this antiphon shows up in Holy Week 3 times as a Gradual, and is famously and quite dramatically set to music by Anton Bruckner. See this video with a stunning rendition by one of the best, if not the best, Catholic Church choir(s) in the world at Westminster Cathedral, sung on the occasion of Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to the UK. As an aside, the poster of this video has video of the music from most of the rest of the papal visit, and all of it is incredible if you have the time to look through it all, particularly this piece and the Tu Es Petrus commissioned for the occasion of this Mass at Westminster.
Back to this evening. I immediately felt a little bit more at ease about being at this Mass. What was bugging me at this point was that I had seen one of the canons come down to the confessional to hear confessions during Mass, and I was contemplating if something I had done earlier in the day warranted the need to go to confession before receiving our Lord in the Eucharist. I eventually decided that if I had to ask the question, then the answer was yes. So I got in line for confession and was feeling good about making my confession.
While I was in line, I decided to pull my phone out and figure out what the rest of the proper texts were for this Votive Mass of the Five Wounds. I found this page and as I glanced at it could glean that according to the author, this Mass was originally a Sarum Rite devotion (the Sarum Rite originating in England for context). It was likened by this author to the relatively more recent devotions to the Sacred Heart. What strikes me about the readings and propers as I am reading them is something I often notice in the most ancient rites and rituals of the church; the texts are vivid, and able to conjure great fervor, devotion, and emotion to those paying attention to them.
“…and they shall look upon me whom they have pierced…”
“Thy rebuke hath broken my heart; I am full of heaviness: I looked for some to have pity on me, but there was no man, neither found I any to comfort me.”
This above text from the gradual is famously also set to music by Handel, and I remember singing it for something important in my life as a music student. The tract is partly the Judica me said at every Mass in the EF. And the verses draw on more of those vivid texts. I saw a sequence on the page but didn’t stop to read it as it was quite long, and being the trivia night smart Trad Cat that I am (it’s 1:22 AM now, please bare with me I have to get this on a page before I put my head on a pillow) I already knew that the sequence had been suppressed. And this sequence, upon a slightly closer and sleep deprived look at the text, does not seem remarkable anyway.
Needless to say, my head was in the right place. I was glad I was in line for confession, I was truly sorry for my sins, and I was more disposed to receiving great grace at this Mass. On my way back to my pew with my friend, I stopped to grab a booklet for stations, and I also noticed a printed program with the Mass propers on it. I grabbed one and briefly glanced at their translations of the texts, as the ones in the above link are more anglicized.
I saw these words for the communion antiphon, and I became quite shaken and moved.
“Foderunt manus meas, et pedes meos: dinumeraverunt omnia ossa me.”
“They looked upon Him whom they had transfixed, even as the earth was shaken to its foundations.”
Transfixed. I was struck by that choice of word in the translation. But what got me in that moment the most was this idea. My sin, your sin, caused the earth to shake to its foundations. The death of Our Savior caused the entire planet to tremble. God was dead. The tables were turned.
As I approached the communion rail to receive Our Lord’s body, I was shaking, I was close to tears. And I realized and felt in my bones the reality that the world needed Christ’s death more than it needed the sun to shine, that the Holy Mass is more essential to the existence of the universe than anything else.
And that it is all my fault, my fault, my particularly grievous fault. I cannot begin to fathom the number of men I have slept with or objectified in any way. Men I didn’t know. Men I didn’t care about. Men whose name I did not know. Men that I have done unspeakable, disgusting acts with. Don Juan would even be repulsed. I have broken the most sacred laws of nature without care. I have done so at times openly defiant and mocking of Christ’s love, and each and every time making the choice that my selfish, disgusting and disordered desires needed that tiny fraction of fulfillment they gave more than I needed Christ. I made the choice every time to wound Christ. To pierce his hands and feet. To try to break the legs of his dead body. To thrust the lance into his side. To laugh and scorn him. To deride and hate him. To have contempt for his love. To whip him. To bloody him. To torture him. To pain him. To offend him. To… to… to…
I was gazing at a statue of St. Joseph as I was kneeling at the communion rail. I realized looking at him that I am a mere fraction of a man. I am vain. I am not very brave. I am not very courageous. I am not very strong. I am not virtuous. I’m a terrible example. I’ve done more to lead souls to the devil in my 27 years of life than a hundred men could do in a lifetime. I am despicable. A disgrace. But not by virtue of my attractions to men. I did not chose that, and I am not prepared at the moment to say I have any power to change that in this life. But it is what I have done as a result of those perverted attractions. It is what I have willfully and selfishly chosen for myself. As I waited to receive the Precious Body, I pleaded with St. Joseph, that he might ask God to grant me the manhood I desperately need and desire.
I went through Stations of the Cross following the Mass reflecting on the gravity of my sins, reflecting on all the trials I and all sinners caused Our Lord to suffer. At the end, there was just a mention of the resurrection. And as I ought, I had a glimmer of hope in my heart. The utterance of the word caused me great elation. Yes, all of these things about my sin and the pain I have caused Christ are true. But it is also true that I have sought forgiveness and obtained it. It is true that though I fall short, I am trying and getting up and trying again. True that Christ loves the penitent sinners. True that Christ can redeem us. True that He has given us his flesh to nourish our souls and bodies and lead us to life everlasting. True that when Christ rose from the depths of Hell, death died.
You know what else is true? When the Exultet tells us that “this is the night,” it’s not lying. At the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, we are united to the real events of that night. On Good Friday, we are united to the real event of Christ’s death. We are there not figuratively but in reality. And at the Easter Vigil, IT IS THE ACTUAL NIGHT WHEN CHRIST ROSE VICTORIOUSLY OVER DEATH!!! You see, I love liturgy not just because it’s beautiful or because of the music or the way it makes me feel. That’s somewhat a part of it, sure, but it’s crap compared to the reality we are actually present for. The Mass shouldn’t exist. But it does and it is the most powerful thing in the entire universe. If only we truly understood, none of us would ever leave a church.
But I did leave church. And having been so incredibly moved that evening, and still needing to do my penance, it occurred to me what a great benefit to souls it would be for me to say my 7 Hail Mary’s for the 7 Sorrows of Our Lady in a place that was connected to sinners like me. So I turned left onto Union, and drove till it became Manchester, and The Gove, the gay district of St. Louis. It was a busy Friday night, and I couldn’t find a place to park. So I thoughtfully said my prayers as I made a couple of loops around the area, driving straight past gay bars and pride flags. I think given the evening I had experienced at that point, it was good for those souls that need prayers in those places, but extremely therapeutic for me.
I started writing this at 10:45 PM Friday. It is 3:01 AM on Saturday now. I’ve poured my heart and soul out, and I need to be up in about 2 and a half hours to go look at a refrigerator with my mom before I take my parents to the airport. This is pretty much stream of consciousness, just word vomiting my thoughts into my iPad as they come. But I think that style lends itself to the experience I had yesterday. I’ll read it all through one more time, add my pictures and links, post, share, and get what sleep I still can. If you’ve read this far, I thank you immensely for going on the journey with me (wasn’t as long as I thought given how much uninterrupted time I’ve spent on it) as I process everything that happened in this incredible evening. I hope to have a more regular schedule of posting, but this night really hit on everything I want this blog to be about, so I had to write about it. Again, thank you, and good night.