12% of the population claims to be Catholic*—finding somewhere to go to daily Mass can be a bit of a challenge under the best of circumstances. What Catholics in some dioceses take for granted—a plethora of times and places and choices to pick from—we cannot even imagine. Nevertheless, I am not one to shy away from a good challenge.
Since my home parish doesn’t have a scheduled Mass on Mondays, the first day of the week presents me with the greatest opportunity for searching out new locales. Usually I go to the 11:30 Mass at Tinker AFB Chapel, because it is the closest. However, when the base is closed—on Federal holidays for instance—or Father is unavailable, I go downtown to noon Mass St. Joseph’s Old Cathedral across from the Oklahoma City Bombing Memorial. Recently I’ve discovered the little chapel at St. Anthony’s Hospital which also offers a noon Mass and is just a few blocks from St. Joes. If work or other obligations prevent me from getting away until later in the day, there is always 5 pm Mass at St. Gregory’s Abbey in Shawnee, which lies in the opposite direction from my home and depending on traffic is only a 30 minute drive. It’s taken me awhile to learn the schedules and locations of all these different liturgical worship opportunities but I believe it’s all worth it.
Today was one of those days with no Mass at Tinker. Also, I had an obligation at lunchtime which prevented me from going downtown at midday. No problem, I thought, there is always the abbey.
I made sure to wrap up my work in plenty of time, arriving at St. Gregory’s at 4:55. However, when I peaked inside the front door—looking down the long brick nave of the abbey church toward the altar—the pews were empty. What? A young college student came in just as I did and we both seemed to notice the sign on the door at the same time. It read: Week of May 21-25, Mass at 11 am; Vespers at 5 pm. I had driven 30 minutes and it was my last chance of the day to receive Our LORD. I was bereft.
The young woman disappeared into a side alcove and I knelt in one of the last pews. The monks were filing in. They also seemed to ‘disappear’ into their choir stalls in each of the two sides of the transept opposite the altar. If I didn’t move forward it was impossible to see them from where I was. They began chanting. Were they standing or kneeling? I couldn’t remember if I had ever been a part of a formal Vespers service so I wasn’t quite sure what I was supposed to do. The extended leg of one monk who was in a wheelchair was visible, but aside from that it was as if I was alone in that great huge abbey. Where had the young woman gone? My sadness deepened. A tear slipped down my cheek and I didn’t even consider moving closer because I didn’t want anyone to see me crying. How silly I was being.
A man came in. He knelt down. Not too long after, he got up and left. Again I was left with the chanting ... and my own thoughts and silent prayers.
Spiritual Communion is something I talk about all the time.
Well now, here was my chance to ask for spiritual communion. Still it wasn’t what I really wanted. At first the disappointment was palpable. Gradually as I listened the voices washed over me and I felt sorrow give way to acceptance, then peace and finally joy. The invisible voices fell silent and a monk came out to read from the Book of Hebrews. I felt a thrill of excitement. I was there—a solitary witness. In fact, I marveled at my blessing and wondered, “Where was everyone else? The whole world should be here.” What had not happened became less important than what I was experiencing at that moment. The reading finished, there was more psalmody, then a rustling of bodies which I imagined to be everyone rising to their feet. Petitions, then, the Lord’s Prayer. I joined in.
Soon it was all over. The monks left, crossing in front of the altar. I knelt again in thanksgiving for all that I had received which was not what I expected, had come for or thought I wanted, but then Who knows best what I need? The young woman emerged from one of the alcoves and looked back in my direction. I suppose she wondered if I had stayed as much as I wondered where she had gone. While she visited with the monk in the wheelchair, I slipped out the back door into the narthex, then into the warm spring afternoon and headed home. Thanks be to God!
‘Then he prayed, “O LORD, open his eyes that he may see.” And the LORD opened the eyes of the servant, and he saw that the mountainside was filled with fiery chariots and horses around Elisha.’ 2 KINGS, 6:17
*To be honest, I thought the figure was actually much lower—more like 4 or 5%.