"Are there any announcements?"
"After Mass, there'll be brunch-"
"-and Father will be present."
This past week, a friend of mine called me to extend an unusual invitation. Her brother, who was ordained a Jesuit priest over the summer, would be visiting; pending his agreement, would I want to join them for Mass at her house on the Solemnity of Mary? I was going to be by that day anyway, to say goodbye to Juli – she's leaving for Peru for a month, to work with the Missionaries of Charity down there. So, given that, could I make it for the Mass?
I wasn't entirely certain about the idea - a home Mass? Celebrated by, well, a Jesuit? Except that that Jesuit's first Mass was one of the most orthodox, beautiful, and all-around-reverent I have ever attended; and I know Juli too well to do other than wonder how, not if, she will convert her home into a chapel. And look forward to seeing – so, I had to go see! And attend! It turned out to be just we three; her other brother was sick. In that, it turned out to be the most intimate Mass I have ever been at – and, again, one of the most beautiful (even though I, and not Fr. Christobal Fones, was singing). Fr. Phil is intent on setting a high bar for himself – he is, after all, a Jesuit.
The set-up was fairly simple: the table covered with a white faux-damask tablecloth and set with candles and a crucifix; the chair and ottoman moved back to allow space for the congregation. There wasn't anything really suited to serve as a pew, so Juli and I sat on the floor, Missionary of Charity-fashion. Fr. Phil commented that it made him feel too formal, but it's a posture I'm used to, and that Juli had better become used to!
The hymns were both Marian: 'Sing of Mary, Pure and Lowly' and 'Holy is His Name'. Fr. Phil wanted that first one when he saw us looking at it, since he referenced it in his sermon (recycled from his Vigil Mass). I did the first reading and psalm, going up to stand beside the altar out of sheer conditioned reflex; Juli looked amused, but did the same for the second reading. Doing that put us directly beneath a small picture of Mary – and there was something utterly right in that, as Juli read. Standing below she who brought the Word into the world, to proclaim that Word anew.
Fr. Phil said the Mass at the same deliberate pace as his first Mass: no prayer hurried, silence given as much weight as the spoken word. Even Eucharistic Prayer II, in his hands, seemed unrushed and even beautiful. He said Mass for Juli and I, but after the Consecration, it became just he and God. The pure intensity on his face – absolutely private, absolutely focused on his Lord in the Eucharist - left no room for anyone else. Whatever it is to be a priest, and I'll never understand it, it was contained in that look.
I've been in that dining/living room any number of times, just to relax: to laugh, chat, go over times old and new. After Mass, we did all of that again – but for that Mass, for that one hour, the room was set aside for another purpose. The table I gave to Juli a year back became an altar of sacrifice. The bas-relief Last Supper hung above it ceased to be simply sacred art and became instead an icon, a window onto the heavenly reality being enacted beneath.
Ever ancient, ever new. Jesus Christ; the same yesterday, today, and forever.