Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Because of the Preparation

Posted by Webster
My preparation for the Catholic Church took 56 years, Frank’s something more than 40 years. I think that’s what people appreciate about converts. Like good Boy Scouts, we were ready. I thought of this today, as it was my day to serve on the altar and I had the privilege of watching Father Barnes prepare for Mass.

Father is the friendliest of priests, and if you start a conversation with him before Mass, he will not ignore you. But he will bring the conversation to a close as efficiently as possible. This is his time for preparation, and he does it silently. I do not know if every priest approaches the moment of the Mass the same way, but during the eight to ten minutes before the seven o’clock bells ring over St. Mary’s, the sacristy is, true to its derivation, a sacred or holy space.

It’s a joy for me to be there waiting one day a week when Father enters the sacristy, my duties done: I have already set the missal on the altar and prepared the chalice, the gifts, the ewer for washing the priest’s hands. I have lit the candles and turned on the overhead lights in the nave. Oh, and the sound system, I always need to remember to turn on the sound system.

But when Father Barnes arrives, the Tuesday lector, Bill Foley, and I stand still with hands folded and wait as Father vests, with a prayer for each article of priestly clothing. (Or so it seems, his prayers, if any, are silent.) Then a few minutes before the crucifix, where he reviews again the readings and maybe, just maybe, takes a final peek at his Blackberry. Then a final silent minute contemplating the crucifix, until the bells ring and we process into the sanctuary.

These moments of preparation are so important in all aspects of the religious life, aren’t they? Which is why I appreciate having the opportunity to observe Father Barnes at work one day a week. And which is why my many years in the wilderness before being received into the Church are so important to me. I sometimes envy those who were born to the Church, often regret the 56 years I “missed,” not being a Catholic.

But then I see how cradle Catholics envy me! And I remember that the readiness is all, as Hamlet said before dying—and so it is before Mass, or anytime we go before the Lord.