Once, when I was a little girl, I asked a nun what Heaven is like. “It’s like the Mass,” she told me.
Talk about deflating my balloon. Back then the Mass was still in Latin, and as a mere child, I had little notion of what was actually occurring, except, of course, that I was to sit still for an hour and not make any noise. Heaven sounded terribly boring. The only reason I would want to go there was that it was better than the alternative.
To my childish mind, it wasn’t even all that much better than the alternative.
Since then I’ve come to appreciate the Mass and to understand how and why Heaven intersects earth in the coming of our Lord Jesus in the Eucharist.
Sometimes, though, I find certain things at Mass just plain irritating, like a homily given by Father Grumpy or (even worse) by Father Fire-and-Brimstone.
We’ve all been there, like at a Mass where the music makes you want to clench your fists. I’m not talking about the little old lady praising God at the top of her lungs but singing horribly out of key. I’m talking about situations, like in my sister’s parish, where the Music Minister has decided that all hymns should be played with an oom-pah-pah rhythm.
Now, I’m not one of those people who thinks every hymn has to be a Gregorian chant. But there’s this one-I can’t bring myself to call it a hymn-there’s this one song the school children of our parish perform. Part of the lyrics, accompanied by hand motions, is Whoo! Whoo!, followed by na na na na . . . .
Shouldn’t music during Mass glorify God rather than entertain us? For someone spoiled by the likes of Palestrina, this goes beyond irritating. It’s like thousands of fingernails on a chalkboard.
[SIDENOTE: If you’ve never listened to Palestrina, check him out on YouTube. I’m listening to his “Missa Papae Marcelli” while I write this. I warn you, though, you will probably find the hymns at your local parish lacking afterward. And if that’s not enough to pique your interest, nothing is.]
Well, one morning I was tempted to run out of Mass screaming. I even visualized myself doing it.
That’s because the visiting priest, apparently, attended seminary in Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood.
Okay, it was a children’s Mass. The kids from the school were there. But when the priest uses a sing-song voice throughout the Mass (“Let us praaaaay to the Looooord that He will forgive aaaaallll our little sins”), I’m about ready to jump out of my skin.
This is irritating under normal circumstances. The circumstances for me that day were not normal. About an hour before Mass, I found out, via email, that a friend of mine had died during the night. I was there to pray for the repose of her soul.
It took everything I had to make it through Mass. I reminded myself of an incident St. Faustina relates in her Diary. She was praying in church, and another nun next to her was coughing and hacking the whole time, making concentration difficult. Faustina considered moving to a quieter place but worried the other nun might take offense. So she stayed put. Afterward Jesus told her that if she had moved, He would have removed from her all the graces He was giving her while she prayed.
It’s a good lesson. Mass is Mass, no matter how lousy the preaching, no matter how awful the music. Even if it’s said by Father Please-Transfer-Him-Somewhere-Else.
And—wouldn’t you know it?–the recessional song that morning was the one with Whoo! Whoo! Na na na na na.
The good thing was that it gave me more to offer up for the soul of my friend.