September 28 | comments icon 0 COMMENTS     print icon print


964 Masses and each as beautiful as the first

With trembling hands Fr McMorrin celebrated his first Mass—two years later, the ‘source and summit’ still inspires awe. — By FR JAMIE MCMORRIN

According to my record of Mass Intentions, this morning I said Mass for the 964th time. I’m very careful to keep this book up to date so I’m sure it’s accurate, but it’s difficult to believe that it can be true.

To be sure, some of those Masses stand out in my memory: my ordination Mass, of course, concelebrated alongside the archbishop; the Mass of Thanksgiving the following day; my first Midnight Mass and my first Easter Vigil, and various weddings, funerals and Baptisms. I remember, of course, celebrating the Eucharist at dawn in the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, and also saying Mass in some of the beautiful, historic Roman basilicas.

In two years, I’ve said Mass early in the morning and last thing before bed; I’ve said Mass in grand cathedrals and tiny chapels; indoors and, very occasionally, outdoors; Masses with packed congregations and, once or twice, Masses witnessed only by the saints and the angels.

There’s an old saying which reminds priests ‘to celebrate this Mass as if it were your first Mass, as if it were your last Mass, as if it were your only Mass.’

There’s wise advice there, but also deep theological truth: every Mass celebrated on earth is a re-presentation of the once-and-for-all sacrifice of Christ on the Cross, and a mysterious participation in the ‘supper of the Lamb’ celebrated eternally in Heaven.

I try hard to remember this as I approach the altar each day, and I do my best to concentrate my mind on what I’m doing and saying. But, all too often, my mind wanders from the sublime realities unfolding before me to the banalities of everyday life. I catch myself thinking instead about what I’m going to have for lunch, the joke the altar server told me before we left the sacristy, the email I forgot to send, or a thousand other things.

I remember the preparations that went into my first Mass and I remember the sincere fervour with which I gave thanks afterwards. I remember how my hands trembled as I held the host —my Lord and my God! —in my hands for the first time. I’m sorry, in a way, to note that my hands don’t tremble any more at the consecration.

The minutes before Mass now are often taken up in a flurry of activity—signing Mass cards, answering ‘quick’ questions, trying to arrange the altar servers (and myself!) into a vaguely presentable semblance of order. After greeting the people at the door of the church, too often I hurry off to the next thing on the ‘to-do’ list with only the most perfunctory of thanksgivings.

But, while I must strive to do better at this, I’m consoled by the thought that everything I do as a priest is, in some sense, a preparation for Mass. Everything I do throughout the day that follows is a ‘going forth’ from the altar to take Christ into the world.

The Mass, as the Church teaches, is the ‘source and the summit’ of everything we do: the high point towards which every other activity is headed, and the place where we draw strength for all the other tasks of the day.

It’s especially at the Mass that I bring before the Lord all those who, every day, ask me to remember them in my prayers. Not only the published Mass intention, but all those I’ve met who need the strength and comfort that only God can give. In the Mass, it’s not only me praying: it’s Christ himself praying in me and through me, in union with his whole Body, in Heaven and on earth, in every part of the world and throughout history.

The American monk Thomas Merton once wrote: “If you are afraid of love, never become a priest, never say Mass. The Mass will break you wide open. If you are afraid of people, never say Mass. If you want to guard your soul against invasion, never say Mass. For when you begin to say Mass, the Spirit of God awakes like a giant inside you and bursts the locks of your private sanctuary and calls all the people in the world to come into your heart. When you say Mass, you open your heart to the vast and insatiable love of the heart of Christ, burning within your own miserable heart.”

If I live to reach my Golden Jubilee of ordination, by my calculations, I’ll say Mass at least another 20,000 times. However long I live, however many more Masses I’ll celebrate, may each one of them open me up to let in a little more of that great love. May each one of them open my heart wider to welcome those who most need to receive it. And in that way, may the Eucharistic love of Christ, for his people and for the whole world, shape me and form me into the kind of priest he’s calling me to be.


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