Remember why you are there

It had been a long day.  Despite that, I knew I needed to get to the Oratory 45 minutes early.  Our chapel, designed to hold roughly 50 people, would now have to accommodate in one Mass the numbers that were normally accommodated across 3 Sunday Masses.  We rarely have this problem, as Fr. Le Gal rents a large hall at least once per month, where our little flock of about 150 can all worship together at the same Mass time.  Then, even the tardiest arrival will find some place to sit, as we have folding chairs in the back for you to "create your own" seating.

To be fair, on Ash Wednesday, when I arrived, the chapel was already half full with fellow "wise virgins" who knew the only Mass that evening would be, as my Aussie friends might say, positively "heaving."

Fifteen minutes before Mass we began to really fill up and I started to experience the dilemma of "do I give up my seat?"  The spirit that pervades in our chapel is the same one in effect for public transport: women and children first, and don't push it too hard if they refuse.

And yet, despite the charity in action that led to a wall of mostly men standing in the back of the chapel, the little voice in my head felt the need to sermonize: "Well, they shouldn't have come so late," or "They should have known better."

It's that same voice that complains in frustration when children cry and make noise in Mass.  I am not yet a parent, but I believe that most of those parents, like me, know that younger kids cannot be 100% silent or still, and try to put up with as much noise/movement as possible before the self-imposed exile with said child to the crying room or outside.

That same voice is also alert to catalog a litany of offenses against the rubrics of the Mass.  My chapel and its congregation know the rubrics for High Mass somewhat well, but about half of them, alas, think those same rubrics apply to Low Mass.  I recently visited my parents in California, in the United States, and at Mass last Sunday that entire congregation slid back into the pew as Father began reading the epistle...which is unfortunate because that this shouldn't be done.  In Low Mass one kneels continuously from the Prayers at the Foot to the Gospel.  The congregation should similarly kneel from the start of the Sanctus all the way until the time to receive Holy Communion.

In that chapel, which I visited with my colleague Jason Guardiano, most of the men weren't wearing ties or jackets.  I once lived in California, and I know that in general a very lax and informal attitude pervades there.  But the same voice felt the need to remind me that it was lamentable that none of these men saw fit to pay respect to Our Lord that would be at least appropriate for a job interview, much less the Sacrifice of Praise.

But you have to realize that this voice that keeps nagging and judging is not the voice of the Catholic, but the voice of the Pharisee, particularly the one featured in the story with the Publican.  It is the office of the priest to deal with crowds, children, rubrics, and dress code.  If you have brought your concerns to him that voice should be satisfied.  Indeed, it should be shut off entirely as it is an attempt by the devil to distract you in the very time and place you should be gathering graces to yourself.

Each moment you spend in contemplation of these distractions you lose time with Him.  A restoration flowers forth from a deep interior and reflective life, and such reflection cannot be aided by spending any time judging what your fellow pew-sitter is or is not doing correctly.  Look to yourself.

Might I suggest that the next time this little Pharisee raises his voice in your brain that you utter the ejaculation prescribed by Our Lord in such circumstances: "O Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner."  That sentiment, not your smug self-satisfaction in "doing right," will serve Our Lord.

Stephen Heiner

Stephen founded True Restoration in 2006 and served as its first President until 2023. He now lives in Reading, Pennsylvania.

You may also like...