The New Springtime

El Indigente was a simple diocese basking in the new springtime of the Church following the Second Vatican Council. The Vatican sent the diocese two liturgical experts to update the liturgy yet again for the 60th anniversary of the Novus Ordo Missae. The diocese would never be the same again.

Location: Jacksonville, FL

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Chapter 10 - Acquaintance and Epiphany

Although he wasn’t much of a showman, the people didn’t seem to mind Father Benedict. In fact, they seemed to appreciate him. Luvvy tried to work with him, but as much as he tried, Benny just wasn’t fulfilling the job of showman, like a good priest should. But still, the people kept coming, despite his faults on that end, and the collections were healthy. So any inadequacies he had as a showman were smoothed over by the financial situation of the Cathedral. So, it was settled that he would stay at least for the short term.

Not that the early going always went smoothly for Benny. On Monday, January 15, Benny presided at an ecumenical service in honor of the centenary birthday of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King. He presided with Greek Orthodox, High Anglican, Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian, and Baptist clergy from the El Indigente area.

Noah, the ecumenical guru for the diocese, decided that they should concelebrate the liturgy. It actually worked fine until it came time for the Consecration. At that time, the Orthodox priest spoke up: “Please, my separated brethren, be quiet while I say the words of institution.”

The Baptist minister objected: “Why should we?”

Orthodox: “Because none of you are real priests, except for Benny, who is a stooge for the Great Satan Pope of Rome. No offense, Benny.”

Benny: “None taken.”

Lutheran: “This is my body.”

Orthodox: “I told you not to say it. This is my body.”

Lutheran: “No, it isn’t, it’s the body of Christ.”

Baptist: “This is a symbol of Christ’s body.”

High Anglican: “This is my body, no matter what Leo XIII said.”

Methodist: “This is a mystical signification of Christ’s Body.”

Presbyterian: “This leads to Jesus’ Mystical Body: the Church”

Benny: “Look, why don’t we…”

Orthodox: “Look, I consecrated It, so that’s that.”

Lutheran: “No, I beat you to it. It’s Christ’s consubstantial presence.”

Baptist: “Yous two aren’t trying to sell me on that Real Presence rubbish again…”

Benny: “Look, can’t we just…”

Orthodox: “Whatever, Jesus is now truly present. I already consecrated It.”

Anglican: “You mean WE consecrated It. I’m a priest like you.”

Orthodox: “What? Did you ordain yourself?”

Anglican: “I am too a priest. I dress like one, don’t I?”

Lutheran: “Let’s stop fighting and adore Christ’s Presence in and with the species of bread.”

Methodist: “I’m sorry. I don’t feel His presence. Maybe we should consecrate again. This is my body.”

Baptist: “This is my body. Get your own.”

Lutheran: “Yo! I called dibs. This is my body.”

Anglican: “No, this is my body.”

Presbyterian: “No it’s not, it’s mine.”

Orthodox: “Look, I consecrated the Host, no thanks to any of you, so just shut up!”

Anglican: “Yeah, well at least English women don’t come with matching thick armpit hair and unibrow.”

Orthodox: “Are thems fighting words, Protestant?”

Anglican: “Don’t call me that!”

Orthodox: “Protestant!”

Lutheran: “Do you have a problem with being called a Protestant, you ignorant English bastard…”

Needless to say, that ecumenical gathering wasn’t Benny’s high point in his first few weeks at St. Fran's. But he was still starting to settle in at St. Fran’s, when he walked down Shade Boulevard on Friday, the second of February, 2029, on his way to the store. It was on Shade that he came across an old acquaintance, lying on the street. It brought him joy, mixed with anticipation.


Angelica got up and hugged Father Benedict. “Hello, Father Benedict.”

Before Father Sheppard could gather himself to ask her how she knew his name, she took him by the hand and said, “Come with me. I’d like to show you something.”

Angelica took Father Benedict down Shade to Santos Senderos. Then they went several blocks down Santos Senderos, until they finally went down an alley and into an open side entrance.

Father Benedict protested, “I really don’t think we should be going in here.”

“Come on,” Angelica said, pulling him in. The room Father Benedict found himself in was some sort of a sacristy. There were pictures and Christian symbols all over the walls. There were closets and drawers full of what Benny could only assume were vestments and party gadgets. At the end of the sacristy was an open door to the church. At present, it was a dimly lit church with only the priest and altar boy present.

Father Benedict protested, “What is going on here? Are these integrists?”

“Shh! Just watch.”

“But I can’t understand what they’re saying.”

Going straight for a table in the sacristy, Angelica handed Father Benedict a book, and opened to a page, which showed where they were in the liturgy. Now, Father Benedict knew exactly what they were saying. They were finishing the Creed.

Benny wondered to himself, “Why did he say it alone? Isn’t that the prayer of the community? And nobody can understand Latin. What’s the point?”

As the priest concluded the Creed, Benny turned to ask Angelica why she brought him there. She answered only, “Shh. Pay attention.”

It was time for the Presentation of the Gifts. This, Benny didn’t recognize at all. He had always been comforted by offering God the fruit of the earth and the work of human hands. Now, so he read, the priest was offering “a spotless Host” to God, first for his own sins, then for the sins of all faithful Christians, living and dead, unto salvation. Why would they focus on this? Isn’t Mass partly the work of men? If good monks did not make the Hosts, as he himself had done for the last ten years, there would be no Hosts for Mass.

He always felt pride at that prayer, and was torn at witnessing the prayer he had always known and loved removed. But then he noticed that there was no pride at all in the prayer that was used for offering the Host. But then again, it was the priest offering. Is it not the People of God who offer the Host? He could not make sense of that prayer.

Now it was the mixing of the water and wine. “O God, Who in creating man didst exalt his nature very wonderfully and yet more wonderfully didst establish it anew: by the mystery signified in the mingling of this water and wine, grant us to have part in the Godhead of Him Who hath vouchsafed to share our manhood, Jesus Christ, Thy Son, Our Lord, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God; world without end. Amen.”

He was astonished that this prayer was superior to the one he had known his whole life. It summed up human dignity in a very wonderful way, and our ascension to the Divine Life of God through Jesus Christ. He was about to ask Angelica about this, but she was so wrapped up in prayer and reverence that he was afraid to ask.

Now it was time to offer the chalice. Again, he was disappointed to read that the “chalice of salvation” was offered “beseeching Thy clemency that it may ascend as a sweet odor before Thy Divine Majesty for our own salvation and that of the whole world.”

But then he stopped to wonder: the integrists DID hope for universal salvation. Did he hope for it, or merely assume their universal salvation. He stopped dead in his tracks. “What am I doing to bring people to God? I’ve been told that my neighbor is going to Heaven. These people are doing something about it.”

He almost missed the prayer of humility. With his back turned toward the congregation, if there was one, the priest was literally bowed down before the altar, again asking the Sacrifice to be pleasing to God. “Isn’t God pleased with us?” But then Benny thought, “At Mass, how do we know we please God? Are we just pleasing ourselves? How are we to know?” He had never thought of this before.

The next prayer helped to answer those questions. This priest was asking God to bless the Sacrifice. Silly point, he thought at first. But then he realized that it is God alone Who can make the Sacrifice pleasing to Him, and we can only make it pleasing to God by losing ourselves in the Sacrifice. But what is the Sacrifice? He was never sure about the answer to that question.

The priest was finishing washing his hands. Father Sheppard scrambled around, but Angelica helped him find his spot. He noticed it was Psalm 51, which he said during the Liturgy of the Hours. But it wasn’t the same part of that psalm they say at this point in the New Mass.
He had time to just find this snippet from the Psalm: “But as for me, I have walked in my innocence. Redeem me and have mercy on me.”

He remembered this was written by King David after he had fallen into sin with the wife of Uriah. King David had already been promised that the Messiah was to come from his loins; yet, though he returned to his earlier innocence, he was still in need of a Redeemer and Divine Mercy. He remembered the stories of the Saints he heard as a child: St. Francis put a sign that said “Hell” on his door, because to return to his previous way of life meant perdition for him. Where is the fear of hell? “These integrists both believed and feared hell. I do not act like I do. Something is wrong.”

Again bowing low to the altar, the priest offered this Sacrifice in memory of the Mysteries of the Redemption and in honor of the Saints, calling upon them to aid our journey to Heaven. Again, the priest seemed to hide himself in the liturgy, as if it was not he, let alone the congregation which wasn’t, that is primarily offering the Sacrifice. “But what Sacrifice?”

The next prayer was more familiar to Benny, except for one detail. “Why say, ‘Pray, brethren, that my Sacrifice and yours be acceptable…’ Why not just say, ‘Pray that our Sacrifice.’ Is it not one Sacrifice offered?”

Then, as if she could read his mind, Angelica said, “Do you remember why you were chosen to be Rector of the Cathedral, Father Sheppard?”

He couldn’t answer at first.

“If the deacon was to say Mass, would there be a Mass?”


“Why is that, Father?”

“I… Because Rome said there needs to be a priest.”

“No, Father. Every high priest is taken from among men, ordained for men in the things that appertain to God, that he may offer up gifts and sacrifices for sin. St. Paul told us that. That is why a simple, even sinful priest can call Jesus down by saying ‘This is my body’. Even a whole host of holy laymen, deacons, Angels, and even the Mother of God Herself, who first called the Son of God to be among us, cannot do that. Think of that, Father: you have a dignity that was denied to the Mother of God herself. The Faithful and Heaven itself offers it through the priest who offers the Sacrifice. The priest offers it directly, in the person of Christ. It is one sacrifice, but the celebrating priest offers it in a different manner than the rest. St. Francis said that if he were walking down a street and were to come across an Angel and a priest, he would bow first to the priest and then to the Angel. I agree.”

This was a bit too much for him to comprehend at first. So he again watched the Mass in silence. Angelica helped him find his spot. Bells were ringing just as she handed the book back to him. It was the Holy, Holy, Holy. He had prayed this prayer many times. Only this time, he prayed with such a reverence that it felt as though he was saying this prayer amongst the Angels.

Benny again wanted to speak to Angelica, but she was by now kneeling with her hands folded, paying very close attention to what was happening at the altar. Benny, remembering how his grandmother taught him to say his prayers on his knees, knelt down and searched for the spot in the Mass. He recognized Eucharistic Prayer #1, though with some changes. Now, he found himself praying for “all who are orthodox in belief and profess the Catholic and Apostolic faith.” Why should those who have the fullness of truth be the recipients of this prayer? Isn’t the Church about spreading the light of Christ?”

“You are salt of the earth,” Angelica said. Benny didn’t know what to make of this.

After praying for the faithful, the liturgy now prayed for union with the Saints, listing off a number of them. “Why list them?” Whenever he said this prayer, he always omitted the ones who were optional. It took him some time to come to the conclusion that he didn’t know some of these saints, and some others were mere names to him. Perhaps he needed to increase his “communion with” and “veneration of” the Saints; they are friends of Christ, like he hoped to be.

The priest now put his hands over the chalice and the bell rang. Benny reasoned that this must be an important clue to what Sacrifice the priest offers at Mass. He found the prayer: “Wherefore, we beseech Thee, O Lord, graciously to receive this oblation which we Thy servants, and with us Thy whole family, offer up to Thee: dispose our days in Thy peace; command that we be saved from eternal damnation and numbered among the flock of Thine elect. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.”

In all his years as a priest, Benny never understood this prayer. “What? I thought we were the People of God! What purpose is there to ask God to be numbered among His flock: we are his flock! And again, the priest seems to be losing himself in this Sacrifice. But what is this Sacrifice?
“‘Bless, Consecrate, and Approve our oblation…’ Oblation? Doesn’t that imply a victim? Are they going to sacrifice an animal? ‘… that it may become for us the Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ.’ Jesus Christ? In oblation? What does this mean?

“Now the gospel narrative. Why is it in silence? The priest stops the narrative and bends over to say, ‘This is my body.’ This isn’t just the priest’s personal thing. It says right here in black and white that he stops and says these words with a special solemnity. Jesus’ Body? We were offering it in OBLATION? How absurd!

“The Consecration of the Wine: same thing. He says the words of institution…. Wait a minute, they made a mistake in this book: it says ‘for many.’ Of course Jesus shed His Blood for all.”
Then Benny understood. Consecrating Jesus’ Body and Blood separately meant that the priest offered Jesus in Sacrifice. Jesus’ Body and Blood were separated on Calvary, when He redeemed humanity from their sins. This act was repeated on the altar. He was a priest to bring the Redemption to men. The realization that God had given him such an honor humbled him immensely. He was scarcely able to lift his eyes when confronted with such a thought.

But then he remembered. “This can’t be true. Paul said that Jesus died once for all.”

“Pay attention,” said the waif, her eyes fixed on the altar.

Reading again, Benny said, “Vouchsafe… to accept them…” Looking up “them,” he found, “the Holy Bread of life everlasting and the Chalice of eternal salvation”. Then the text spoke of the sacrifices of Abel, Abraham, and Melchisedech.

Though he has said this prayer several times in the past, still it attracted his attention for some time. “The sacrifice of Abel. Let’s see. He offered… grapes, was it?”

Out of nowhere, Angelica said, “A spotless lamb.”

It took two seconds for Benny to realize that Angelica could read his mind. When he realized that, Angelica warned, “Pay attention!”

Then Benny remembered. Abel offered a lamb, while Cain offered grains and fruits. He remembered the jokes in the seminary about Cain offering “the fruit of the earth and the work of human hands.” The spotless lamb: the Lamb of God from the Mass: Jesus Christ?

The sacrifice of Abraham… his son Isaac. It was the father who offered the son. God looks upon the Sacrifice of His Son, which the Father offered. Benny had meditated on Abraham’s sorrow before, but was God a Father indeed? “Indeed,” he thought. “Didn’t Paul say that all paternity in Heaven and on earth was named after Him?” Although He could not sorrow as Abraham did, surely He could love as Abraham did in offering that Sacrifice. And He was here offering His love again, for a simple priest and altar server, and for a couple of strangers who wandered in here. And that love was poured out on us every time he said Mass. A tear came to Benny’s eye when he thought of that.

And again, the sacrifice of Melchisedech. Benny remembered little about him, but he did remember that he offered a sacrifice of bread and wine. At that, Benny could only stop to adore the Mystery. The Sacrifice was right in front of him in the form of Bread and Wine. Benny offered it several times a week; he could offer it every day if he wanted to. This “communal meal” as he understood it, was so much more. No wonder this integrist even went to such lengths as to genuflect before touching the host and to not separate his fingers which had touched Jesus. What treasures were kept from him all these years. With this realization, Benny wept.

He wanted so much to speak to Angelica, but she was gone. He didn’t know where she went. He didn’t see her leave or go into the church. Coming to, Benny looked all over downtown El Indigente for Angelica. He didn’t come back to the rectory until late that night, not ever finding her or even making it to the store like he set out to do that afternoon.


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