Friday, March 21, 2008

The Man Who was Thursday

At Holy Thursday Mass last night—my second since being received into the Church—I was struck by the absurdity of it all.

I don't mean absurd as in ludicrous; I mean as in credo quia absurdum—"I believe because it is absurd," or, as Tertullian actually wrote, prorsus credibile est, quia ineptum est, "It is immediately credible because it is impossible." But absurdum, the popular take on Tertullian's phrase, is more accurate to what I felt, because it means "out of tune," and what struck me was how out of tune the Mass was with everything our fallen humanity causes us to believe about the world and our place in it.

To realize that absurdity is a beautiful feeling, one I would like to have at every Mass, but rarely do I gain the perspective I had last night. I think it came through as a result of the majesty of the liturgy and presentation during the celebration at my parish church, St. Stephen Martyr in Washington, D.C., with its five priests (two visiting); Dominican deacon; small, all-male army of altar servers, and Gregorian-chant choir.

Lately I have been struck by the angelic aspect of the role of the altar servers' role—for example, how one stands on each side of the priest or deacon, bearing a candle, as the Gospel is read, emulating the cherubim around the Holy of Holies ... for the Gospel is, in a mystical way, the Real Presence. Tonight that image was brought home in other ways as well, such as the way, prior to the Gospel, one altar server escorted each lector to and from the altar and stood beside her as she read, like a Guardian Angel.

The most affecting image for me was that of the priest, at Mass's end, holding out the ciborium as he processed up and down the aisles toward the altar of repose, while an altar server walked backwards in front of him, swinging incense to make fragrant the way of the Blessed Sacrament.

As I watched them proceed, the sense of love was overwhelming, flowing in a sort of procession, or, rather, circumincession—the love of the Father for Jesus, the love of Jesus for the Father and for me, the love of the Bride of Christ—that is, the Church, as embodied in the priest—for the Bridegroom. ... It feels strange to write about it now—already, I feel a sort of embarrassed distance from it, the way one feels when one wakes from a dream and is mystified upon realizing that the events that made such sense with dream logic are so disconnected in actuality. Yet, in that moment, everything in that procession of love did make sense. The Real Presence of Love Itself, at least, was real, even if everything around it was analogical. Praestet fides supplementum sensuum defectui.