This week marks the annual nadir of Mass attendance here, according to my thirteen years of observation. The Independence Day holiday provides occasion for more travel out of the parish than it does visitors to the parish, and there are plenty of empty places in our pews. I dearly miss the people who would be in them.
The crowds thin, but nonetheless we light the fires and approach the holy altar laying claim to His mercy. We announce the Good News, make our petitions to the only One who can save us, and offer the saving sacrifice to God. The one Body of the Lord, His Blood in one chalice or several, stands forth upon our altar and unites into the single sacrifice all of us with all who worship Him in His Eucharistic deed around the world and throughout all times. This is our only Life; this is the only Lord. All who are in Him, are together. The hospital sisters in their simple structures in Uganda, the throngs amidst the high-rises of Hong Kong, the few elderly who still come to the village church in Normandy, and the international multitude with the Pope beneath Saint Peter’s dome, all are together when the behold the Sacred Host; all are one when they receive the Body of the Lord.
Our brothers and sisters of the parish who are at the beach or in the mountains, in some American or European cathedral, or with their parents in the parish in which they grew up, are not absent from us, but are with us when they with the Lord who makes His presence known. The Eucharist is the unity of Christians, and our communion with Him, is communion with them.
Remember that, when you wish someone far away were nearer to you. The one deployed in military service when he can make it to Mass on base, or on board, or even at the front line, kneels next to you when you kneel at Mass here. Your sainted grandmother who always prayed you would come back to the church but did not live to see it, stands close by the saints we invoke by name as we bring down heaven to earth with the Lamb Who Was Slain. Our eyes meet with those of the one we have not seen for years when both behold the Lamb of God.
The Holy Eucharist is the Sacrament of Unity, and every Mass in every place and time brings together all who place themselves in the presence of the one efficacious offering that is Christ’s sacrifice of the Cross. This alone can save, this alone can unite, this alone can heal all that divides one from another. The Mass is one, and in it we are made one.
Offering the saving sacrifice of Our Lord Jesus Christ on this altar, no matter how few bodies kneel around, has infinite value. Lives and souls unknown to us, unseen by our eyes, are redeemed by that sacrifice, washed clean by that poured-out blood. Griefs we have not witnessed, sadnesses we have not shared, are offered up with the work of the Man of Sorrows. Gratitude for graces not yet received or recorded in the annals of time past is perfectly expressed in the Son’s offering to the Father. Only this, alone this will rescue any life, any human life from the downward drag to death of sin. And in this church, on this altar, that work is done.
And even at the annual nadir of Mass attendance here, human experience and divine love reach their summit, and are one.