Weeds: Obligation fulfilled
Aug. 15 was a Holy Day of Obligation for us Catholics. Obligations are big in our church. In Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegon, the German Catholics attend Our Lady of Perpetual Responsibility. That’s about right. Sunday Mass is required. Then we have these Holy Days to be sure we’re paying attention.
This particular Holy Day was the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It was a Thursday, and the schedule was flipped around with a Mass at noon. Because my employment is elastic, I was filling in for both scheduled lectors who had to be at jobs. I’m not used to putting on clean clothes in the middle of the day, but I did.
In the Catholic Mass, lectors do the two readings that are part of the Liturgy of the Word preceding the Gospel. I can’t remember when I first served as a lector. It goes back to high school. I enjoy it and am honored when my name comes around on the schedule.
On a typical Sunday, I am part of a team effort. There might be the priest, a deacon, the other lector, and four servers. We gather in the sacristy ahead of Mass. It’s not unlike being in the locker room preparing for that day’s game. In addition, there are an organist and the choir up in the balcony, ushers working the aisles, plus Eucharistic ministers who get in the late innings of the game. Er, I mean the Mass.
Being a Holy Day, I was expecting a full roster. When I arrived in the sacristy, it was only Father Andy and me. I was going to get additional duties and decided this would be fun. I saw there was a song list and asked about that. Fr. Andy didn’t think anyone was there to do music, so he would lead the singing. I love Fr. Andy. He is a man with many gifts. I wasn’t sure singing was one of them. But sometimes you have to man up.
I went to set the book on the lectern. There was a nice crowd there, a few hundred. Retired folks, people taking long lunch hours, plus some young people between summer jobs and school.
Then music suddenly filled the space. We did have an organist, up in the choir loft. It’s a long way, but I could see it was Sean Connolly. Sean is the wonderfully talented Music Director for our parish. We are blessed to have him. He was playing a prelude before Mass as the final worshippers made their way in.
I stepped back in the sacristy to ask Fr. Andy if that changed anything. I went ahead and did the introduction announcing the opening song. Sean picked up the Responsorial Psalm as I thought he would. Those went fine. Later, no one introduced the Offertory Song. So, Sean played it as an instrumental. I made a mental note to announce the closing song when the time came.
The first reading was from Revelations, which is always interesting. The Book of Revelation is the last book of the Bible. It has perplexed readers for centuries. It is an example of apocalyptic literature, filled with grand and soaring and strange symbolism. This day’s reading was no exception.
“A great sign appeared in the sky, a woman clothed with the sun,
with the moon under her feet,
and on her head a crown of twelve stars.
She was with child and wailed aloud in pain as she labored to give birth.
Then another sign appeared in the sky;
it was a huge red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns,
and on its heads were seven diadems.
Its tail swept away a third of the stars in the sky
and hurled them down to the earth.”
(Revelation 11:19; 12:1-6, 10)
Okay then. It goes on to describe the dragon’s intent to devour the woman’s child. But the son born to her is taken up to God, and the woman flees to the desert where God has prepared a place for her.
It is a breathtaking image. It tells us something about Mary, Jesus, and God, although theologians might have to do some heavy lifting to explain exactly what. The majesty and beauty of the words are undeniable, though.
As I finished the reading, I looked out at the faces. No one was gasping, which is really what one might do if you envisioned the words. It struck me that those of us gathered on this August day in St. Mary’s probably had lots of things on our minds: family, jobs, finances, activities.
Our lives alternate between drudgery and tasks that need to be done, and hopefully moments of connection to others and even some joy. Into this workaday world we are part of comes this reading from Revelation about a woman clothed with the sun and a dragon hurling stars to Earth. The dragon is the devil in the fiery poetry of Revelations. We can’t see the devil, and we can’t see God. But for us believers, they are real.
There is the seen world in which we maneuver every day, doing chores, going to work, eating, sleeping. But there is this great unseen world. There our Creator is. There our soul will be some day. In this unseen world is also the devil and an eternal struggle which goes on between good and evil. It goes on in our every-day here on Earth and in our souls. I’m writing here of not just Catholics, but fellow Christians, along with believers of the other religions.
That serpent sweeping away stars and hurling them down to Earth tempts us every day to be selfish and to dislike others and not think of the higher good, but only think of ourselves. That is what we will be up against as we leave the church and go to our cars. It is difficult to comprehend, but we go to church to remind us of that unseen world.
Meanwhile in the seen world, I would introduce the closing song. After communion, I sat to the side of the altar. When Father completed the final blessing, I went to the lectern with this script: “We go forth to share the love of Christ. Let us joyfully sing together…”
I got about to “We go” when Sean’s deep and rich voice filled the church, introducing the Recessional Hymn. Coming from above and around us, I thought of Bob Sheppard. He was the public address announcer for the New York Yankees who Reggie Jackson famously called the voice of God.
I stepped back from the lectern, smiling, a little embarrassed. I was hoping none of those parishioners saw me right then, which was unlikely since they were all looking toward the front of the church. Oh well, I’ve had worse.