It was a few minutes before the ten o’clock mass, and still no sign of the celebrant. He was a fill-in from a local Catholic college, someone we had met before and really liked, so we were looking forward to our time together in worship. But as the minutes ticked past ten, there was a meeting of the minds in the back of the church. Deacon Leo, the lectors, some of the ushers, a few late-comers, and my husband and I, the music ministers, were trying to figure out what to do. One of the altar servers was visibly nervous and asked how on earth we could do this without a priest. After a phone call with one of the parish priests, it was decided that we would move forward with a Word and Communion service, which is similar to mass, but with already-consecrated hosts. As they buttoned up details in the back, we sang a song with the people, and as they heard the first chords, Deacon Leo and the lectors scrambled to start the procession. It was a little chaotic, and it was unexpected, and the whole thing filled me with a hope I’ve been missing for some time, because the Spirit of God was moving, and God’s people came through.
Once on the altar, Deacon Leo explained what was about to happen, declared clearly that it was not a mass, and gave people the option to leave for a mass at another church if they would like to. Not a soul moved. One good-humored parishioner called out, “move to proceed” and another answered “seconded”, and the people laughed. Deacon Leo took a deep breath, and so did we, and we started the service. “Let us pray,” he said, and we did.
What happened next was not dissimilar to what happens every week. The lectors read the readings, and we led the songs. Yet there was something different in the feeling in the room, something louder, clearer, and more united in the prayerful responses of the people, in their words and their singing. It was palpable. One friend said afterwards that it felt like everyone had a stake in it, and it’s hard for me to say it any better than that.
I’ve gushed over and over about my church community. I’ve said they’re some of the best people I know, and they are. I’ve said everyone should get a turn to sit where I’m sitting as the church’s cantor, to watch the prayerful faces of these good, holy, and tested people, to see the living God active in them. It’s all true, and no surprise that these good people would feel the responsibility of the day and step up to it this morning. Deacon Leo gave a thoughtful, helpful, impromptu homily and a Eucharistic minister joined him to distribute the consecrated hosts. The People of God cooperated with the Spirit of God, and behold, it was good.
As our church struggles with questions of what to do in the face of scandal and sin, many are saying that the place of the laity needs to be elevated, that their voice needs to be heard in terms of oversight and accountability. I couldn’t agree more. And I’ll add, their prayerful, tested, and humble lives are a model we can follow as we work our way from darkness to light. Working together, cooperating with the Spirit and in conjunction with good priests and bishops, they are the future of our church. For the first time in a long time, I feel the hope of it.