Tuesday, November 1, 2005

A Moment Frozen in Time

We spent part of last week attending the National Catholic Youth Conference in Atlanta. One moment from all that I experienced continues to stay with me, perhaps I might say even to haunt me. While Joseph, Katie and I were walking back toward the exhibit area where Amy and Michael were, we suddenly notice a quiet and people stopping (in an environment that was much like walking through midtown Manhattan on a weekday). Then enmasse young and old dropped to their knees.

Advancing were youth holding signs "Silence and Kneel"…everyone obediently did so as cassocked men holding candles, one swinging incense advanced in front of a coped priest with humeral veil wrapped around the base of a monstrance held the Eucharistic Body of Our Lord aloft.

Those who have seen the movie "The Mission" with one of the best scenes ever filmed about the spiritual life will remember Jeremy Irons playing a priest holding the monstrance in the midst of battle all around him, himself falling and an indigenous man picking up the monstrance and continuing the procession. That is what popped into my mind as I instructed young Joseph to make the sign of the cross as Jesus passed in our midst.

I'll bet that when all is said and done, I'm not alone in this being a moment that will be remembered by all. What is more I have realized that these Catholic prayer moments are the solid foundation that most Catholics never forget--long after they have forgotten most of what they were taught.

There is a lesson here for those of us who try to pass on the faith to our children--introduce them to Christ, like disciples on the road to Emmaus let Christ the stranger teach them, open the Scriptures to them so that they might recognize him in the breaking of the Bread--that they may pick up his Presence and carry it through the streets of life where a battle wages.

Such catechesis is the lesson plan of saints--may all the saints pray that we might take up that charge!


  1. Beautiful story for All Saint's Day. Thanks, Michael. These public signs of faith are indeed important; I remember the first time I saw someone make the Sign of the Cross while passing a Catholic Church. Now I do the same.

  2. Yes! Thank you for articulating what I know in my heart and soul.

    We need - all of us, regardless of our age - something bigger than ourselves.

    On of the traditions I remember picking up when I was young on was the 'God save them' when hearing or seeing an ambulance or a fire engine - that along with blessing yourself.

    Mission - incredible movie. The scene you describe brought tears to my eyes.


  3. You're so right, Michael. Encounters with the Blessed Sacrament, in procession or exposition, have been some of the most power moments in my life. And it was Roman Catholicism's particular devotion to the Eucharistic Christ that drew me over from the Eastern Church.

  4. That's supposed to be "powerful moments." I should really put my glasses on when I do this.

  5. Michael, thanks for that story. Yes, a powerful moment. For some reason, I was reminded of the night some of us stayed up to watch the funeral of Pope John Paul, and how, automatically, we knelt at the consecration.

    Lynn: crossing oneself while passing a church is common in many cultures, I think. It certainly is in India, where I grew up.

  6. I attended a seminary in Winona, MN from 1999-2001. Every year, anywhere from 600-2,000 people would come from all across North America for Ordinations. To accomodate these people, the seminary would put up a tent outside, a short distance from the seminary chapel.

    Ordinations in Winona serves a second purpose: for traditional Catholics to get together. It may be the only time all year that dear friends get to see each other. And as such, Ordinatins is a very social event, as well.

    So what one normally sees is inside the tent, people will be at prayer, while outside the tent after the Ordination ceremony, people will be talking and catching up with old friends.

    Every year, early in the afternoon the day of Ordinations, after the priests have given their first blessing, a deacon would go to move the Blessed Sacrament from the tent to the chapel. After he has taken out the Blessed Sacrament, a seminarian in cassock and surplice and holding a candle rings a bell.

    Every year I've been to Ordinations, the same thing happens. In the middle of conversations, the people would immediately be quiet and fall on their knees without being told to. I've never even heard "Shh!" As soon as the first bell rings, the people without fail will be quiet immediately and fall on their kneees, facing the deacon holding the ciborium and maintain silence until he is firmly in the chapel. It is one of the most edifying scenes I have ever come across.

    I'm certainly encouraged by Michael's anecdote. Many of the older priests will not like it, but I'm sure many of the younger (40 and under) priests are heartened by this. Hippie Catholicism is dying off, hopefully to be replaced again by the true Catholicism it sought to "update".

  7. Reminded too of the powerful Eucharistic film done in the archdiocese of NY for vocations.

    I once saw a Eucharistic Procession out of the one Tridentine parish we have in Boston.... all I can say is WOW (and so did my teenagers)! Wish we hadn't dropped that tradition in 'regular' parishes - what a powerful witness for ALL ages.


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