Posted May 17, 2011 in Word Made Flesh:
A TV Mass With Peggy

by Fr. Pat McNulty.

What would you do?

I’m always a little nervous when I hear the phrase, "what would you do," connected in any way to the Eucharist, to this Divine Mystery, because so much has already been done by some of us do-ers over the last forty five years which should never ever have been done, period.

So it makes me wonder if some of our contemporary liturgical discussions are not cut from that same theologically thin cloth.

Incidentally, that’s why the Eucharistic language of the last two popes is so important at this particular time: when they speak about the Eucharist, it is obvious they are speaking of something very Godly, something very holy, something very mysterious, about which we have to pray before we do anything else.

But any one of us can "see" what they are saying if we listen from our hearts. You don’t have to be a pope or a saint, you know. I’m not! Or haven’t you noticed? (Ahhh, the "not being a pope" part, I mean!)

It’s true, much does need to be done, but not, I think, in the way we often imagine that word.

Knowing you, when you say things like that, you already have something specific in mind and are just waiting for me to ask. So…

Yes, it happened a few months ago in September when I visited a dear friend in a nursing home. I have known Peggy for years. I helped her "into the Church" before MS helped her into a wheelchair and then to bed for the rest of her life. After that, she buried both her parents and then her only child, Anna.

So, when I was in Ft. Wayne in September to celebrate my fiftieth anniversary as priest, Peggy and I spent a whole hour all alone together. I had no idea it would be our last.


Yes, she died two months later, in November, but not before the Spirit used her once again to impress ever more deeply upon my heart a dimension of the Eucharistic Mystery which is often at the bottom of our long list of "what should we do," whereas it should be at the top.

After Peggy and I got caught up—we hadn’t seen each other for about five years, though we had written and talked by phone—I said to her, "What would you like to do together today, Miss Peggy?" (That was my nickname for her.)

Her MS was so advanced that a stranger might not have been able to understrand what she said:

"Iiiii wannn tooo gooo tooo Massss!"

"You’ve already gone to Mass today, Sweetheart," I answered.

She was taken to Mass every day in this Catholic facility, and I knew she had already been that day.

"Weeee caaan gooo ahgaan ohnn TeeeVeee."

"Mass on TV? Margaret Peggy Yoder, shame on you! You know me better than to ask me to do that!" With a smile all her own she added,

"Weeelll youuuu ahssked mee whaaat Iiiii wannnted too doooo an Iiiii tooold you!"

I couldn’t resist that smile. I leaned over, kissed her on the cheek, and then whispered in her ear, "Yes, my dear, true love hath no boundaries."

We both laughed and I turned on the TV. Sure enough, there it was, my least favorite of all possible liturgical settings for the Eucharist: Mass on TV! Yuk!

"Iiii dooo thisss ah lottt."

What? Mass on TV?

"Itssss batter thann theee Oooopra Winnnfree Shooow," she said and chuckled at her own depths.

Well, I wish I had a video of those last precious moments together. I would show it to everyone who even mentions "doing something about the Mass" in their parish.

No, I am not proposing Mass on TV as an answer to anything, even though it is a great blessing for certain people. Rather, I’m talking about being with someone during a presentation of the Mass on TV.

I’m talking about having to lift someone’s arm and trace the Sign of the Cross on her body for her because she can’t do it herself, and then seeing her eyes sparkle from the sheer joy of that simple Sign, which many of us don’t give a second thought to when we begin Mass with it.

I’m talking about the heroic concentration it takes for Peggy to say just one, "Aaaa mannnnn." I’m talking about someone who dare not even weep for joy during her Communion with her Lord lest her tears obstruct her capacity to breathe and she begins to choke.

I’m talking about someone with a dreadful illness which can leave you with the attention span of a flash of lightening, and yet, if that person shares what she sees and hears in those Eucharistic flashes, which she often did with me over the years, the words rival those of popes and other saints.

I’m talking about someone who couldn’t even hum during Mass, let alone sing, someone who couldn’t clearly speak a word at all, whether in the vernacular or in Latin. I’m talking about someone who could do nothing at all but be there right down to her very breathing.

After such a profound experience I didn’t need to go out and renew my license in Applied Liturgy or Socio-Pastoral Theology to know what comes next.

Long before we do anything, long before we discuss how to say, sing, or sign the Mass (for the hearing-impaired), before discussing the rites or wrongs, what language to use, what about readers and extraordinary ministers for Communion, when to make the announcements, how to welcome people from the ambo at the beginning, blah, blah, blah, long before all of that, we must talk to each other about praying the Mass.

Yes, but that can be a bit of a simplistic answer to some very difficult and honest pastoral questions as well—perhaps even part of the problem.

Well, like Peggy said to me, "Youuuu ahssked mee an Iiiii tooold you!"

True, at some level we have to labor heroically to reclaim every liturgical measure of heavenly song, sight and sound, the "smells and bells" as some like to say, but until we worship together in Eucharist, until we pray the Mass, nothing we do will heal the deep wounds from within our recent pastoral, liturgical history.

I find it delightfully eccentric of the Holy Spirit to pick simple, hidden, little people like Peggy Yoder to remind sophisticated folk like myself that the secret is to pray the Mass.

But how do you know when you are praying the Mass?

Begin at the beginning: are you praying the Sign of the Cross or just making it.

How do you know? Well, some time when you are alone, make the Sign of the Cross in front of a large mirror and ask yourself, "Does that look like I really believe what I just did?"

If it doesn’t, do it slowly and prayerfully over and over every day until what you do is what you believe, until the Sign is a prayer.

When the first thing you do at Mass—the Sign of the Cross—is truly a prayer, gradually the rest of the Mass can unfold prayer-fully as well: the Gloria, the Holy, Holy, Holy, the Lamb of God, the Amen at Holy Communion, the dismissal in Peace. Then these mere words and signs can suddenly become prayer.

Then one day you will know that you have begun to pray the Mass. Then you are ready to talk about genuine liturgical renewal.

P.S. Thanks, Peggy. Tell your mom your dad and lovely Anna that Fr. Pat says, "Hello."

"Didnnn’t Iiiii telll youuu it wasss battter thann the Oooopra Winnnfree Shooow Faatheer Pat!" (Smile.)



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