Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity Chapel, located on the campus of Thomas Aquinas…
From the Chapel — March 16: Introibo ad altare Dei
“From the Chapel” is a series of short, daily reflections on life and faith in a time of uncertainty. As people across the world cope with the effects of the coronavirus — including the social isolation necessary to combat its spread — these reflections remind us of the hope that lies at the heart of the Gospel.
For many years, I served the Extraordinary Form of the Mass at 6:30 a.m. at St. Mary Oratory in Rockford, Illinois. Only once in that time — in the midst of a terrible winter storm, with 60-mile per hour winds raging outside — did the Mass consist of just myself and Father Brian A.T. Bovee, our priest.
Today, I celebrated my second private Mass. On this Monday of the Third Week of Lent, in the midst of our “social distancing” measures, Monsignor Campion returned to our chapel here at OSV to say Mass — not for my sake, but, as every Mass is, for the sake of all the world.
We lit the altar but kept the rest of the chapel dark. I read the first reading and the psalm, and Monsignor the Gospel, into a darkened and empty space. There was no homily.
The first reading was the story of Naaman the Syrian, who travels to Israel seeking a miraculous cure for his leprosy. But when the prophet Elisha tells him to do the simplest thing — “Go and wash seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will heal, and you will be clean” — Naaman stalks off in anger. “But his servants came up and reasoned with him: … if the prophet had told you to do something extraordinary, would you not have done it?”
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So Naaman does what Elisha told him to do, and “His flesh became again like the flesh of a little child.” (Might there be a timely lesson for us today in this timeless lesson?)
Although I have served the Ordinary Form of the Mass countless times since coming to OSV nearly three years ago, I found myself struggling at points today to remember the server’s responses. My mind kept returning to the Latin of the Extraordinary Form, but Monsignor graciously prompted me when my words failed.
In the midst of it all, I recalled a scene at the end of Walker Percy’s “The Thanatos Syndrome” (a title for our times). Father Smith, a priest who has suffered and survived a crisis of faith, asks Dr. Tom More, the protagonist of both “The Thanatos Syndrome” and Percy’s earlier novel “Love in the Ruins,” to serve Mass for him. More, a believer but a bad Catholic, tries to beg off, telling Father Smith that he only remembers the responses from the Traditional Latin Mass. Undeterred, Father Smith calls his bluff, and the two begin the Mass (as every Latin Mass begins) with the words of Psalm 42: Introibo ad altare Dei. Ad Deum qui laetificat juventutem meum. (“I will go into the altar of my God.” “To God who gives joy to my youth.”
“Nothing by coincidence; everything by divine providence,” Father Tony Steinacker, the pastor of Sts. Peter and Paul here in Huntington, is fond of saying. The psalm for the Mass in the Ordinary Form on Monday of the Third Week of Lent? Psalm 42.
As Naaman said when he returned, cured, to Elisha: “Now I know that there is no God in all the earth, except in Israel.”
Scott P. Richert is publisher for OSV.