Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Cape Cod Mass: Sometimes Distractions Point to the Presence of the Holy Spirit

Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Cape Cod Mass: Sometimes Distractions Point to the Presence of the Holy Spirit

Article excerpt


"Full, conscious, and active participation" in the liturgy is what the Second Vatican Council called for. And while its sequence of three adjectives makes it easy to remember, it doesn't make it any easier to dismiss all distractions during the liturgy. We all know the feeling of trying to be attentive to the prayers and rituals during Mass, but instead getting caught on the hook of some past hurt or future problem or inane thought.

In the short fiction, "A Father's Story," by the late Andre Dubus, the father reflects on his distraction at Mass in a memorable way: "Do not think of me as a spiritual man whose every thought during those twenty-five minutes is at one with the words of the Mass. Each morning I try, each morning I fail, and know that always I will be a creature who, looking at Father Paul and the altar, and uttering prayers, will be distracted by scrambled eggs, horses, the weather, and memories and daydreams that have nothing to do with the sacrament I am about to receive. I can receive, though: Eucharist, and also, at Mass and at other times, moments and even minutes of contemplation."

Last summer I participated in a Saturday afternoon liturgy in a church in Falmouth, Massachusetts on Cape Cod. Saturday afternoons--even in winter--are not prime time for me to participate in liturgy, but that August afternoon the church was air-conditioned and the congregation was actively engaged in the celebration. So I began in an attentive frame of mind.

In the bench directly in front of me sat three generations of a family: a grandmother, two grandsons perhaps 9 and 6, their grandfather, and their mother, who held a third brother about 3 years old. As the liturgy proceeded, I couldn't help but notice how the two older brothers interacted, the older one tenderly putting his arm around the younger one and the younger one happily accepting his older brother's embrace. They were much at ease as the older brother showed affection, sometimes tousling his brother's hair. I was hooked.

During the liturgy of the word, the youngest brother-sitting on his mother's lap--found both contentment and delight in his family. His drowsy sighs were audible as he cuddled into his mother's arms. He was a perfect visual of Psalm 131, which speaks of trust: "Like a weaned child on its mother's lap, so is my soul within me. …

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