A detail of Matthias Grunewald’s The Small Crucifixion. CNS photo/Samuel H. Kress Collection via National Gallery of Art

‘Stay for Me’ — the centre of our Church

  • March 28, 2024

I alternate my Sunday Mass going equally between a Traditional Latin Mass church in downtown Montreal and a boisterous French-speaking Novus Ordo parish on the West Island.

I want nothing to do with “rad tradism” or the politics of church vanity that unfortunately infest some participants in the TLM. Fortunately, it’s non-existent at St. Irenée de Lyon, which is a church of vivid solemnity and reverence where tradition is honoured as lived and living faith.

“My dear parishioners, a Catholic parish is not a country club for elite Catholics. It is a hospital for sinners,” the pastor has reminded us in a homily.

St. Joachim’s is, let’s just say, energetic gusting to improvised. There’s full respect for the liturgy, but the singing is enthusiastic to put it mildly. The priest uses a community vocabulary, just skirting the edge of Quebecois joual, that’s so generously straightforward, and often rollickingly humourous, that it nudges rather than steers his flock. Yes, everyone claps after the dismissal. It’s tradition.

I love both churches dearly. Both speak to me about the different means we have to celebrate the beauty, vitality and centrality of our catholic and apostolic Holy Mother Church.

Here at The Register, we must also report and comment on the warts as well as the beauty, the inertia as well as the vitality, the boundaries as well as the centrality of the Church. To fail to do so would fail journalism by failing the truth.

At a personal level, though, I’ve become aware in recent years of what I call a series of “Easter moments” that have moved me to see the faith very differently than I do through the eyes of a professional journalist.

One Sunday last year, for example, I could not attend either of my beloved churches. I opted for an in-between struggling suburban parish. The ambience was mid-70s rec room conversion. The choir made me want to cry. Yes, no, not in a good way. The homily, unfortunately, was unforgettable. Painfully.

I began wondering whether I might have a stroke of luck and develop a blinding headache as a pretext to leave. Was my coughing fit of two weeks ago a forerunner of COVID? Then I must arise and go forthwith. I made ready to sneak out. Then He, as He always does, entered my heart.

“Stay for Me,” He said. “They are trying their best for Me.”

Had I somehow been able to spurn Him, I could not have ignored the directive of Our Lady at Cana: “Just do what He tells you.” Oui, Maman. I sat. I stayed.

After Mass, I castigated myself for my judgmental, spiteful perfectionism. Nothing in that struggling church was what I wanted so I made ready to bail on Him! Once the initial interior recrimination subsided, I began to frame what happened as a question: How could I forget so easily why I’m at Mass in the first place? With a name like Peter, how could I fall into the trap of denial just as my Scriptural namesake did in the Passion?

The question deepened. Through no grace of my own, one Sunday at Mass I was utterly locked onto the words of the consecration and heard with stunning new clarity: “This is My body, given up for you.”

Not His theological speculations. Not His church politics. Not even His ethics. No. His body. His incarnate physicality. Given up for what? For you. For me.

Sitting, kneeling, then rising up and moving forward to receive the host, I remembered what Archbishop Christian Lépine told us on the Feast of Corpus Christi as we prepared to process through the evening streets of Montreal.

“The Church does not place the Eucharist at its centre,” he said. “The Eucharist is the centre of the Church.”

The true question, then, is not why we forget. It is this: How can we live without the “bodily centre” of our life? How could any of us, anywhere, whatever the condition of the Church, give up on the centrality of what He gave up for us?

Easter provides the eternal truth that is the answer. It is His irrevocable promise that He will stay with us through Crucifixion and Resurrection, for Life Everlasting. It has nothing to do with how angelically the choir can sing. It has everything to do with listening to Him, to doing what He says when He says: “Stay with me.”

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