I guess I could have seen it coming: It was a relatively simple request—could I pinch-hit for the regular guy, and get things set up for daily Mass this morning?
Ah, but the devil is in the details…and it’s been about 43 years since I last officially handled such duties, as an eighth-grade sacristan, for the parish where I grew up.
Which is to say, I know the gig—at least in general terms. But I also know that it’s easy to overlook some of the particulars.
Sure enough: When I got to church a little after 6:00 this morning, my stomach immediately started to churn. The sanctuary was dark—and I hadn’t thought to ask about how to turn on the lights. (It’s a lot more complicated than it sounds, at least at our parish.) With a little experimentation—and an assist from one of the other early-arrivers—I did manage to work it out.
Then it was on to more familiar duties—setting out the designated chalices, filling the wine cruet, loading the ciborium with unconsecrated hosts, grabbing the appropriate altar linens, lighting the candles at the altar and ambo.
Done and done…with time to spare. Which is about when I realized that the sound system needed to be fired up, as well—and that job, too, is vexingly complex. (The equipment stack is the size of a small refrigerator, with more buttons, knobs and dials than you’d find in the cockpit of an airplane.) But we managed to get it on, at least temporarily—my conscripted assistant and I.
With the mic crisis resolved, I breathed a sigh of relief and leaned back in the pew, waiting quietly for Mass to begin—only to have terror strike yet again. I’d forgotten the water, bowl and towel!!! Fortunately there was just enough time left to correct my error without delaying the onset of Mass.
Pheww…ready to go, at last: Ready to settle in, and have my spirit fed by the Word and by the Lord himself in the Eucharist.
Alas, I discovered—to my dismay—that an amateur sacristan is never safe from the storm. When communion time rolled around, Father shot a quizzical look my way: I’d forgotten the tabernacle key, too…a deficiency that required not one, but two, trips into the sanctuary, so that I could ask Father, where, exactly the tabernacle key was kept when not in use.
All in all, it’s safe to say this morning’s escapade was not my finest hour in service to my fellow parishioners.
Frankly, it was downright embarrassing. I knew every eye in church was on me as I scurried about in search of the key. And I got a little miffed by the injustice of it all. No good deed goes unpunished, as they say.
I was still licking my wounded pride a bit later on in the morning, when I opened Richard Rohr’s email meditation for today.
“Do not be too quick to heal all of those bad memories unless it means also feeling them deeply, which means to first learn what they have to teach you,” Rohr says. “Memory creates a readiness for salvation, an emptiness to receive love and a fullness to enjoy it. Strangely enough, it seems so much easier to remember the hurts, the failures, and the rejections. It is much more common to gather our life energy around a hurt than a joy…”
As I was reading Rohr’s words, I realized just how much of my ego I’d brought with me to Mass this morning…and how easily that ego could be wounded when my imperfections were put on public display.
The more I focused on my early-morning foibles, the more I realized what a ridiculous waste of energy it was. I know now that I can (and will) do a better job next time. And as Rohr suggests, even your bad memories can be swallowed up—and your wounded soul made whole—if you choose instead to…
“Rejoice that you yourself are remembered by God.” (Baruch 5:5)