In Your Midst
The Mass in Ordinary Time
July 2005

Dear friends,

    Ordinary Time seems a strange way to speak of the longest stretch of the Church’s year. It’s a fairly new way, too. Those of you with long Catholic memories recall Sundays after Epiphany and Sundays after Pentecost. They’ve gone the way of parish bingo. Now it’s Ordinary Time, the fairly flat plain that follows the valleys of Advent and Lent and the soaring peaks of Easter and Pentecost.

    Ordinary Time stands for the place where most of us live our lives—not high in the mountains or low in the valleys, but on the level land: going to work each day, raising families, paying the bills, searching for meaning. Ordinary Time, as a contemporary spiritual writer has observed, is “the space God gives us to make a difference—the space between the past and the future, between Pentecost and Jesus’ Second Coming.”

    We are in the middle of the Year of the Eucharist—proclaimed so by our late Holy Father, Pope John Paul II. There’s nothing ordinary about that! But the idea of approaching a few of our parishioners and asking them to write about what the Mass means to them was a little out of the ordinary, and as you read what they’ve written you will see that each of them has done an extraordinary job!

    You may remember the pastoral letter I wrote last fall which I called Keeping Holy the Lord’s Day. In it, I tried to help people understand the importance of coming together to celebrate Mass each Sunday. Sunday Mass is our lifeline as Catholics. We aren’t really living without it. Now, I wish I could claim that my letter doubled Sunday Mass attendance. I can’t. I can’t even claim that it increased Mass attendance by one percentage point. But “hope springs eternal” and “Rome wasn’t built in a day….”

    I am prayerfully hopeful that the thoughts of your fellow parishioners, so beautifully shared in these reflections, will speak to you in ways that my letter couldn’t. Most of all, I pray that the coming Year of Renewal—part two of our three-year Cathedral Centennial observance—will result in a renewed commitment on the part of all of us to Keeping Holy the Lord’s Day!

Father Michael G. Ryan

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We invited parishioners of all ages to comment on Mass in Ordinary Time and what keeps them coming Sunday after Sunday.  Post your own reflections here.

I am ten years old, and I attend Mass at St. James Cathedral. There are many reasons I like attending Mass. I like going to Mass because I confess my sins and receive communion. When I have a chance, I pray by the tabernacle. I also enjoy altar serving. My favorite job is thurifer. I enjoy doing all these things, but most importantly, receiving communion and praying.

Sam Puloka is a student at St. George School and a dedicated altar server.

* * * * * * *

    The following is a conversation that frequently takes place in my life:

    Friend: “Hey! A bunch of us are (going to the movies, heading to the art museum, hanging out at ______’s house, etc) and we were wondering if you wanted to come?”

    Me: “Definitely! When are you guys planning to get together?”

    Friend: “We were thinking Sunday morning or afternoonish. Is that cool?”

    Me: “Sunday? Actually, I’ve got plans that day, sorry.”

    Friend: “What are you doing?”

    Me: “I’m…going to church.”

    Admittedly, Sunday Mass is usually no more than an hour and fifteen minutes, and the likelihood of me being able to meet up with my friends afterwards is extraordinarily high. But Sunday Mass at St. James Cathedral has become more to me than simply an item to check off of my “Catholic to-do list.” Rather, the liturgy underscores the importance of my faith in my life and guides me to embrace the beauty of my beliefs.

    There are aspects of a specifically St. James liturgy that could be called “constants,” and as a traditionalist I find comfort in knowing that some things will never change. For instance, Father Ryan’s homily is always good. Always. And the music of each Cathedral ensemble is beyond description and comparison. As a parish regular, being able to anticipate the evolution of the Mass allows me to deepen my spiritual connection with God, much in the same way as praying the rosary.

    But if the liturgy follows an unchanging format, how is Sunday Mass refreshing? The answer to this question lies in the “surprises” of the Mass, the times when God makes His presence known, and hopefully we are paying attention. When the light bounces playfully off the oculus in every direction, when children walk forward to receive the Eucharist, or when Biebl’s “Ave Maria” moves the parish to tears— God is there. I find that a “ritual Sunday activity” becomes engaging if I open my heart to absorb these striking (and often unnoticed) parts of the Mass.

    The liturgy is my greatest reminder to keep God at the center of my life and to be Christ-like in a world that so often rejects His loving message. Attending Mass at St. James enables me to make Sunday both an “all day” and an “every day” affair, to continually live the Gospel of Christ. And this is something I do not want to miss.

Jessica Ly reads at Mass, sings in Jubilate!, and is active in Volunteer Chore Ministry. A 2005 Holy Names grad, she is headed off to Georgetown this fall.

* * * * * * *

    There are many reasons why I prefer Ordinary Time in the church calendar to other more prominent occasions. Don’t get me wrong, no one loves Lent more than I do. I gladly put on my hair shirt; I relish the focused, transcendent beauty and tranquility experienced in the season of fasting, prayer, almsgiving, and penance. Advent, of course, is another favorite, yet the pace of the material world sometimes leaves me (and many others) breathless, gasping for moments of peace, reflection and hopeful expectation in between trips to Nordstrom and Christmas parties.

    By the time summer arrives at St. James, its quiet steadiness settles upon me like a soothing balm, and maybe in some ways, an elixir. I love how we feel so together as a community. But I would be lying if I didn’t admit that, sometimes, amidst the grand, majestic and emotionally charged liturgical celebrations of the calendar year, I find myself wanting to be back here, a typical July summer Sunday, when together we rise and greet each other, a thousand faces I might not know by name but, more and more, I’m starting to recognize.

    I think I like the obscurity of the time between the big moments, much as I love and long for the glimpses we see of God in our ordinary lives, when things are quiet and seemingly unspectacular.

    For an instant “ordinary time” experience any time of the year, I have discovered weekday Mass. There is something even more stripped down about it, and that might be the reason why I have grown to love it so much, and crave it, like a God stalker needing his fix.

    It’s the perfect, and only, antidote to the often dissipating effects of modern life. I know when I need to be a part of that experience, to remember who I am, who I’m called to be, when it is so easy to forget in the nonsensical swirl that surrounds us. I put it on my calendar as a ‘Meeting with the boss’ and hightail it across town traffic to St. James.

    Ultimately, if it weren’t for the Centurion’s prayer I would not be able to creep up the line toward receiving the Eucharist. Many times, as I inch my way toward Father Ryan, I repeat those words to myself. “Lord I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed.” It is exactly this moment of healing when I know that I couldn’t do anything at all—anything worthwhile, that is—without remembering and participating in that beautiful offering of love and friendship that Jesus gives us. He invites us, smiling, arms outstretched, beckoning us to join him at the table.

Scout Colmant is a member of the Young Adults Team and a Winter Shelter volunteer.

* * * * * * *

    I try to arrive at St. James early enough on Sunday morning to watch my fellow parishioners coming together quietly in the nave. It’s a favorite time of mine—especially during Ordinary Time when there’s less preparation bustle to distract me.

    My purpose is to feel my desire for God deeply and to wait. As I sit, people arrive around me bringing their own desires, sometimes from far-reaching places. We settle into our usual seats and sit and wait together.

    We’re soon asked to rise and the music starts and the procession begins. I compromise my attention between following the words in the hymnal as I sing, and watching my friends come down the center aisle in procession.

    There’s Ward carrying the cross. What a remarkable man with a remarkable faith. He’s such an example to me. There’s another beloved friend who faces such trials with nobility and grace. I watch as our altar servers and Eucharistic ministers of all ages and from many cultures sing the entrance hymn, reverence the altar in twos and file to their seats.

    I’m home again, I tell myself, every Sunday morning.

    I love my parish and my fellow parishioners. Yes, we have a remarkable pastor; we have a parish staff and music program most certainly among the best in the world. But I am constantly in awe of the people who process before me on Sunday morning into the sanctuary, and of the people I sit with—and pray with—in the pews.

    I’m troubled by the world’s constant numbing affects. I’m troubled by the Vatican’s seemingly selective blindness. But when I come to St. James on Sunday and see my friends solemnly following the cross toward the Lord’s table, leading me into God’s holy hour, I follow—and will always follow.
That short path we travel every Sunday morning is most surely the most beloved leg of our journey together. And it’s my heart’s wish to share that path with my friends every Sunday, especially the Sundays of this time of the year when the journey is ordinary and yet remarkable.

Jackie O’Ryan is a Cathedral reader and a member of the Pastoral Vision Committee.

* * * * * * *

    Why we go to Mass in Ordinary Time? Because we like it. We like walking from the parking lot. Oh, we’re going to church together, we always say. People who have been doing it every Sunday since infancy may not get this, but it still gives us a kick. Then, too, we work at home, so we have nothing to mark the passage of time except Sundays and church, and that’s important, stepping out of the world into God’s time for a few hours. It’s sustaining.

    An odd word, ordinary, because clearly Eucharist is the least ‘ordinary’ thing there is… Eucharist provides many Sunday (and daily) St. James worshippers with the spiritual food that nourishes them as they go about their work in the world. For one hour we can experience in our hearts, at the extraordinary Ordinary Time Eucharist, what heaven on earth might be. In Eucharist we choose to enter sacred space; we recall the ways we have not lived up to the values of our Catholic faith during the day or week and are forgiven; because we are forgiven we sing a Gloria in gratitude that we now have a new beginning; we look at each other and we are once again as full of love as we were thirty years ago; more full; we hear the word of God proclaimed and interpreted, and quite often we look at each other because it just so happens to illuminate just the thorn that worried us during the week. We become sanctified, we eat the bread of heaven, and participate in the ordinary miracle, which is, peculiarly, both awesome and plain—a definition of the holy.

    We like to watch the faces of our brothers and sisters taking communion too. We think of Hopkins’ line, “For Christ plays in ten thousand places, lovely in limbs and lovely in eyes not His.” Even though we both come from far away we feel like it’s home. Afterwards, replacing the uncomfortable masks that we all wear in the world, we think, yes, that was Real.

Elizabeth Winder, an artist, & Michael Gruber, a writer, volunteer with the RCIA program as sponsors. Michael is also active in the Cathedral’s marriage preparation program.

Other articles in the July 2005 issue:

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