Stranded

I’ve been stranded at the Baltimore-Washington airport for the last couple of days, due to this enormous winter blizzard. Flew out here Friday morning, and had meetings with clients all day and evening. I also took about 30-40 pounds of meat with me, as Christmas gifts for clients; it’s hard to describe how pleased folks were get a heritage turkey, or Icelandic lamb chops or leg roasts. Although we did sell meat to the public at one time, for now we’ve found that it makes more sense for us to give the meat away to friends, family, and clients as gifts; it’s something very special, very personal, and something that cannot be purchased in stores. We may eventually sell to the public again, but for now the “gift” approach seems best for us.

The plan was to fly home on Saturday morning, but 20 inches of snow begged to disagree. All three DC Metro airports were shut down pretty much all day, and I’d be surprised if more than a handful of planes got in or out of the region. There is a television monitor in the hotel lobby, showing flight arrival and departure information at BWI; every time I walked past it, every single flight was marked as “cancelled.”

I spent all of Saturday holed up in that hotel near the airport with hundreds of other stranded travelers, watching snow fall. And fall. And fall. Being the consummate introvert, I didn’t mind the opportunity to crawl into a “cave” with a detective novel and hibernate for a day. I wish I’d brought another change of clothes, and I wish I had my boots here with me, but I’m grateful that I reached my hotel late Friday night before the worst of the snow fell – and that I was able to extend my stay for an extra night. And while the food here is overpriced, and the restaurant is understaffed, everyone has remained cheerful. There seems to be a spirit of “we’re all in it together, and there’s nothing we can do to change things, so let’s make the best of this situation” with both the hotel guests and staff. For my part, I told the housekeeper that I didn’t need any service for my room (other than a few extra packets of coffee for my coffeemaker); I figured she had plenty to do already, given that much of the staff probably couldn’t have made it in to work.

The television had lots of footage of children playing joyfully in all this white stuff, and I’m sure the Yeoman Farm Children would’ve been doing the same if we lived here. They tell me we only got an inch or two back home, which is hardly enough to do anything with. I’m very grateful that Mrs Yeoman Farmer, and the YFCs, have been such good sports about my being stuck here; they’ve had to pick up the slack with caring for the animals, cooking, and mixing up formula for Yeoman Farm Baby. Southwest Airlines put me on a flight out of here this afternoon, and it’s showing “on time” status so far. Given that the sun is shining brightly, and the snow has completely stopped falling, I’m optimistic about getting home tonight.

The local TV station also had a continuous scroll of business and school closures. One thing that was interesting: the number of individual Protestant churches that were announcing the cancellation of all Sunday services. There were only a couple of individual Catholic churches that announced cancellations, and those seemed to be just for Saturday evening Masses, but the TV scroll did include an important general announcement: The Archdiocese is reminding Catholics that church law excuses them from their obligation to attend Sunday Mass if it’s unsafe to travel because of the weather.

Note, however, that most Masses in the area will not actually be cancelled. You can bet that attendance will be way down, but the priests will be there and will be offering the Holy Sacrifice. As I thought about it, I realized one obvious reason: most Catholic priests live on the same property where their church building is located. Most Protestant ministers do not. I still remember an amusing incident from the early 1990s, when a similar blizzard hit Michigan; I called a local Catholic church, which was staffed by a community of Franciscans, and an older friar answered the phone. I asked if they were still going to have Mass, and he gave a hearty laugh. Then, in a wonderful southern drawl he replied, “We sure are. You see, we’re all in here. The question is: can you get here?” I laughed with him, because the answer was such an obvious No.

But as I thought more about it, I realized that there was an even more important reason why Mass will still be offered in most places today: because, ultimately, it doesn’t really matter how many people are in attendance. Yes, it is important for us to attend Mass when we are physically able, but it isn’t necessary to have a congregation present for the Mass to “do its thing.” In Protestant services, by contrast, the focus is largely on the congregation and the fellowship of the community; if only a couple members of your congregation will be able to come, it doesn’t make much sense to have a service. But the Catholic Mass is totally different: it is a true sacrifice, and as such provides countless graces for the whole church, completely separate from the merits of the celebrant or the size of the congregation. When we cannot be physically present at Mass, we can unite ourselves spiritually with it and join in those graces.

A chapter in St Josemaria Escriva’s book, Christ is Passing By, has an excellent discussion of the Eucharist, which develops these thoughts in more depth. This particular morning, when the twenty inches of snow outside meant there was no way I would be able to attend Mass myself, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about one particular paragraph from that homily of St Josemaria (in point 89, of the chapter linked to above):

Through the communion of the saints, all Christians receive grace from every Mass that is celebrated, regardless of whether there is an attendance of thousands of persons, or whether it is only a boy with his mind on other things who is there to serve. In either case, heaven and earth join with the angels of the Lord to sing: Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus…

If you are among those who can’t physically attend Mass today, I hope these considerations from St Josemaria are as spiritually fruitful as they have been for me. As a nun from the parish I grew up in used to say, on days when she had to lead a communion service because there was no priest available to celebrate Mass, “put yourself on a patten,” spiritually uniting yourself to a Mass that is being celebrated right now, somewhere else in the world.

7 thoughts on “Stranded

  1. Many prayers for your safe travels, YF! Please tell Mrs YF and the YFCs (to incl the YFB, of course!), that we are praying for their safety in your absence (prayers and God know no time limits, to my mind 🙂 ).

    I read your post to DH this evening. Wonderfully put. No snow here in the home of the Oklas, but we're supposed to have some colder weather this next week. LOL. 🙂

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  2. Thanks for the prayers – I did make it home Sunday night. Longest airport line I've ever seen, but at least it moved quickly and I did get on a flight. Hopefully will never again have to fly around Christmas time.

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  3. Glad you made it home safely. Travel is always a mixed bag, especially when you add in the masses of people in such a 'hub', not to mention, the weather and time of year, on top of that. Ugh…

    In case you don't post between now and Christmas, have a very merry, and blessed Christmas, and give the YFCs/YFB big hugs from all of us out here in “the internet world”… 😀

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  4. I read and enjoy your blog often – thank you. Most of the time your posts are clear, but this post raised several questions requiring elucidation, especially to your non-Catholic readers. I am interested in hearing your responses.

    First, are you aware of a priest who has actually held a Mass with no one present? I've been to many non-Catholic services where the congregation count was quite small in inclimate weather, but if the service was not cancelled in advance, it was not cancelled at all. If people can receive “graces from every celebrated Mass”, isn't that motivation to celebrate as many Masses as possible, even to the point of a priest's physical exhaustion? I can also see people using this as an excuse not to attend Mass since they will receive these graces regardless, despite being told to attend from the church authorities.

    When you say the Mass is a “true sacrifice”, what is actually being sacrificed? Do you mean it's a rememberance of Christ's ultimate sacrifice? From your post, it sounds as though the sacrifice is not from the people, as the number of attendees is immaterial.

    How does one “spiritually unite” with a Mass? Is it a simple, few-minute rememberance of past Masses attended? Or is it going through the entire Mass in one's mind? Or is it prayer?

    I am glad you made it home safely.

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  5. Anon –

    I appreciate your comment, and the opportunity to add a bit to the thoughts in my original post.

    I have on several occasions been the only congregant present at Mass. This has always been on a weekday. On almost every one of those occasions, the priest was clearly going to go ahead and celebrate Mass even if I hadn't been there (on the other occasions, the priest was a dear friend offering a private Mass to fit in my work schedule). Our local parish is very small, and there are only two of us who come on weekdays with any regularity. The priest keeps his schedule regardless of whether we join him.

    I honestly have no idea what any given Protestant minister would do if no one showed up at his service; my original observation was simply that many more local Protestant churches than Catholic churches seemed to be cancelling services that Sunday.

    I certainly don't intend to minimize the importance of people's attendance. As I tried to say in the original post, it's still very important for the congregation to attend when we're physically able. And being physically present is of course the only way we receive Holy Communion. But when we are not able to do so, we can still unite ourselves spiritually with the Mass and obtain many graces from it.

    No, it's not the same; being in the same room with the person you love is better than settling for a telephone conversation. But MYF sure appreciated my phone calls when I was stuck in Baltimore and trying to unite myself with the family in the best way available to me. That said, she would likely (rightfully) grow to doubt my commitment if I deliberately kept myself away from the family on a regular basis and simply “phoned it in.”

    The Mass is a real sacrifice — but we don't believe Christ is sacrificed over and over. He did that once, for all, on Calvary. The Mass re-presents, or “makes present” in our time, that one sacrifice of Christ. As the CCC (1330) puts it: “The Holy Sacrifice, because it makes present the one sacrifice of Christ the Savior and includes the Church's offering, the terms holy sacrifice of the Mass, 'sacrifice of praise,' spiritual sacrifice, pure and holy sacrifice are also used, since it completes and surpasses all the sacrifices of the Old Covenant.” I'd just add that all those things remain true regardless of the size of any given congregation; it's still the same one sacrifice of Christ, made present across time and space. Which is why our local pastor says Mass on weekdays regardless of whether I or the other gentleman are able to join him.

    Finally, I'd mention that Canon Law limits the number of Masses a priest can celebrate in any given day, for good reason: there are countless graces obtained from any one Mass, but a priest has other important duties.

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  6. Thank you for your response. This (the Mass as a sacrifice) is a different perspective from what I am accustomed to in one of the Protestant traditions. I've asked a few friends from different Protestant backgrounds, and none of them, including myself, called the Mass analogue of a church service itself a sacrifice. Regarding the attending of a Mass, while it's true that both Catholics and non-Catholics make sacrifices of their time (to attend or serve), their praise (worship given to the triune God), and their resources (offerings and means to get to a Mass), I would agree that there is a fundamental difference on how Masses and church services are viewed.

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