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.