Recently, while visiting Older Daughter at DePaul University, I had the opportunity to attend Mass at St. Vincent Depaul Parish, on the campus of DePaul University. This experience might also be known as "Protestant Neophyte Visits The Other Side of the Reformation".
I arrived about 15 minutes early, and already found the sanctuary of St. Vincent to be nearly full. It turned out to be a standing room only Mass. The church holds, by my rough estimate, about 2,000 souls. In attendance were students, parents, and alumni. This was a wonderful experience, full of the sacred rights of the church, and for me, full of much thanksgiving for a daughter well off at college in Chicago at DePaul.
The primary feeling I still have of my morning hour spent in the Parish of St. Vincent is that of the profound mystery of the church. The mystery of trying to understand this life I lead. The mystery of how God is involved in the life of my daughter - this girl I love more than I can speak of. For some reason, my attendance at this Mass was very emotional. For me, not unlike laying on the deck of the dock in Northern Canada this summer, gazing up at the Milky Way above. All, a mystery.
At the beginning of the mass, various elements important in the service are processed into the church. A large golden cross, carried high, by a DePaul coed student, the elements of communion, carried by priests. Candles and incense. A long train of laypersons, altar boys, and priests. Like the procession of Followers, down through the ages.
They line up, and process inside the sanctuary. During this procession, a gathering song is sung; soft drums, and the University choir, something faintly African sounding, it stirs the heart deep within. In the very front of this procession is a book. A large red leather book, held at arm's length, high overhead. Its a heavy book, the kind you find only in a really old and seldom visited library. It looks like something that does not get opened much. Thick and cumbersome, weighted with the burden of time.
But there it is, high in the air, at the front of this line of faith. It takes me half a minute to get it. What book is tha....wait. Oh! The Scripture. They have it at the front of the line! They are holding it up.
That Bible, held high. I have not been able to wrest that image from my mind ever since. And when I think on it more than a minute, it sort of catches my breath. That book, those people, this world.
All of us, in a way, standing in a line. Its been that way for centuries. And at the front of that line, even though we don't pay it much mind in the mess of everyday, there is a book. And if you look carefully, over the heads of those in front of you, its still being held high.
High over our pain, high over our joy, high over history. That book.
The community gathered together. The Book held high. Once again, the mystery of the Church gathered together is made manifest.