Busted at Mass

As a Protestant pastor, I have a confession to make. In fact, I've already confessed it to a Catholic priest.

For more than 15 years, I snuck into the Catholic mass, taking the elements while knowing full well that Catholic doctrine allows only Catholics to share in the family meal. A guest in someone's home should abide by the family rules, and I did not. For that, I repent.

My deeper sorrow, however, is not for what I did among Catholics, but rather, for what I did not do among my fellow Protestants—namely, experience power and joy in the sacrament. In fact, if God hadn't intervened dramatically, I might still be searching elsewhere.

At my first pastorate, I was surprised to discover that Communion was celebrated only quarterly. Our denomination was in merger talks with another denomination whose tradition includes weekly Communion. How often to offer the sacrament threatened to become a major stumbling block to uniting. The discussions, however, never seemed to reach beyond simply affirming that each congregation was free to do as it pleased. A rich opportunity for education and renewal was thereby miscast as an issue of tolerance and individual rights—and lost.

Those who defended our own congregation's quarterly Communion generally believed, as one woman put it, "If you do it more often, it's just not special anymore." To that, a fellow pastor remarked to me, "Quarterly? Would they say the same about making love?"

I encouraged the church to reconsider our policy, and devoted a month to preaching and teaching on the subject. Afterward, I was pleased when the congregation voted to increase Communion celebrations to monthly.

Dry spell

Then, beset by a crisis in my life, I felt the need for Communion more often.
I decided to attend 7 a.m. mass daily at the Catholic parish nearest to my house, and found myself substantially strengthened for each day. During that time, one of our church leaders mentioned at a Church Council meeting that he would like an opportunity to take Communion during the week. I said I'd be happy to oblige, and we began a trial 45-minute Communion worship service on Wednesday nights, which drew only five or six people.

As I entered the local Catholic church one morning for my usual mass, I discovered a funeral mass in progress. This hadn't happened in all the years before, so I decided to skip it. The next day I had an early church meeting, so I decided to attend a noon mass at another parish which I had visited before.

As I walked up the front steps, I noticed someone trying unsuccessfully to open the door. "It's locked," he said, puzzled. As several others arrived, we checked the side doors, but to no avail. One man said he'd heard they were remodeling the sanctuary. Confused, I turned and left with the others.

When I returned to my "home" mass a few days later, however, another funeral mass was in progress. As I walked back to my car, I puzzled over this recent turn of events. Being closed out of mass three times in a row struck me as more than coincidence. I wondered: Could God be trying to tell me something? I decided to forego mass for the next two weeks and see.

Two weeks later, my personal crisis had become more stressful, and I missed the uplift from mass. Then one morning as I rolled over to hit the snooze button, it occurred to me that I should try at least once more. Lord, I prayed, if for some reason you don't want me going to mass, show me today. Give me some sign. Waiting, but sensing nothing, I shrugged, dressed and drove to the Catholic church.

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