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All the way to Mass is Mass

Brian Doyle |  23 November 2016


Twice a week my lovely bride ariseth early, long before I do, and she and the house wolf walk down the hill to Mass.

Ash groveAll the way to Mass is Mass, says my wife mysteriously, but I know what she means — walking along the wooded shore of the lake, through the halls of ash and maple trees, past the yearning sentinels of the cedars and firs; under the osprey nest on the third-base line of the baseball field; past the blackberry bushes and the burbling kindergarten and the redolent bakery and the cheerful bank tellers who wave, and past the police station where sometimes one of the officers kneels down to scratch the wolf's ears, and finally to the church named for a mysterious gracious Jewish woman — is such a walk not a celebration of miracle, a witnessing of grace, a reminder that the quotidian is deeply holy in every detail did we only attend closely enough to see His mark?

And when they arrive at the church on the hill, the church where my wife and I were married many years ago, she and the house wolf slip up the back stairs, and she affixes him to the railing at the top of the stairs, next to the door now propped open with a brick because he ate the rubber doorstop last year, and from this position he can hear the Mass but not be seen, because in my wife's experience the house wolf is a magnet for kids and dog people who admire his wolfish carriage and deer-ears, and she does not want anything to distract from the Massness of the Mass, because the Mass is a quiet miracle available all day every day everywhere in the world, except for some places where it is forbidden by law, and people who gather for Mass can be tortured and imprisoned for believing that the Mass and the faith behind it are bigger and truer and wilder than any state or nation or dictator for life could ever be.

Tortured and imprisoned and murdered. We forget that people are tortured and imprisoned and murdered for going to Mass, that priests are tortured and imprisoned and murdered for celebrating Mass, that priests have been shot dead during Mass for saying Mass. There was only one Oscar Romero but there are many Oscar Romeros. Oscar Romero is dead but he is alive in inexplicable ways. Isn't that exactly what the Mass is about?

I have often asked the house wolf about Mass when he comes home and sprawls in the kitchen, and while he does not go into detail, being a shy and reserved being, I often wonder what his extraordinary senses tell him of the mystery into which the love of his life disappears for 40 minutes at a time twice a week. The bells, the songs, the occasional thrill of incense; the shuffle of feet toward the altar, the creak of kneelers, the chorus of prayers; the tidal rise and fall of call and response, the burst of conversations after the Mass is ended and the congregation is going in peace.

Does he feel the mysterious electricity of the Mass? Does he enjoy the pace and rhythm and cadence of it from his hidden nook? Does he feel something like I do during Mass, when I savour the Host on my tongue and ponder the miracle of Christ in us, when finally the love of his life emerges from the Mass to release him from the railing? Is her wondrous arrival back in his life a sort of quiet miracle every time it happens? Isn't that exactly what the Mass is about?

And home they go, past the drifting herons and the arrowing cormorants, past the old movie theatre made of wood and dreams, past the pubs and coffee shops, back up our hill under the oak and chestnut trees, into the kitchen where I have made coffee and chatted quietly with the Madonna about many things; and the house wolf sprawls and lolls and grins his lopsided grin, and I ask him about Mass, and he does not say anything, because some things, many things, are bigger than words, deeper than words, beyond the reach of words; and the Mass is one of these.


Brian Doyle headshotBrian Doyle is the editor of Portland Magazine at the University of Portland, a longtime contributor to Eureka Street, and the author of the essay collection Grace Notes.

Our thoughts and prayers are with Brian and his family this week as Brian undergoes surgery for a cancerous brain tumour. If you would like to support Brian and his family during this difficult time, please consider donating to the support campaign on GoFundMe.



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Submitted comments

I love the house wolf! I am not initiated into these grand mysteries (I believe I wade in similar waters from the same spring), but the joy and awe you convey ring out, with love and goodwill. Thank you for this warm insight into your world.

Barry G 24 November 2016

Always wise and wonderful words, Brian, thanks.

Pam 25 November 2016

Yes Brian, "many things are bigger than words, deeper than words, beyond the reach of words." With tears for the battle you are undertaking, but enriched and strengthened by the many reflections you have nourished us with over the years, I too walk to Mass this morning to pray for "loving arms "to enfold you on this your special journey.

Celia 25 November 2016

A great man of loving faith.

Peter Goers 25 November 2016

A wonderfully poetic appreciation of the sacrament, the outward sign of God amongst us, both in the miracle of the Mass and the miracle of His beautiful creation in which we poor mortals live. How sad in this day and age that we human beings pollute and abandon both.

john frawley 25 November 2016

Thinking of you, Brian, at this difficult time, and wishing you a complete and speedy recovery. Thank you for your luminous words and works. May the blessings of Christmas be with you and your family.

Jena Woodhouse 25 November 2016

Our dog, Blue, has been coming to Mass with us for years now. Ever since the Sacristan managed to splash Blue with the holy vessels' washing up water, Blue's been considered a Catholic Dog (I think the word of baptism used was something like: Gotcha). He likes to come each Sunday to chase the Catholic rabbits that live under the scruffy hakea bush behind our little bush church. The red-brick building with its stained glass windows, stands in the 'middle of nowhere' - miles from town. There's a lovely story why it's built way out there and not in the town. The priest in charge at the time (90 years ago), decided he'd have a money vote on where the new church should be built. The farmers out that way won! We have to drive there, but I'll note this Sunday that Mass starts when I climb into the car - thanks to you and your good wife!

glen avard 25 November 2016

Thank you Brian for such beautiful writing. It refreshes my spirit!

Cathy Cleary 25 November 2016

What you said - yes! And what John Frawley said - yes! Love to you, your family, your house wolf and your eucharistic community.

Joan Seymour 25 November 2016

“walking along the wooded shore of the lake, through the halls of ash and maple trees, past the yearning sentinels of the cedars and firs; under the osprey nest on the third-base line of the baseball field; past the blackberry bushes and the burbling kindergarten”; “And home they go, past the drifting herons and the arrowing cormorants, past the old movie theatre made of wood and dreams, past the pubs and coffee shops, back up our hill under the oak and chestnut trees,….” Another Mass day, another two caminos.

Roy Chen Yee 26 November 2016

I will think about this piece as I walk to Mass tomorrow and feel a little envy at not having such a beautiful walk - but there are the roses bursting to cover every rose bush between my house and the church and the people waiting for the tram and those who greet me when I get there. The Mass draws us all together if we open our minds.

Margaret McDonald 28 November 2016

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