Mass story


EucharistThe lovely chapel where noon Mass is usually held at my university is in dry dock, having its keel repaired and generally being buffed and honed.

So the noon Mass, not usually peripatetic, wandered into a classroom for a while, and then into a tiny dormitory chapel, where it has been celebrated for a few weeks, for those of us who can find it, up the old stairs, past the soda and candy machines, and down the hall to the right, behind the door with the crucifix.

There were 14 of us in toto yesterday, including a guide dog, who looked rapt at the whole thing, and who never took his eyes off the celebrant, an immense sapling of a man who looks exactly like a young Abraham Lincoln, without the hipster beard.

Also there was a small child, perhaps age two, with a terrifying neck brace; she too was wonderfully attentive, never taking her eyes off the miracle in the middle, which was a refreshing lesson for me, who has far too often taken his eyes off the miracles.

In a room this small there is no sitting in the back, there not being any remote regions, so we all sat essentially in a circle, and young Abe cheerfully noted in his homily that this sort of small gathering, with bread and wine and excellent stories and two miracles, surely harked back to the original meeting of the ancestral clan, which was also on an upper floor, and also featured a sinewy celebrant and 12 companions, although in our case we were luckier in that we were graced by a child, the greatest of miracles, and we were honored also by a representative from another species.

Although there may well have been dogs at the Last Supper, said Abe, considering the various times in the scriptures that dogs are mentioned as scooping up bread crumbs falling from tables.

One great thing about Mass being celebrated in a crowded college dormitory is that you can hear the seething life of the hall thrumming overhead and burbling faintly through the doors and windows; not until yesterday had I enjoyed a Mass during which I heard reggae music, and the samba of washing machines, and an argument about the Satanic nature of the Los Angeles Lakers, and what sounded like a skateboard being ridden down a staircase at high speed.

All these sounds were gentle, and did not obtrude on the music of the Mass, but somehow having the murmured soundtrack of youth in the background as we celebrated the miracles deepened the experience, added a little more of the salt and song of life to an event too often ossified as mere ritual, and what could be more beautifully human and holy than sitting over food and telling stories and insisting on miracles, in the company of a child and a dog?

At the Eucharist, when his master stood up to join the line, the guide dog stood up as well, and they both sat down simultaneously when the man returned to his pew to meditate. I think the man teaches philosophy here but I am not sure. The dog teaches grace and patience and love, perhaps.

Slipping into the rear of the chapel just before the Eucharist was a campus policeman who tucked the tools of his trade into a corner of a pew before he too went up for Communion; Abe, noticing him as the end of the Communion line approached, broke the last host in two, and gave the first half to the mother of the girl with the neck brace, and the second half to the campus public safety officer.

Several people stayed after Mass, and the mother of the girl with the neck brace asked Abe if he would ask the blessing of the Lord on her daughter, who had survived one surgery on her spine but faced another on Thursday, and Abe said sure, and cupped his enormous hands over the girl's head, as round as a small pumpkin, and did so.

The girl stared at him with the most beautiful frightened green eyes I have ever seen.

I noticed she only had one shoe on, her other foot wriggling happily in its pink sock, and I asked the mother if the shoe was lost, perhaps I could help hunt for it among the pews, but she said o no, she just likes to wear the one shoe, and who am I to say no to that? She only likes wearing a shoe on her left foot, even in winter. She won't eat anything that's red, either. She has a mind of her own. Are you a priest too? Can you also bless her?

I said that I was not a priest but I would absolutely hold her daughter in my heart and pray for her and maybe try to write a small essay so people who read it all over the continent and perhaps abroad would pray for her also, when they got to the end of the brief essay and found her daughter with one red shoe, and the mother said she would be very grateful for that, so that is what I have done. The Mass is ended. Go in peace. 

Brian DoyleBrian Doyle is the editor of Portland Magazine at the University of Portland, and the author most recently of Thirsty for the Joy: Australian & American Voices.

Topic tags: Brian Doyle, Mass, eucharist, girl with a neck brace, guide dog



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Existing comments

Brian, words fail me to thank you for this beautiful reminder of just what the celebration of the Mass is all about. Perhaps too many of us have taken our eyes off 'the miracle in the middle'.

Anna C North Avoca | 02 March 2011  

Blessed relief! Brian's Mass story placed between Old Men Behaving Badly and The Perils of Redefining Marriage, steadied my ship and set me back on calm waters. Thank you again Brian for the sweet sanity of your words.

Patricia Taylor | 02 March 2011  

I appreciated this article so much. Thank you.

millie | 02 March 2011  


And to think that our church leaders are concerning themselves that we should go back to the King James bible for our responses.

And to think, further, that there are celebrants who want to turn the whole thing into a Libya, instead of ignoring it and getting on with the miracle.

Frank | 02 March 2011  

I have prayed for one little girl with one red shoe. And my eyeballs went all damp too and it warmed my heart. Wish Mass did that for me all the time.
Thank you.

Glen Avard | 02 March 2011  

What a relief! I usually regard my daily dose of Eureka Street as some form of necessary penance; self-flagellation, perhaps. But this was a balm instead, true joy. And as one formerly heavily involved in matters liturgical - for several terms a lay member of the local Diocesan Liturgical Commission - I appreciated the full "today's community" nature of this particular celebration. Keep up the good work, Brian.

John R. Sabine | 02 March 2011  

Moving and so much in the spirit of Vatican 11 theology of Eucharist. thank YOU!

J Carville | 02 March 2011  

As always, Brian, thank you.

Erik H | 02 March 2011  

Thanks you Brian for sharing that touching story.
I will share in your prayer.

Jean SIetzema-Dickson | 02 March 2011  

Another gentle meditation/sermon on the beauty of the Mass to add to Browning's "the blessed mutter of the Mass" or Chesterton's "The shadow of the Valoir is yawning at the Mass"
Thank you Brian

ray O'Donoghue | 02 March 2011  

Magnificent writing. Surely this is exactly what Christianity,Sacraments,Eucharist & Incarnation mean - God present and active amid our basic struggling humanness !!

David Walsh | 02 March 2011  

Brian, I can't help thinking here of the great story of Jesus going into the lands of the non-Kosher to encounter the ultimate taboo, the 'Syrophoenician' woman (Glenn Beck would say that this is a gloss on the text1)and, with some self-subvering humour, called her a 'son of a bitch.' The dogs knew where the crumbs were.

David Timbs ALBION. VIC. | 02 March 2011  


Patrick | 02 March 2011  

truly beautiful I hope the little girl with one red shoe had a successful operation God bless you all

irena | 03 March 2011  

I loved this story. It heightened my awareness of how much I love the Mass especially when it touches the hearts of those present.

Breda O'Reilly | 03 March 2011  

What a beautiful, uplifting story!

Helen-Mary Langlands | 04 March 2011  

a beautiful, genbtle, real and poignant piece celebrating God's wondrous presence in the every day. I have prayed for the green eyed, one shoed little angel, so your mission, Brian, as far as I am concerned, is achieved! Thanks.

Gabrielle Trainor | 04 March 2011  

beautiful food for the soul. God bless you all

irena springfield | 18 March 2011  

Thank you

Helen Bergen | 19 April 2011  

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