SRO on Ash Wednesday!
Often in this column we rail against the abuses in the Church and lament the times when there was more reverence. But today we are thrilled to bring you some good news that should lift the spirits of everyone as we embark upon the season of Lent. We arrived at Mass on Ash Wednesday morning about ten minutes before it started. Normally Daily Mass at St. Mark's in San Marcos is attended by 80 to 100 people in the side chapel. On the way to Mass the family took bets if Mass would still be in the side chapel or in the main church. After all, it was a weekday, and many would already be on their way to work since Mass begins at 8 a.m. every morning. They also have an evening Mass every day making it convenient for those who have to get to work early. As we pulled into the church parking lot there wasn't a stall to be had. Cars were lined up for a block and a half on the street and we found a space way in the yonder regions of an overflowing lot. As we sauntered through the parking lot towards the church we were smiling from head to toe. Even on Sundays it never seemed this full. Much to our amazement and sheer delight the faithful were packed in the pews with standing room only. We were fortunate to find a pew at the back that could accommodate all four of us. As many know, we usually opt for the front pew on the right because it's always empty since few want to sit up front - call it fear of being stared down by the celebrant during the homily or sheepishness when the collection plate is passed. We also have always liked the front pew because then our sons and us, as well, can concentrate solely on the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass with no distractions in front of us. It also became a habit over the years, especially when they were younger, where our sons had to be on their best behavior because everyone could see their every move if they misbehaved or slouched. So over the years from St. Bernard's in Bella Vista to St. Pius X in Dallas to St. Mark's in San Marcos that's always been our familiar abode at Mass. For whatever reason few, except little old pious ladies and our family ever choose the front pew. But on Ash Wednesday it was filled to the gills eleven across where it comfortably would seat eight to ten. In fact, other than a few pockets in the middle pews - where aisle huggers don't move toward the center, often confusing the ushers - there was no room to be had. This was doubly amazing because little fanfare had been given to Ash Wednesday other than to announce in the bulletin that Masses would be the same times on Ash Wednesday as regular weekday except that a Spanish Mass would be held at 7:30 at night to go with the two normal English-speaking Novus Ordos.
We are still beaming at this turnout of faithful and display of faith that frankly was larger than any other weekday Mass or even Holy Day of Obligation weekday Mass we had ever attended. There had to be roughly 800 to 900 people packed into this three wing church in the lowlands of San Marcos Valley where flood waters from El Nino the night before had washed away three of the four conduits leading to the church, tucked at the base of the verdant hills rising to the sky behind it. Yet there were literally 9 month-olds and 90 year-olds there, along with practically every other age and nationality - families, business men and women, retired folks, singles. But no ushers since this wasn't a Sunday Mass, yet the good folk found their way with little help. They all came to give God homage on a day that is not mandated by the Church. But they came because they realized the importance of Lent, the importance of Ash Wednesday, the importance of receiving the ashes which mark them as Christ's Own. That has to be one of the most inspiring and hopeful signs we have seen in ages even before Vatican II - when so many turned out for Daily Mass - there wasn't an outpouring of voluntary attendance like this! It gives one great hope for the future that there are parishes like this where the people live their faith and show it. They weren't there for social reasons. They were there because they truly believed.
We indeed have been blessed with the parishes we've been part of over the last decade. At St. Bernard's in Bella Vista the pastor Father Joseph Enderlin was a conservative priest who was open to all Our Lady was asking and heard confessions every day before Daily Mass; at St. Pius X in Dallas our pastor was a prince - actually a monsignor - who had governed the parish for 41 years and had always been loyal to the Church and the Holy Father, allowing no modernism or liberal practices to creep in. When Monsignor Thomas Weinzapfel retired in 1996, he was succeeded by a younger priest Father Ramon - who carried on the torch of faith with a zeal for firing people up to the love of the Lord and the gifts of the Holy Spirit with excellent charismatic speaking skills who wasn't afraid to speak on sin and the Commandments, and was also open to Our Lady's messages. Now that we're back home in Southern California we have once again found a healthy Roman Catholic parish that is thriving not because of social programs but because of the pious example of its pastor Monsignor Thomas Healy an older, conservative Irish priest and his able assistant Father Aurelio Crisologo - a Filipino priest affectionately known as "Father Cris" who reminds us so much of another Filipino pious priest - Father Santos Mendoza, our confessor for five years while we were in the midwest. Each priest in our journey from our dear, beloved spiritual director Father Al Svobodny, OMI - who this editor has known and tried to emulate for over forty years - to our current pastor, exemplifies the ideals God wants in His priest-sons and Mary is pleased.
And so, as the ashes on the ol' forehead fade, the impressions of the morning Mass won't for a long time. For while the ashes are temporary, the mark on the souls of these faithful, who braved the elements to pack the church, is indelible. That has to boost the faith of all striving, loyal Catholics to persevere and realize, despite the horror stories that the leftists are taking over the Church, that the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church is very much alive and thriving. Evidence of that: SRO on Ash Wednesday!
Michael Cain, editor