One day, in early 1996, not long before I moved back to the farm, a situation arose in the middle of the week that left me feeling a very strong need to go sit in a church and pray. Well, the only act in town during the week is the Catholic Church’s daily mass. I knew that Jim sometimes went to mass before coming in to the office, so I called the parish he attended and got the schedule. Then I called him, told him, I’d be late to work the next morning, and where I was going. He got excited, he told me “You’re going to love it I just know you are ”
I got to the church a little before 7:30 the next morning. I had been inside Our Lady of Grace church once before, during a choral performance my older daughter had been involved in. But this felt different. Somehow I hadn’t really seen the church then. This time, I pushed open the heavy oak doors and walked into the sanctuary and – I froze. For the first time I was aware of the splendid architecture, the vaulted ceilings, the stained glass, the white marble altar area. For years and years, I’d been in Baptist churches, Christian and Missionary Alliance churches, Friends meetinghouses, all plain, and the Friends’ completely unadorned. This, then, was splendor, this was magnificence – and every bit of it pointed, not to the human designer but far beyond. A voice inside me proclaimed, “Behold the majesty and glory of Almighty God ”
I stood for several minutes before taking my seat in the back pew, and even then I continued looking around in curiosity and awe. I watched several people enter, genuflect and cross themselves before entering a pew, then move forward to kneel on one of the drop-down kneelers to pray before the service began. It was a demonstration of devotion I found strangely moving. I noticed carvings along the outer walls of the sanctuary – from literary allusions I’d encountered in college, I recognized them as the Stations of the Cross, a beautiful meditation and prayer on the sufferings of Christ. I saw statues. I saw the stained glass windows depicting the Life of Christ. My eye was regularly drawn to the white marble altar area up front, with all its splendid fixtures.
Particularly, my attention was riveted to a “gold box” in the front of the sanctuary. I didn’t know what it was, I didn’t know what it was called or anything about it. But I couldn’t take my eyes off that gold box. I knew, viscerally, by revelation, that my Lord and my God was in that box. I was electrified. And I knew just as surely that it was in the Communion Host, which until that moment I had thought was just one of many Catholic superstitions, that He was Present. The very word “Eucharist ” popped into my mind as clearly and succinctly as if someone had whispered it in my ear.
The mass itself is hardly memorable. All I could think was, He’s really there And Ooh, how gross Because literal meant… well, literal. Like cannibalism. But I couldn’t escape it or ignore it: He was really there, in the Eucharist. I knew it. I didn’t know how to reconcile it with my prejudices or sensibilities, but I decided that day that if the Church was right about that one crucial point – and she must be – then if she were wrong about everything else, it wouldn’t really matter.