A few weeks ago I stood at Our Lady’s altar on the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel (July 16), preparing for Mass. The server and I were reciting the “prayers at the foot,” in which (in the Latin Mass) the people prepare for the Sacrifice before even ascending the altar steps. Its white marble, newly-polished and adorned with fresh flowers, gleamed under bright lights. I looked up at the gleaming statue of Our Lady and the inscriptions at its base, asking prayers for those who had given this magnificent art to the parish in 1914. Our Lady of Mount Carmel has won my heart in many ways: my mother is a lay Carmelite, as are many good friends; I offered my first Mass at the Cristo Rey Carmel on Parker Avenue in 1991; and I am fond of climbing mountains, because every solitary height on earth is the abode of God.
In all my years as a pastor I’ve been haunted by numbers: how many were at Mass on Sunday? How many showed up for Bible study? How much did we receive in the Sunday offering? How many men do we have in the seminary? How many will come to our Lenten mission? But on Our Lady’s feast last month, as I looked up into that altar, she granted me the grace to stop counting. It helps that in the Latin Mass the priest faces the altar rather than the people. I did not know how many were at Mass, and perhaps for the first time I was not worried about numbers. I beheld the beauty of the altar, adorned for the feast, and offered the festal prayer with simple joy. A priest is not responsible for filling his church; he is responsible only for offering the Mass with fidelity and joy. “You are doing what my Son asks of you,” Our Lady seemed to say. “Offer his sacrifice to the Father with me, and he will provide for the rest.” The priests and the people of any parish don’t need to do anything spectacular. It is enough, and more than enough, to simply offer the Holy Mass at his altar with purity and joy. He will provide for the rest.