Friday, September 30, 2011

"Banal na Misa"

There is a peculiar energy to the celebration of the Holy Mass here in the tropics; those who have been to Manila and attended any one of her Catholic churches on a Sunday can attest to the heady mixture of strange noises and even stranger scents: the cacophony of boisterous preaching on the one hand, and the ceaseless honking of horns and vendors hawking their wares on the other, especially in the bigger churches; and who could forget the smell of burnt wax and incense and the tide of bodies sweating in the the naves.

At times, when I was younger, I often found myself paying as much attention to the peripheral noise as I did to the priest's sermon. Here and there, the muffled crying of a baby; perhaps in one corner, an old lady sobbing for her sins; a toddler a few pews ahead is asking his nanny to accompany him to the bathroom. At the entrance of the church, not-very-religious make a quick stop on their knees to pray for luck; someone lights a candle to saint, or to one of the many titles of the Virgin. A bird or two might enter by the window and fly overhead, and on the ground, a cat rests its weary head on a forlorn kneeler.

Herein, perhaps, lies the staying power of religion: we are not so much born into a set of abstract propositions and vague, ivory tower politics as we are into a matrix-- a womb, even-- of sights, smells, and sounds. The religious man is born into a stage, complete with all its actors and props and mise en scene. Miraculously, strangely, luminously, religion somehow brings serenity and order into an otherwise jarring concoction of ill-fitting components.  In it is found grace, which meanders from heaven to earth, sacred to profane, and the eternal to the miracle of the present. Only in the Mass, I've found, has the furious screaming of a toddler wanting its Kool Aid taken on a gentleness which could not but speak of God. Faith here is literally at a crossroads, with the church serving as a bridge, straddling the unfathomable chasm between the realm of the invisible and the holy, and the marred and tactile world of the profane. And it is that slow, steady trickling of divine grace from on high that seems to make it so worthwhile.

In the Mass heaven and earth are wed and become one. The screaming baby becomes a mighty, flaming seraph, crying 'Holy, holy, holy!', the worshippers become one with the great cloud of witnesses that sing the glory of God, and the sinner becomes like Dismas, who, in spite of his terrible crimes, was blessed enough to have died at the side of the Lord. What a delightful mystery it is,

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thumbs up!