I left my iPad and cell phone in our SUV today before walking into the 12:15 p.m All Saints' Day Mass at our New Jersey parish. In some ways, I wish I hadn't. I wish I could share with you some photographs of the 157-year-old church, plunged in the darkness and cold in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, lit only by the baptismal candle, two candles in the front of the church and six candles on the altar. Instead, I will have to describe to you in words the beauty of those moments and how the Mass, in which we commemorate the named and unnamed saints of our church, left me with the sense of light and warmth of Christ and those who have gone before us and now see God face to face.
Father Tom Odorizzo, C.O, pastor of St. Peter the Apostle Parish, greeted worshippers outside the church doors, and directed us to the front of the church. It was so dark inside, I nearly ran into one of the two celebrants on my family's way to a front pew. "Hi Allison," he said with a big smile.
Because there was no organ to play, Anthony Nardino, the director of sacred music, served as cantor and the 100 or so of us who gathered in the dark sang the entire Mass. The four males in the chorus stood on the balcony on the left side of the church, the three female choiristers in the right-side balcony At first, it was so dark inside the church, I could barely see my hands. It was so dark, we could use no missals, and no hymnals and had to rely instead on our memories of years of singing the liturgy. I was surprised at how much of the Mass I knew without looking and even more surprised by how much our teenaged sons did as well. I was grateful for the stranger who stood to my right, who knew every word of the Third Edition of the Roman Missal, and to the five Franciscan nuns who worshipped in the pew in front of us.
As the Mass proceeded, my eyes adjusted to the darkness, and I began to see - my hands in front of me, the cloth of the nuns' habits, the faces of the two altar servers and the deacon and the two celebrants. It also became warmer inside the church because of the presence of so many bodies. One might attribute the lightening and warming of the church to scientific phenomena - to the rod and cone cells in our retinas adapting and to the heat produced when bodies stand, then sit, then kneel close beside one another.
Yes, but who created us in such a way that we adjust to our circumstances?
The homilist, Father Peter Cebulka, C.O. ,provost of the New Brunswick Oratory of St. Philip Neri, reminded us that the saints in heaven do not need glory; they already have found it. The Feast of All Saints is a day for all of us, the future saints. It is a day to remember that we must keep running the race with our eyes on Christ and on heaven, our origin, our destination and our final home.
During the Mass, the city outside was quiet except for sirens and the whirring of generator-operated blaster, as men worked to clean and restore our church.
I was almost moved to tears during the communion meditation when the choir sang "Jerusalem, My Happy Home. The men sang the first refrain, then the women, then all the parts rising and falling in harmony.
Jerusalem, my happy home!
My soul still pants for thee;
Then shall my labors have an end,
When I thy joys shall see.
O Christ do Thou my soul prepare
For that bright home of love;
That I may see Thee and adore,
With all Thy saints above.
As of last night, my family's home has power and heat. As of this afternoon, neither my parish nor its rectory does. The community of sweet and reverent Oratorian priests who live and work to serve God and others, served us so beautifully today, with big smiles and open hearts and great reverence despite their own hardships.
To pray in a dark church with so many others, after a storm which has devastated our state and region, to sing our ancient liturgy, to celebrate the Eucharist, to remember the light of Christ and to ask our heavenly companions for prayers as we continue our earthly journeys is an experience I will forever hold close in my heart.