Wishing for a tally of lifetime Masses attended

And remembering ‘those who have gone before us,’ even those who may be forgotten

By George Valadie

Every so often this odd thought comes over me when I wish I had a running tally of the number of lifetime Masses I have attended.

Don’t ask me why, I have no idea, doesn’t happen often, but when it does, this urge to know such a thing usually comes over me while I’m actually attending a Mass, likely during some moment in which my mind has wandered afar . . . very far afar.

Which—to make matters worse—then leads my brain to meander even further astray, as I begin an effort to count them. Yes, I literally count them.

And yes, I should do better.

As you might guess, it’s a pointless attempt at best that always (yes! I’ve done this multiple times) begins with nothing more than a random guess as to how many Sundays my mom dragged us tykes along before we enrolled in Catholic school.

Because the numbers get a lot easier to calculate once we got there.

I’m certain the Sisters made sure we attended morning liturgy all 180 days of the school year times the eight years I attended. Well, minus the days I was home with chicken pox. And minus that other week my grandparents took me to New Orleans in sixth grade for Mardi Gras. (You can tell I’ve thought about this way too much and way too often.)

Sadly, once I moved on from grade school, and attendance was left to my free will, I have to confess the arc of my graph slopes downward in dramatic fashion.

Most of these Masses I attended in person in a pew. Though I can recall others having sat on folding chairs, benches, in a pasture, in a friend’s home, and at the lake. I’ve been the only person in the chapel, and I’ve been one of 100,000.

Also included are the ones for which I had the privilege of being an altar server (there’s a classic story about a gypsy funeral I can tell). And lately, we can all add those we’ve watched on Facebook.

All that being said, I’m not in any way bragging about the number of these Masses because when compared to some other folks I know (and some I’m related to), it’s embarrassingly low and not one of which I’m particularly proud.

Still, I’ve been a faithful Catholic and all told, a “bunch” is about as close as I can come to putting a mathematical number on my tally.

Enough, though—and this is the point—enough that I ought to know all the Mass prayers that are routinely recited: ours and the priest’s.

“Ought to know” . . . being the key.

Have you ever been sitting at Mass when a reading or a prayer—one you’ve heard “a million times”—stirs your consciousness like never before? Words you’ve read or listened to suddenly break through to touch your head, your heart, and your soul in a manner not previously experienced?

It happened to me on a recent Sunday when we visited a nearby parish whose pastor we’ve known for years. Perhaps it was the voice we don’t hear all that often or his style of delivery that’s slightly different.

Regardless, the words were certainly familiar, but I’d never before heard them quite this way.

“Therefore, Lord, remember now all for whom we make this sacrifice, . . . all the clergy, those who take part in this offering, those gathered here before you, your entire people, and all who seek you with a sincere heart.

“Remember also those who have died in the peace of your Christ and all the dead, whose faith you alone have known.”

There it is. Right there at the end. Take a second and read it out loud this time; things register differently that way.

“Remember . . . all the dead, whose faith you alone have known.”

In our Church, this is the month we recall those who have gone before us: the saints and the souls. Commonly referred to as the Month of Remembrance, November is also the final month in the Church year.

Thus, we traditionally take the final days of this liturgical calendar to look toward the final days of earthly life as well—ours and others—with hope for an eternity with the Creator while giving thanks and prayer for those who have gone before us.

According to Google, the number of “those who have gone before us” totals somewhere in the neighborhood of 100 billion people. It’s a sophisticated approximation—give or take—of every human born dating back to Adam and Eve and their family of four.

According to our Church, of those 100 billion God-created souls, some 10,000-plus have been recognized as saints (though apparently no official listing exists as many of the names have been lost to history.)

Still, names or no names, the honored saints of the Church represent a mere 0.000001 percent of the planet’s total population. These alone have been officially designated as the “heroically virtuous.”

I have no doubt they are, or were, each and every one deserving of the title and honor. Many are martyrs, and that’s a decision those folks didn’t make lightly. Murdered or not, the Church makes it a lengthy and restrictive process requiring multiple miracles be attributed to their intercession.

I won’t lie, I like praying to folks who have a proven track record of success. I know Sts. Anthony, Christopher, and Michael have all been a frequently called-on part of my prayer life.

And they’ve done good work for my family and me.

But for the first time that recent Sunday, I began to think about the many, many others who have passed without that sort of spiritual fanfare. Or any at all for that matter. Good folks they were, some really good folks, but they’re not saints now, and they’re not gonna be either.

I know we have an All Souls Day for that purpose. But for me anyway, and the Church, too, for that matter, these two days have never been the same.

I began to ponder the common souls. The billions of them. Those who left with no fanfare at all. Perhaps no sacrament of the sick nor even a church funeral.

For them, the Mass prayer I finally heard feels perfect indeed, “Please God—please remember all the dead whose faith you alone have known.”

But more than asking God to remember them, I think the intent of that prayer includes an unspoken reminder that a person’s faith cannot be—or should not be—a matter for our judging.

I should do better in that regard, too.

Perhaps sadder (to me) than those who have died without church fanfare are all who have passed without family. Without friends. Without a single visitor to walk with them toward whatever final light awaited their journey’s end.

It happens. A lot. More than it should. Human beings buried without fanfare. Worse, buried without farewell.

Not only is God the only one who knew their faith, He might well be the only one who knew they were even gone.

During this November, while we pray for the dead, let’s also reach out to the living: the sick, the incarcerated, the family member who has slipped away.

It’s a common practice in our faith for parishioners to submit names of loved ones who have died. The names are gathered, given a place of honor, and prayed for by the Church throughout the month.

Similarly, I can recall a prayer book we kept outside our school’s chapel where students and staff, parents and alums could record the names of those for whom they wanted our school family to pray.

These practices are nice; they’re meaningful; they’re the way things should be.

But some names aren’t written. And some people aren’t remembered.

And that’s not how it should be.

Dear God—Please remember all the dead whose faith you alone have known. And please forgive us when we think we knew. Amen.

 

George Valadie is a parishioner at St. Stephen Church in Chattanooga.

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