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What is missing in the picture?

It’s rare – very rare – when something happens at church that genuinely makes me sad. Annoyed? Sure. Disturbed, perturbed, distracted, confused? Yup. Shoot, there have even been times when the words frustrated and yes even probably angry have applied. This was the first time I was just plain sad.

I went to Eucharistic Adoration after work and, after a paving-related traffic snafu, managed to get there later than I’d planned. I glanced at my watch and decided I might as well stay a little later than normal and actually be there for Benediction. Aside from the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, Benediction properly done is probably my favorite liturgical act, so this was not exactly a sacrifice on my part.

As the time approached I began to ruminate on just how long it had been since I had heard and sung Tantum ergo, my second-favorite right behind Panis angelicus. Incense, chant and a blessing with Christ Himself in the Eucharist, it is a veritable panoply of liturgical design writ small. As I was contemplating all these wonders of reverence for His Presence, one of the people in the pews got up, closed the sign-in book and brought it in to the sacristy. Then I noticed – no censer, no boat; okay, lack of incense is far from the biggest deal. My eyes started to flit around as I noticed everyone seeming to be packing up. Before I could even formulate the thought in my mind, the same woman returned from the sacristy, removed the luna from the monstrance, placed it in its holder and returned it to the Tabernacle.

This all seemed like a very strange, very disturbing dream. Should pink elephants have flown in on teeny butterfly wings and begun to speak to me in Gaelic-accented Urdu I wouldn’t have been more surprised. As the rest of the people filed out I quietly recited a Tantum ergo, at least to myself. Where was Father? No Benediction? No incense? No chanted Tantum ergo? Something indeed was not right.

Then it struck me. This rectory used to have three priests in it, now it has one. And his responsibilities now take him even further away from the parish than ever used to be the norm. Yes, something is wrong – something is very wrong. With so few priests now available around these parts they very often have tremendous problems being available for leading the very prayers that are the only chance of ever overcoming this situation.

Perhaps next time I will do the little I now can, and my Tantum ergo will not be silent. Holy Mary, Mother of the Eucharist and Mother of Priests, ora pro nobis!

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