Monday, November 21, 2011

Mass for the People by Caryll Houselander

It's such a blessing to have a friend who knows you well, who perceives what will move you and who shares things with you understanding that it will touch your heart. I have a friend like that in Fr. Jim Kubicki, SJ, who, while on retreat, came across a story by one of my all-time favorite authors and the subject of many of my past blog posts, Caryll Houselander, and he promptly sent the story on to me for my enjoyment. Not only was it a moving story written by her creative hand, but the subject matter was also near and dear to my heart; it's the story of a priest offering Mass. I tried to find the source of this story online but had no luck, so I will share some of my favorite passages here and I pray that the words will touch your heart as deeply as they touched mine.

(Fr. Jim is currently in Rome and will be sharing parts of his Roman adventure on his blog "Offer it Up." Please pay him a visit to follow along with his experiences!)

excerpts from Mass for the People by Caryll Houselander:

"The priest was on the side of life, he had no other work, no other raison d'etre but to give life, and the life he gave could not be killed. He was not outside of the world's love because he was a priest and alone, he was the heart of the world's love, its core, because the Life of the World is born every day in His hands at Mass.

Father O'Grady made the Sign of the Cross. "In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen," and bowed down under the burden of the sins of the whole world. His own sins were a heavy enough load, and now he bowed under the weight of all sin. But when he straightened himself up from the Confiteor, the burden of the whole world's sin, and his own with it, had fallen from his back, and his shoulders were strong. For it was Christ who rose up and went up to the altar-Christ who had seen evil naked, face to face, Christ who had been brought down to the ground, under the world's sin to sweat blood into the dust, and Christ who had overcome the world.

He lifted the unconsecrated Host, light as a petal on its thin golden paten, and with it lifted the simple bread of humanity, threshed and sifted by poverty and suffering. He offered the broken fragments of their love, made into one loaf.

He lifted the wine and water mixed in the Chalice, and with it offered the blood and the tears of his people to God.

And God accepted the offering, the fragments of love were gathered up into the wholeness of Love and nothing was wasted.

Slowly, exactly, Father O'Grady repeated the words of Consecration, his hands moved in Christ's hands, his voice spoke in Christ's voice, his words were Christ's words, his heart beat in Christ's heart.

Fr. O'Grady lifted up the consecrated Host in his short, chapped hands, the server rang a little bell, the sailor, the handful of old women and the very old man bowed down whispering "My Lord and my God" and the breath of their adoration was warm on their cold fingers.

Father O'Grady was lifting up God.

A cry arose from all over the world, "Come down from the Cross if you are the Son of God!" "Save yourself and us too if you are the Christ."

But Christ remained on the Cross. His fingers closed on the nails. The Crown of Thorns was in flower, the five ribs like the five fingers of the world's pain gripped His heart, and His heart broke open and the river of the world's life flowed out of it. A crimson flood sweeping His heart and brain and flowing into the tips of His fingers, swept through His Mystical Body. Through the eternal heart of Rome, through the lonely mind of her august Shepherd, out into the least and lowliest of men, and the last little infant howling at the touch of the waters of Baptism, the blood of the world's life flowed into the finger tips, which stretched out on the Cross, measuring the reach and stretch and extremity and ultimate possibility of love.

The world strained at the nails, wrenched and dragged, the Cross was shaken in the earth, bent like a tree in the storm, dragged earthward by the weight of man's body, but it was rooted in rock, and the Cross was built to the shape of man, not man to the shape of the Cross. The world's suffering was built and fitted to the size of each man, and the Cross stood.

"Come down, come down, come down!"

But Christ would not come down from the Cross.

The little server rang his silver bell.
The people bowed down low.
Time stopped.
Fr. O'Grady was lifting up God in his large, chapped hands.
Christ remained on the Cross.
The blood and sweat and tears of the world were on His face. he smiled, the smile of infinite peace, the ineffable bliss of consummated love."


  1. Anne, I am speechless. This is simply breathtaking! I have never read Caryll Houselander before. How did I miss her! I will return to read this again and again. What a gifted...and inspired writer!

    Thank you for sharing. And, I am praying for you...that one day your son John will stand at the altar of God, and experience his hands, his voice, his words, his heart, all moving within the Gentle Savior's.

    Love to you Anne,

  2. Patricia, I felt exactly the same way when I first read this-I knew that it was a piece that I would return to and pray with many times. I'm so glad you enjoyed it and found it to be meaningful! If you've never read Caryll Houselander before then you've just got to find "The Reed of God" and "The Passion of the Infant Christ." They are both outstanding!!!

    Thank you for your prayers for my son John. I can't tell you how much it means to me that you are praying for him as he works towards priesthood! I am just in awe of God's goodness in all of this!

    Love to you as well!

  3. Ah, now I understand the Caryll Houselander references in your later posts. Patricia got it right for my reaction too, "breathtaking!"

  4. Is there a place where we can get the whole book/article? Her writings are breathtaking! Thank you.

  5. Hi Judy, I checked with Fr. Jim. Mass for the People was part of a book called Book of the Savior compiled by Frank Sheed, which I believe he co-wrote with his wife, Maisie Ward. You can find some used copied on Amazon or Ebay. I'll be ordering one as well! God bless you!