As I walked into the church for Mass last Sunday, I noticed right away the candles had been trimmed too long. They looked like a half dozen lit bottle rockets lined up on the reredos, in anticipation of the dazzling finale in a Fourth of July pyrotechnic display. My mind filled with strains of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture. Smoke was billowing upward from each candle, competing with the incense in sending super-spiritual smoke signals to heaven. I became curious about how and who would have to clean the layer of soot that was accumulating on the overhanging decorative cornice of white marble.
Obviously, I had not yet succeeded in reaching the appropriate level of recollection for the great miracle of Mass that would be commencing imminently. I was, instead, trying to suppress thoughts of the creme brulee that could be finished by the power of those blow torches adorning the tabernacle! What a display! Almost as powerfully flaming were the six candles upon the altar – but they lacked the benefit of the glossy white marble background with stripes of gold mosaic tiles inlaid.
It happened that the weather enhanced the spectacle, by providing an overcast dim to the Fall sunlight. In fact, as the Mass progressed, the clouds gathered and the rain burst down in what seemed to my imagination Biblical proportions (Old Testament, naturally). It turns out this storm even produced tornadoes in neighboring regions.
Around the time of the consecration the darkness and noise outside was surely noticed even by the most attentive and holy in the congregation. Our church has very large sections of clear, floor to ceiling windows at the back of the transept arms where our family sits – not for the view, I might add, but the view of the sky is rather unavoidable when sitting there. This made for a dramatic moment, the darkened world illuminated by the glow within the sanctuary.
I know it sounds like I was missing the point of the Sunday obligation, but I promise these thoughts took mere minutes, interspersed through the liturgy. My kids were far more distracting than the candles, as my worshiping neighbors can attest. (Sorry folks!!)
Nevertheless, some meandering thoughts during Mass can be tamed enough to help raise one’s mind and heart to God in earnest and these were no exception.
While the wind roared outside and the rain whipped the windows, the warming glow of the blazing candles within the sanctuary brought to my mind the coziness of a fire in a hearth, good for light, heat and transformation of simple ingredients into nourishing and sustaining food. I thought of generations of people gathered around a tended fire, for life, for companionship.
I thought of He who is the Light of the world, the life giver, who by His burning love transforms himself into nourishing and soul sustaining food. He who transforms us, the tongues of fire descending upon us, at our invitation, that we may go out and warm the world by His flame.
Lord, trim my wick long.