I told this story at dinner the other night. The family liked it, and Puff told me I should write it out on the blog. Like most of my best stories, it isn't my story at all, but my father's, and like many of his best stories, it's from the war.
Dad was at or near the front lines in Italy one day when an officer came down the line. "Any Catholics here," he began. "There's a priest about to say Mass in the next field." Dad took his helmet and rifle and headed over to the next field, as did several other Catholics.
He was appalled when he arrived. The field was wide open, easily visible from the Germans, and exposed to any kind of enemy fire. The men immediately looked for a hill, a shell hole, a rock, a furrow- anything that might give them any sort of cover. Meanwhile, in the middle of the field stood the priest, carefully setting up his Mass kit on a big rock, taking his time and doing it properly, appearing as if he had no concern in the world other than this, and going about it as if he were in a parish back home, and there was no war to trouble anyone or anything.
If there was ever a time for a Tridentine speed Mass, this could have been it. But, to Dad's horror, (and he knew, because he used to be an altar boy at a Cathedral) the priest said the Mass slowly and carefully, doing every movement as prescribed, omitting no prayer, while gunfire raged around them.
At last the priest turned, holding the consecrated host. "Come to Communion!" he shouted out to the men hiding in the field. "I grant you all full absolution. Come!"
Dad's reaction was: "He's got to be kidding." But then he saw it: the soldiers making their way forward to receive communion. Granted, they approached the priest at a dead run, and left at a dead run as soon as it was received. But still they came. Dad, emboldened by the other men, came forward himself, received, thanked God, and raced away.
He stayed in his furrow watching as the priest put away his Mass kit as properly as he set it out, and, when finished and having said his final prayers, the priest snapped his case shut and walked away.
That's the story. Not the best punch line, but the family liked it. I like it for it reminds of a good man I once knew and shall never see again in the flesh. It reminds me that there were other good men like him, once upon a time. Men who believed there were things to stand for, things to fight for, things that were worth risking your life for. And on that list of things worth risking your life over was Mass, and the chance for Communion.