Father Z. put up a picture of a priest administering communion on one of the Normandy Beaches just after the landings.
It reminded me of my father's old story about attending a Mass during the war. I'll reprint it here.
There was a time.
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.
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.