Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those
who weep. Have the same regard for one another.
( Romans 12: 15 )
For when you meet frequently, the forces of
Satan are annulled and his destructive power
is cancelled in the concord of your faith.
( Saint Ignatius of Antioch)
By Robert R. Schwarz
Note: This was posted originally on
Feb. 2 , 2014. Weekday Mass
attendance since then has
It's 6:44 a.m. on a sub-zero day in January, and the St. James Catholic church in Arlington Heights, Illinois, lies in darkness . When the sun rises, it will reveal a prominent architectural feature of St.James: its sky-piercing steeple . Add this to the outside red brick and looming white Ionic pillars , and the front of the church might bring to mind a splendid historic county courthouse .
parking lot for the 7:30 a.m. Mass. One of the cars will have the license plate, "Mom to Ten." The epithet is a tribute to the mother of ten but now deceased wife of Jim .
Mary , the altar "preparer" , enters and dips a finger into the holy water stoop just inside the door, crosses herself , then walks across the altar to the sacristy door . The church has already been lit by 96 light bulbs in eight enormous chandeliers and by flickering votive candles in racks along both walls. Faintly seen is the red glow of the "perpetual " light high above the tabernacle.
Mary gets to work with tasks she's been doing here for 25 years: there are candles to replace, holy water stoops to fill, two Eucharist chalices to place on the altar, and the "gifts" of water , wine, and wheat hosts for two worshippers who will later carry them up for the priest to bless. Then there are the pitcher of warm water for the priest to wash his hands before the blessing and the Mass cruets to fill with holy water and wine. Lastly, Mary walks to the ambo ( lectern ) t0 set up the lectionary ( book of Holy scripture to be read this morning ) and a microphone. As usual, she takes a second to hope the altar servers will show up—these young students sometimes don't—as will the three Eucharistic ministers needed to help the priest distribute the communion wine ( Christ's blood ) and hosts ( His body ).
|Mary, the 'altar preparer'|
At the very back of the church in a pew seat that's been his for years , is Jim, one of the very early worshippers. He is holding Rosary beads and praying silently . Jim is 89 , the father of one of the St. James' five deacons.
Jim: "I can't think of a better way to be with the Lord. I go to Mass as a member of Christ's body…Life is short , death is certain , and the world-to-come is everlasting."
A minute or two later, Duke takes a pew seat across the aisle from Jim. Like several of the regular weekday worshippers
Duke: " I come here to deal with my grief and have been coming ever since. "
|Jim is often in his pew before 7 a.m.|
Tom: "I like the people here. They make me feel good."
Rosemary: " I've always gone to Mass even when I had my eight children…I'm grateful being here with my Lord, praying with Him in the peacefulness here. "
The Rosary Team Gets to Work
During the 15-minute Rosary recitation, several more "regulars" enter the pews. The parish has more than 13,000 members, including babies and children. ( It's quite an increase from the 18 families who, in 1904, were worshipping about a mile away in the original St. James church. ) The 50 oak wood pews tightly hold 550 people and are regularly filled at Masses on Sunday and on Saturday evening , Easter , Christmas, and Holy Days of Obligation.
|Two happy members of the Body of Christ|
Ed: " If I don't go to Mass, I really feel bad and get a guilty conscience…I don't use an alarm clock . God wakes me up. I have so many things to pray for. "
Nearly all of the regulars are in their pews when the last Rosary mystery ends.
As they pray, some worshippers are likely meditating on one of the many sacaramentals that surround them , those scared signs which bear a certain resemblance to the seven Catholic sacraments , and by means of which spiritual effects are signified and obtained through the prayers of the Church ( Catholic catechism #1667). Some are focusing on the five-foot-six-inch Jesus crucifix behind the altar , below the rose window. For others, it's the 52-inch tall statues of Saint James or Mary and Joseph; or perhaps one of the eight stain glass windows that beautifully dominate the walls; each is 20 feet high , and when light streams through each of windows' 108 multi-colored panes and illuminates the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus—the effect can be transcendental even to the casual worshipper.
Few of the younger regulars know that the marble stone construction of the altar, ambo, , tabernacle pillars, candle holders , and crucifix stand were fashioned from the communion railing that once bordered the altar.
A Few Facts about the Church's Artwork
Yet no matter where these worshippers' attention lie this morning, it is framed by the architecture designed by Charles Randig , a Benedictine monk and renowned artist in Europe who was invited here decades ago by his brother John, a St. James member on the church's planning committee. During his six-month stay in Arlington Heights with his brother's family , Charles managed the installation of the widows which, according to Pat Farrell, director of spiritual formation for the St. James K-8 students , are "irreplaceable" and likely valued at "hundreds of thousands of dollars ."
|Ionic-styled pillars in early morning light, a hint of Ephesus|
|One of 8 stain-glass windows|
designed by Benedictine monk
It's 7:20 . Outside, Pastor Matt crosses Arlington Heights Road, enters the church, and strides down an outer aisle towards the sacristy as the Rosary ends with a voice proclaiming the oldest Marian prayer, Sub Tuum Praesidium (" Under Your Protection") : " We fly to thy protection, O holy Mother of God, despise not…"
Why They Come Every Morning
Why do these same people come every morning when no church rubric or tradition requires it?
Joan—she's uses a walker: "It's a good way to start the day…It's not crowded. "
Bob: " I get up at five-thirty and like to walk …It might be my last day."
Tracey—there with her three children whom she homeschools; she and her four-year-old Abigail sometimes carry the gifts up to the altar: " It's a tradition. We do it to keep centered in God. "
Grant—Tracey's 12-year-old: " Sometimes it's hard getting up in the morning, but once I get there it's really worth it, that sense of peace you get for the rest of the day."
Dorothy—"I've been doing it all my life…It is my life now. "
Peter—the seminarian : " It's the opportunity to hear the Word of God and to receive the graces which I need for every-day life."
Regina—a young woman from Indonesia: " I need to see Him [Jesus ] and receive Him every day ."
Luis—he often kneels on the floor behind the last pew: "I thank God for the day and ask Him for guidance."
Stan—he's there with his wife and is a liturgy reader with a voice like a radio newsman: " We get a jump start on the day."
Marilee: " I just love it ! "
Madeline—a Eucharistic minister who's been a weekday mass regular for 29 years: " To be with the community. It's the best way to start the day."
Matthew—says he never would have survived the death of his wife a little over a year ago without this Mass: " For companionship."
Bill—he loves to bring the gifts up to the altar: "I've been going to Mass every morning since my wife died. You meet some pretty nice people early in the morning…You get up at six o'clock in the morning and you're showing God that you love him."
Other regulars include three people who are unable to kneel, a woman who sometimes arrives late and out of breath, at least two persons who have sought employment for more than a year, the pastor's cook and her husband, and the guy who has asked all these imposing questions and who wishes this 7:30 a.m. Mass began an hour later.
They Are the Body of Christ
A minute before 7:30 , there are usually 40 to 60—sometimes more—bodies in the pews. Always, there are a few latecomers scampering in .
No doubt some of these worshippers during their 30 minutes of singing, praying , and hearing the Word of God sense they are indeed a member of what church doctrine calls the " Body of Christ." Though they have heard these words proclaimed hundreds of times, questions naturally remain: What exactly is this body ? What does it look like ? What part am I ?
|Hands together during the Lord's Prayer|
The Catholic catechism says this about The Body of Christ: In the unity of this Body, there is a diversity of members and functions. All members are linked to one another (#806 )….The church is this Body of which Christ is the head (#807 )… And speaking Jan. 1, 2014 from his studio window overlooking St. Peter's Square, Pope Francis said: " We are all children of one heavenly father. We belong to the same human family and we share a common destiny. " Also , the apostle Paul in Romans 12: 4, 5 , writes: For as in one body we have many parts, and all the parts do not have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ .
The Catholic Encyclopedia , in its online page entitled " The Mystical Body of the Church , " suggests that these St. James worshippers and all others will have a clearer vision if they see this mystical body as analogous to the human body and see themselves as all "knit together as though by a system of ligaments and joints. " Or, as one Catholic theologian wrote: that they live in a "universe of Catholics " as parts of an organism where "all the sinews of our hearts are consecrated by the presence of Jesus ." In writing to bishops , Pope Francis stated : "Each member of the [ church ] body reproduces in himself the whole [ pastoral ] institution in its totality . " [ Italics added .]
One of these St. James worshippers might therefore wonder if a case can be made for God orchestrating the unified functioning of millions of cells in one human body—and linking this singular functioning to the millions of people who function as one Body of Christ. Would this worshipper then conclude that , on this January morning in Arlington Heights, , all those sitting in pews around him or her are each other's brother and sister in a very true sense ? Dare we not stay spiritually healthy for each other's sake, he might exhort ?
|Stan, helping all stay in tune|
There was an attempt by another worshipper to answer her with two analogies : One analogy was how that master switch in her basement circuit breaker box—with one tug—can send electricity simultaneously to any number of light bulbs that are "asking" for energy. The other analogy was how a loving touch of a mother upon her young child's body , how that touch—with the actual speed of light— communicates a message of joy or comfort to many parts of her child's body—simultaneously .
It's 7:30. Stan plays the refrain of a hymn. A young girl in a white robe appears in the sacristy doorway. She pauses, gets her cue from Fr. Matt, then stretches an arm upward and rings the bell over the sacristy door. Fr. Matt comes out singing. He is joined by the Body of Christ.
|The St. James ' regulars ' at 7:10 a.m.|
A thank you to Kathy Borresen, the
St. James artistic director, who patiently
supplied much of the detailed information
about the history and nomenclature of
the architecture and sacramentals.
Your comments and questions are valued.
Please send them to:
© 2014 Robert R. Schwarz