Monday, November 26, 2007

"the Mass must go on"

A gentleman seated in the first pew collapsed during Mass yesterday. I had just raised the consecrated bread and wine and was in the middle of offering the prayer of doxology when out of the corner of my eye I saw his figure drop with a thud. I caught sight of another man across the aisle rush to him.

I reach the end of the prayer: “….all glory and honor is Yours Almighty Father, forever and ever.” The pianist doesn’t play; the cantor doesn’t sing; not one soul responds “Amen.” Sensing that all were transfixed to the commotion going on in front of me, I lower the chalice and the consecrated bread and proceed to the fallen.

“Are you OK?” I ask.

“Yeah, I am,” he responds, noticing that he’s not beyond his teenage years yet.

His hand was on his forehead rubbing it, and so turning to the young man next to him I ask, “How did he hit his head?”

“My leg. He’ll be ok.”

Turning again to the fallen teen, I ask: “Would you like to rest in the sacristy for awhile?”

“Yeah,” he says without hesitation.

The young man’s brother whose leg fortunately cushioned the landing accompanies him to the sacristy. The parents were out of sight.

I return to the altar, asked the congregation to pray for the young man, and then led them in praying the Lord’s Prayer.

After Mass and after greeting the departing parishioners, I enter the sacristy. The paramedics were treating the young man. His brother and mother were present.

“He had breakfast this morning,” his mother standing in a corner tells me. “Oh he DID have breakfast, Ma’am?” a paramedic wanted to make sure.

I turn to the brother: “Do you think he had a full night’s sleep last night?” Not sure why I asked that. I’ve never collapsed or fainted in my life. But I know I’ve had all-nighters in college and the next day always left me with the feeling of wanting to just drop to the floor and sleep.

“Yeh, I think so,” his brother responds

The paramedics take him to the hospital. His mother and brother follow. The dad I was later told was also in the room, but I didn’t notice him.


After removing my vestments, I emerge from the sacristy. A parishioner tells me, “Father, it was quite awkward. I think this is the first time someone’s collapsed at this Mass. Nobody quite knew what to do!”

I said to myself, “What makes you think I know what to do when things like this happen? This is only the fifth time someone has either collapsed or fainted at one of my Masses and every time it happens I simply don’t know what to do.”

Later in the day I told an Episcopal acquaintance about this. He tells me, “Well, you know…..when the Dean of Grace Cathedral died in his stall during the late 1970s, the Mass carried on, as if nothing happened, while paramedics dragged his body out of the stall.”

“Wow…” I exclaim.

"It’s all to keep a stiff upper lip, you know. Even when a rather deranged individual cut in front of the procession & sat with the clergy in the Bishop's stall, the service carried on, without interruption,” he adds.

“Amazing. That incident about the Dean of Grace Cathedral dying at liturgy and no one pausing seems rather heartless, don’t you think?” I ask.

“Oh I don't know. There is something to be said though for carrying on with the Mass, without pausing for death.....Death is just a part of life.”

And at the rate I'm going, collapses are becoming just a part of Mass.

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