Massed Out?' Never!

Author: Fr. William Mendenhall

We hear comments nowadays about how "hard" the things are that the Church demands of modern Catholics - particularly in the days following the publication of documents like THE UNIVERSAL CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH, SPLENDOR VERITATIS, and, now, EVANGELIUM VITAE.

Here's something that ought to give us a bit of pause. The author, Father William Mendenhall, is currently the Spiritual Director of Mary, Queen of the Apostles Seminary, Moscow, Russia. The article is reprinted with permission of the publisher in its entirety:



"One of the many spiritual advantages in Russia is the chance to see the selfless and energetic dedication of so many young priests and religious here. They work hard and rewards of their labors are becoming apparent! Russian vocations to the priesthood and religious life are growing. They are actually concerned about sanctity of life as part and parcel of expressing love of God and of neighbor, and central to this concern is their love of the Eucharist.

"I was invited to participate in a conference on the Eucharist recently in the West. It was a beacon of faith and hope for the more than eight hundred who attended. One older gentleman was so inspired that a phrase he had heard from a young priest began to bother him, and he wanted to know whether or not his discomfort was warranted or exaggerated. The priest had told him "I'm massed out."

"I began with an explanation that sometimes a priest will say three or four Masses on a Sunday, and toward the end of the day he feels that he is losing focus. "No," responded the elderly gentleman, "we were all on holiday, and I was inviting him to go with me to a nearby Catholic church for daily Mass. He declined." I asked him to take the following true account back to his priest friend as kind of an answer.


"Father Casimir was ordained to the priesthood in 1945 in the western part of the former Soviet Union. He came recently to Moscow, and visited our seminary. It was the first time that he had visited Moscow since 1946. That was the year he was 'invited' to the massive KGB prison on Lubyanka Street, which is a block from St. Louis' Catholic Church, the only church in the Soviet Union that Stalin permitted to remain open - as a service to the Catholics of the Western diplomatic community, and as a showpiece of religious tolerance.

"Tolerance was not shown to Father Casimir and hundreds of other priests and religious. Many were executed; Father Casimir and others were sent east into the Gulag system of prison camps. He worked for 10 years in the mine shafts in the Northern Urals, and spent several more years in official exile in that area. He said that life in the mines and in the camps was hard, but a very genuine spiritual life was present there.

"The first question from the 1995 crop of seminarians was, 'Could you celebrate Mass while in prison?' The answer was as inspiring as it was surprising. 'I celebrated Holy Mass nearly every day. The rector of our seminary told us before our ordination to the priesthood that most of us would be arrested, and many would be killed or die in prison. He therefore instructed us to memorize the Mass and key passages of Sacred Scripture by heart before ordination, since we wouldn't be able to take missals or Bibles into the camps.

"So every night after work, I would by lying on the second shelf [the labor camps had barracks similar to those in German concentration camps], out of view of the camp police, with a piece of bread and a teaspoon with a few drops of wine. Yes, a teaspoon served as the chalice for the Precious Blood of Our Lord! I said Holy Mass from memory. It was always beautiful. However, it was particularly beautiful when we celebrated in the mine shafts. We worked at a depth of over 300 meters (900 feet). The camp police were not at all interested in going down that far because of the danger of collapse, so tat that depth the prisoners could even sing hymns during Mass.

"When I was released from the labor camp, the sentence of exile was still in effect, and I knew that I could be thrown back into prison if I were caught celebrating Mass or preaching the Gospel. But I was ordained for that, so I was careful in my work.


"One thing that I have found is that in the most difficult and poorest conditions, a rich spirituality is possible. The opposite danger is also true. I visited the West last year, but I do not think I could live there. So much wealth, such worries about worldly ambition and power, but so little spiritual life! In the parish church where I work now, we have eight Sunday Masses, all of them full to overflowing. We have six choirs (three adult and three children's choirs). We had our socialist 'liberation' many years ago. Now people are seeking to satisfy the deepest thirst of all!

"No matter what suffering you have to endure, no matter what sacrifices you are called by Christ to make, rejoice, my young friends. You are called to the vineyard of God, to the Altar of Christ! And what a calling! May God bless you!'

"Occasionally, a visiting priest from the West will decline the invitation to say daily Mass privately or in one of the few churches in Moscow, stating, 'No thanks, I'm on holiday.' So was Father Casimir. All his days in prison were holy days.'"


Kind of makes one ashamed of ourselves, doesn't it?

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