A friend of mine wrote the following description of attending Mass on an aircraft carrier:
It was 1962, the height of the Cold War. I was stationed aboard an aircraft carrier in the Western Pacific. Operations ran 24/7.
The launch of an aircraft involved catapulting planes that weighed 60,000 pounds from dead-stop to a speed of 130 miles per hour in a distance of 220 feet. There were two of these catapults, one on each side of the forward area of the flight deck. Pistons retracted the heavy chains and cables that launched the planes. Imagine the noise! Now, imagine having Mass in a metal room under that flight deck smack-dab in the middle of those catapults!
The catapult to the right would launch with a loud swoosh-ker-thump! Followed by the snarling cables retracting—louder than a freight train and huge pistons hissing like giant snakes. There would be a slight pause, maybe a minute, before the left catapult would fire. Swoosh-ker-thump! Followed, again, by the whip of the retracting gear. This sequence would repeat over and over again.
On top of all this was the ship’s motion. At times the elevation of the Sacred Host was at the top of a wave…other times at the bottom of a wave! Through it all, we sailors hung on until the chaplain bestowed the final blessing.
Not your typical Sunday Mass. His description reminds me of a quote by Annie Dillard:
It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews.
Today is Palm Sunday and today’s Mass is not your typical Sunday Mass. Today, the readings do not refer to domestic scenes with children or bread rising in an oven; they do not feature agrarian scenes replete with sheep or sheaves of wheat.
Rather, we hear an account of the Passion of Christ and, like sailors on an aircraft carrier, we can’t ignore the deafening rumble of war.
Yes, war. What will it take for us to realize that this is the essence of every Mass: God’s sacrifice of His Son? His only Son?
Today, we stare, slack-jaw, at the sight of Jesus, the Lamb of God, opening his mouth in a silent scream of agony. Like sailors at prayer on an aircraft carrier, we gaze at elevation of the Holy Eucharist rising and falling on the waves of history: His distended stomach…like that of every child who ever died of starvation; His naked body…a shocking glimpse of every rape and sexual sin that has ever occurred; His blood-drenched face…the venue of every violence ever perpetrated in a bar room, back alley or prison yard.
No, this is not your typical Sunday. This is war. God’s war against evil in all of its forms and manifestations.
Grab your helmet. Bend your knee. Hang on as best you can.