While I had come for Mass with the archbishop, I had, in a mystical and mysterious way, attended Mass with Padre Pio.
I don't think of myself as a relics junkie, but I just may be one. It started a few years ago, when relics of the saints began showing up in Boston more regularly. St. Charbel, St. Maria Goretti, St. John Vianney, St. Anthony of Padua, Padre Pio: we stood in line to venerate them, to pray in the presence of their remains, and to ask their intercession. And while we mostly made the rounds, we did miss the vials of blood from Mother Teresa and Pope John Paul II.
But let's be honest: putting pieces of people on tour is bizarre -- even if they were holy. It's weird to place a strand of hair behind glass and touch your rosary beads to it. It's strange to go with your family or group of friends to see sweat-soaked handkerchiefs, beard hairs, or fingernail clippings, and even stranger to venerate a finger, heart, or head.
Yet, Catholics do all these things, because the desire to be close to people we admire, people we hope to emulate, is a very human one. That's why I went to Mass with the Archbishop of New Orleans and the relics of St. Pio of Pietrelcina at Notre Dame Seminary last Saturday morning. It's also why the seminary chapel was filled to overflowing.
By the time I got there, the only seats left were in the vestibule. You couldn't see inside the chapel, but you could hear. My chair was opposite a large television screen as well. I assumed that when Mass began, the documentary video of Padre Pio's life, funeral, and beatification would end and the Mass I was there to attend would be broadcast. That is not what happened.
Instead, after Archbishop Aymond processed to the altar and then offered the opening blessing, the video continued and the words "The Last Mass of Padre Pio" appeared on the screen. It was a deeply moving experience to hear the words of the Mass being offered in the chapel while watching a saint offer his last Mass on the screen. It was a little jarring, too, when I realized that the two liturgies were mostly in sync. In the video, Padre Pio raised the chalice while Archbishop Aymond chanted, "The Mystery of Faith." While I had come for Mass with the archbishop, I had, in a mystical and mysterious way, attended Mass with Padre Pio.
It seems to me that we have a whole new class of relics. That 1968 video playing in the vestibule conveyed to me what bone fragments, locks of hair, and other personal mementos have brought to faithful Christians since the beginning: the presence of a holy soul and the opportunity to personally encounter someone who has left this life for the next.
In some ways, that is nothing new. It is the power of the Mass and the mystery of the Communion of Saints. Every Mass brings all people of all times together around the Body and Blood of Christ. And the saints of every age are the cloud of witnesses that join us around every altar and before every tabernacle and monstrance. The unity we have in Christ is not abstract or conceptual; it is real and can be experienced here and now. There are things that transcend the visible world, and people are among them. The saints do not fade into memory; they continue their prayer and their work. I don't think the video of Padre Pio's "Last Mass" was his last Mass at all!
So, I suppose you can count me among the people who want to "Make Catholicism Weird Again." Why not embrace the strange and mystical elements of our faith? It worked for Portland, Oregon and Austin, Texas. Perhaps when we manage to care less about fitting in and more about what we lose when we do, we become more able to both experience witness to the transcendentals of our faith -- the beauty, truth, goodness, unity, and love we all seek and find in God.
- Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a Catholic convert, wife, and mother of eight. Inspired by the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales, she is an author, speaker, and musician, and serves as a senior editor at Ave Maria Press. Find Jaymie on Facebook or follow her on Twitter @YouFeedThem.