This evening my wife and I went to the Mass at our parish church Immaculate Conception which is celebrating its 150th anniversary. Our Bishop Victor Galeone celebrated the Mass along with our previous bishop and many other priests from our diocese elsewhere. The Mass was very beautiful and reverent. The choir had been practicing for this event for some time and had previously raised funds to buy the excellent St. Gregory’ Catholic choir book and did one of Mozart’s Mass settings. The Catholic nerd in me loved the fact that the Kyrie Eleison took at least five minutes to perform. We also had members of the the Jacksonville Philharmonic orchestra accompanying the choir. Some people complain about the modern Mass, but I think it has been more of a problem of radical experimentation and lack of reverence then the new order of Mass itself. I have found that the Masses celebrated at this church have been just as spiritually powerful to me as the Latin Masses which they also have. Though I will be happier when they have revised the translations used.
One really strange think occurred during the Mass. During the hymns that were sung attending parishioners actually joined in and sang along with the choir! I was not use the phenomenon of Catholics actually singing. I myself love to sing and I try to make up for the dearth of people singing around me. So this was rather joyful to actually have the majority of people singing the hymns also. At first I was disoriented by this occurrence and thought that something might have gone wrong with the universe. That perhaps I had accidentally entered the bearded Spock universe where everything seems to be reversed. I thought that perhaps to test this alternate universe hypothesis that if I walked into a Protestant church that I would find them as mute as most Catholic churches.
Bishop Galeone started out the homily by saying he was not going to be talking about this parish or its history, but that he would be concentrating on the readings for the Immaculate Conception. He started by telling the story of St. Bernadette and how Fr. Peyramale had asked her to ask the lady her name. When she came back and said that she told her "I am the Immaculate Conception" he supposedly replied "You can’t be a verb." Bishop Galeone said that he would have told the good father that Jesus referred to himself also with an abstract title when he said "I am the resurrection and the light." The Bishop then went to the beginning of salvation history as per the first reading where our first parents fell into sin. He talked about how the Church fathers called Mary the second Eve and went through the comparisons of Mary carrying Jesus and the Ark of the Covenant. This is standard fare for those who have heard apologists such as Scott Hahn go through the many similarities between Mary and the Ark, but I still like hearing this again in a homily. Closing he quoted from Bishop Fulton J. Sheen and his comparison of Mary being like the Moon and Jesus like the Sun. That Mary gives off no light of her own, that all light comes from Jesus and that she in turn reflects it.
This in turn got me thinking that Mary must have an albedo of 1. Albedo is the measure of the reflectiveness of an object. An albedo of 1 indicates a perfect mirror and Mary is the perfect mirror of God’s grace. A perfect black body that absorbs all light falling on it has an albedo of 0. So morally an albedo of 0 might relate to mortal sin where you currently reflect none of God’s grace. That what you absorb is really only yourself as in being self absorbed. To reflect God’s love is to first in turn to accept it and then to return it. The amount that we reflect back is the measurement of our moral albedo. When we don’t cooperate with grace we in fact absorb it and we do not return that grace to God or our neighbor. I doubt that if that there was a machine that measured this type of albedo that we would be too eager to see the results.
Here is an article in our local paper that talks about the history of the Immaculate Conception Church and the anniversary. This church has been called one the most beautiful Catholic churches in the South. The recent renovation took away none of the beauty and instead repaired and enhanced it. This effort was what I consider the very model of how a renovation should be done. I never had any worries about the repair and construction since Rev. Antonio Leon has been like a guardian to this church.
I’ve heard from the bishop that this church is not going to close, not like other downtown churches up north," Leon said as he brandished a letter saying as much from Bishop Victor Galeone.
And why would it? The parish has about 800 registered families and has seen steady growth in membership for at least the last five years, Leon said.
The reasons are varied. After people began moving out of downtown in the 1950s and ’60s, the parish school eventually closed, as did a convent on the property. But those empty spaces were made available to several groups, such as Catholic charities and the meetings of spiritual groups like the Knights of Columbus, the Franciscan and Carmelite orders, Leon said.
The church became a virtual "school of spirituality," Leon said, "and that revitalized the parish."
The shell of Immaculate Conception remained after the church was destroyed by the Great Fire of 1901. The statue of the Virgin Mary above the entrance survived. An earlier wooden structure was burned by Union troops during the Civil War.
Then minority groups, such as Filipino and Hispanic Catholics, began using the facilities for cultural events and worship. A weekly Latin Mass was eventually offered, and the parish began offering more Masses and confession times, which began attracting Catholics from the suburbs as well as some of the thousands of people who work downtown, Leon said.
"All these different groups have enriched the parish," Leon said.
School of spirituality is exactly right. I have written before about this holy priest who earlier this year celebrated 30 years at Immaculate Conception. If parishes in this country our looking for a model to help revive their churches then I can think of nothing better then the model that Fr. Leon has followed.
Mary, Ark of the Covenant – Scott Hahn