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The Rare Calm of Early Mass


Editor’s note: FMS staffer Kim Puchir reflects on the meaning she finds in attending early Mass.

Daily Mass is anything but everyday. Yes, it takes you to untraveled corners of the liturgical calendar with their feasts and saints. But I find that attending Mass in the early morning hours is the best way to get near to the heart of the church.

Across from the FMS offices, the Basilica’s smaller celebrations occur in the Lower Church. There the splendor is only slightly muted compared to the high, vaulted ceilings on the upper level.

People file in. Some walk in briskly in their office clothes. Students, members of the clergy and women religious usually make an appearance. Then there are people with no special distinction except for some reason that brings them to the church so early. It may be to lay their sorrows down for a moment on the cool stone floor. Or it could be to get close to something rare that seems to fill the half-empty nave.

Some mornings I can’t take my eyes off the bank of candles along the wall. I’m in Washington, DC, but I could be anywhere from Chile to Vietnam. All the hopes represented by the votive offerings blur into one human striving. Hear us, reach us, remember us, the dancing lights say.

A bell chimes. There is no organ at the early services, so the priest and altar server file in with a rustling of vestments. The silence is key.

“This has happened before,” is the thought that comes when there is no choir, no music to distract. The church seems terribly old and strong when the Mass is pared down to its essentials. This takes me places, to other liturgies celebrated in huts and caves, on mountaintops and aboard swaying ships.

The same readings once echoed in Latin within icy catacombs. They were whispered when history deemed it necessary.

The host and the wine are raised to heaven, the mystery of faith enacted for an intimate audience. There is something about Mass for a small group—between 20-40 for the 7:00 or 7:30, sometimes more. We make our own way up for Communion, people separating neatly into two lines when there is a second priest. We can be trusted to do this because only our hearts could have led us here. The early hour lends us each a purity that will return to us in flashes throughout the day.

The priest leaves the altar, followed by one figure or two. When the lector doubles as cantor, this person may begin an assigned hymn. Other times, something magical happens. The church may be nearly empty, but the song must come from somewhere. It begins in a corner

Immaculate Mary

And another voice joins in

Your praises we sing

The Aves rising up from all over are not required. This homage happens on its own accord. One verse, sometimes two verses trail behind the priest and the cross, a mystery of faith offered by strangers when the day has scarcely begun.

Reflection question: When have you had an experience that renewed your faith life? 

Kim grew up in NC and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Warren Wilson College in Asheville. Her first job out of college was working in a state psychiatric institution, and this interest in people living with mental illness carried through to later positions as a psychiatric social worker at Fountain House and a job with the National Alliance on Mental Illness. In between, she spent a year of service with Mercy Corps in the greater New York City area, where she developed an interest in people experiencing homelessness or poverty.

Always interested in people’s stories, Kim later turned her attention to communications work, but it’s at FMS that she has found a way to combine her spiritual journey with writing and editing. Kim is very inspired by the Franciscan charism, as well as inspiring others about FMS programs. link