T THE START of a High Mass one Sunday morning many months ago at Wyoming Catholic College, I heard a detail in the prayer after the Asperges that had never struck me before. The priest asks the Lord to send His holy angel to protect all who dwell in hoc habitaculo—literally, in this little house. And while it is true that our chapel is humble and small, the very same prayer would have been prayed in the mightiest and most majestic cathedral.
Lodged in my memory, later on this phrase got me thinking of several things. First, any house we can build for the Lord is trivial in comparison with the house that he is building out of us, namely, the temple of the Holy Spirit, the mystical body of Jesus Christ. Our efforts, our constructions, our works of art pale in comparison to what the Lord deserves in His infinite glory and beauty.
Second, however, it shows us that we must do all that we can do for the Lord, since our greatest is the least that is worthy of him. Quantum potes, tantum audes, Saint Thomas says in one of his Eucharistic hymns: “As much as you can do, that much dare to do.” And the work we put in every week is largely “detail work”—unseen by the faithful who attend Mass. In the finite details, we give something preciously human, a sacrifice that is all the more valuable for being hidden and humble.
The College choir was singing the Kyrie from Palestrina’s Missa Aeterna Christi Munera. That short piece, sung as if effortlessly, was the result of so many hours of practice, sopranos, altos, tenors, and basses rehearsing their lines. Practices in which we started together, fell apart, picked up the pieces, and tried again and again until we could do it well. For thirty students in a volunteer choir, over many weeks of practices, that adds up to hundreds of human hours of work on the little things.
The young men serving at the altar also had to be trained well, and had to practice their parts in a carefully choreographed sacred dance: coming out and going around at the right times and into the right places, genuflecting, standing together, handling incense and thurible, candles, bells, and paten. On this day they made it look second nature, and that, too, gives glory to God, for it anticipates the tranquility of order in the heavenly Jerusalem, where God is “all in all.”
And, amazingly, it was our chaplain’s first ever High Mass in the Extraordinary Form. Think of how much time and effort he put into preparing for this occasion! Workshops, studying, private practice, guidance from an expert acolyte… The humility, the persistence, the attention to detail, the love for the Church and all that is sacred to her and to her people—all of these things shone from his face, his voice, his manner and gestures.
As we have discovered together in our community over the years, the traditional Roman liturgy is like a mosaic or a tapestry, a grand design made up of countless little things: details in rubrics and ceremonial, details in music, details in prayers and postures—details that, taken all together, constitute a “little way” by which we ascend to the heights of heaven. All the threads of a tapestry, all the tiles of a mosaic, come together in just the right plan, just the right order, to produce something beautiful, and so too do the many people and many actions of the sacred liturgy. By means of His careful, patient, and detailed work in our lives, the Lord builds us into a temple where He can dwell—right here in this little house of God.
[This blog is a modified version of an article that first appeared in Wyoming Catholic College’s monthly newsletter Integritas.]