I went to Atlanta last weekend to surprise my mother for her birthday. We accomplished that mission. We had visited EWTN studios a couple years before, and had planned to visit Our Lady of the Angels Monastery for Mass, but due to the drive and the distance, we couldn’t do that on that visit. We returned, and did it on Sunday, Nov 8.
We left our hotel at 4:00AM in order to arrive for 8:00AM mass (all times Eastern-OLAM is in the Central timezone, so Mass actually begins at 7:00 CST) We planned for a 3 1/2 hour drive in the dark, we actually got there in 3 hours because there was literally no one else on the road. We arrived at the turnoff just as the sun was pinking the clouds and giving the monastery walls a beautiful hue. We entered the nave of the church as the nuns were starting to chant the Office of Readings. Taking our place, we joined in. Immediately we were in awe of this holy shrine. All the finest workmanship went into the structure, the altar, the altarpiece and monstrance, the side altars of Our Lady of Grace and the child Jesus, the floors, the pillars, the rose window of the Father, the other rose window of the Holy Spirit. There was just so much to drink in, it was almost sensory overload. From the Office of Readings we went immediately into the Morning Prayers. The only thing disconcerting was really the disembodied voice of a single invisible nun chanting the psalms from behind the reredo. But after all, it IS about the prayers.
After the morning prayers, the brothers began preparing the altar and sanctuary for the mass, lighting the candles, preparing the credence table, all very stately and solemnly. The main celebrant sat in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament for a while, then rose to go to the vesting room.
Finally, the Mass began. There was no “hymn” sung, though the nuns sang a beautiful processional. The brothers (altar servers) preceeded the procession with incense and candles, preceeding the deacon and two celebrants. All of the ordinary parts of the Mass, the greeting, the Confietor, the Kyrie, etc. were sung in Chant, as well as the “Dominus vobiscum” and response. (I found that I need to learn the Latin…) The readings were done by two different brothers, and Deacon Bill Steltemeier read the gospel. Fr. Joseph Mary gave the homily, about going “all in” for our faith. The Liturgy of the Eucharist was celebrated Ad Orientam and entirely in Latin.
This was my first time at an entirely Latin Mass, and I must say I struggled a bit to participate in singing the Latin. I had heard it sung many times but that was on television and it was not required that I sing. What struck me was the engagement of all the senses in worshipping God. The sight of this magnificent house of worship, the gilt of the reredos, the gold of the monstrance (hidden during the Mass), all pointing toward heaven, lifts one’s attention, the mind, the heart, the spirit to God, as do the rose windows of the Holy Spirit and the Father. Smells and bells were all in evidence. Everything was incensed, and bells were rung at the consecration and epiclesis. My ears were engaged by the beauty of the nuns singing in plain chant, and song.
After the Mass was ended, we all knelt and prayed the St. Michael prayer as the Blessed Sacrament was re-exposed. Then, the sisters prayed the Rosary with the faithful, and several novenas to different representations of Our Lady. This was the most moving mass I had ever attended.
After we finished praying, we lingered, not wanting to leave the sanctuary of our Lord. The Shrine of the Blessed Sacrament has a lower crypt Church, so we went downstairs. I knew that there was a Shroud of Turin center here, and was hoping to find it. It was at the entrance to the crypt church. It contained life-sized pictures of the positive and negative images on the Shroud, as well as a woven crown of thorns, three nails, and two scourges, all of which have been discerned from the image of the Shroud. Because of the Shroud, we can know today how badly our Lord was treated, and a statue is present in this room which shows what Jesus’ body might have looked like after the scourging. I would say that this statue has affected me more than any other I have seen, because Jesus body was left in such bad shape. It is said that, due to the two directions of the scourge marks, there were two centurions that scourged Jesus. Each gave him 40 lashes. Jews knew that a sentence of 40 lashes was a death sentence for the victim, our Lord was dealt twice as many. I cannot now look at a crucifix without seeing this image in my mind. After re-composing myself, we walked through the crypt church, which was as beautiful and ornate as the upper church, but more confining, as most crypt churches are.
Because of the reverence of this small monastery shrine, I believe this was the most moving mass and experience I have ever had.