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Surprised by Tradition

GUEST COLUMN

By George D. LeMaitre | June 2000
George D. LeMaitre, M.D., a practicing vascular surgeon, has authored three medical books and appeared in numerous medical journals. He resides in Andover, Massachusetts.

There was no way to tell from the outside. It looked like any other Catholic church. This one is in Amherst, and it was a first-time visit for us as we enjoyed parents’ weekend at the college. I say no way to tell but — in retrospect — there were two clues. I was just not sharp enough to put them together. There were bells announcing Mass. You don’t hear that much anymore. And there was the sign on the lawn naming the church — St. Bridgit’s — and advertising the time for the Sacrifice of the Mass: Sacrifice, not Celebration.

Inside, there was an array of holy statues, ornate wood carvings, and stained glass windows with huge figures depicting the Annunciation, the Ascension, the Transfiguration, and other vivid chapters from a time-tested book many people are not familiar with anymore. Carved deep in the marble arch supporting the vault over the altar were these ancient marks: “ADOREMUS IN AETERNUM. SANCTISSIMUM SACRAMENTUM” (loosely: “We adore you in eternity. Most sacred Host”). Gold, bold capital letters, enshrouded with red borders. Whoever sunk his chisel into the marble to fashion these marks proclaimed from the rooftops this most holy mystery of the Faith. How easy, I mused, it might be for a carpenter with twenty 4 x 8 blond quarter-inch panels to cover those marks, and then gut out the stained glass windows, power-sand the ornate carvings, and banish the statues. In a week or two of hustle he could push St. Bridgit’s into the 21st century for less than $10,000.

Well not really. He’d have to deal with the priest, a modest man whose smile bared Billy DeWolfe teeth but who carried himself tall with Tradition. Priesthood was writ large upon this man’s heart and tongue.

For an hour, I marveled at this enclave — its architecture and ritual holding fast and fixed in a maelstrom of modernistic change. Things fell rapidly into place and I began to anticipate each step as it unfolded during the Sacrifice. I guessed a bell would ring at the Elevation of the Host — and it did. I figured the Chalice would be gold — not salad-bowl wood or cute ceramic, but precious metal for precious cargo — and it was. I knew the altar boy would hold the Paten under my chin — and he did.

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