Post 80

“Turnpike” Mass 2016: A Pro-lifer's Thoughts

For those who are non-Catholics, I’ll explain that one of the most difficult things for non-Catholic adults to believe is something that we Catholics believe happens at Mass called “transubstantiation.” This is not difficult for children to believe, but it’s difficult for adults.

We declare, as Catholics, that upon the saying of the correct words, a properly-ordained priest is capable of changing bread into the actual Body of Christ.

This is quite a claim.

We know it.

We know that our claim is extreme, but we do not stop there.

We also declare, as Catholics, that upon the saying of the correct words, a properly-ordained priest is capable of changing wine into the actual Blood of Christ.

This, also, is quite a claim.

We know this too.

I have explained the ‘outrageousness’ of this claim to children. I have said to them, we are not saying that the outward form of the bread or the wine changes. It still smells like bread, it still tastes like bread and the wine still tastes like wine and the wine still acts like wine (goes straight to my head – odd tingles like someone who can’t handle 0.0001% alcohol), but it is no longer, upon the saying of the correct words by the correct person, what it seems like it is.

Children can accept this, but adults, well, they ‘know better.’

My understanding about the philosophical terms is that the ‘essence’ changes but the ‘accidents’ remain.

That’s as strange as saying to someone, “Hey, you see that lamp over there? Well, if I say certain words, then it’s no longer a lamp, it’s a star. It’s going to look like a lamp and feel like a lamp, but it’s not a lamp. It’s a star, a star that you can touch and stare at and be near without dying.”

Simple, right?

Reasonable, right?


Of course not. Such a claim really makes no scientific sense.

It doesn’t match with what science tells us is possible.

Ah, science.

Science, however, like all areas of human endeavor, is fraught with limitations as Chesterton repeatedly pointed out.

The problem with science and many scientists and most believers-in-the-latest-‘findings’-which-contradict-last-month’s-‘findings’ is that the limits to what science can know using the limited tools available to science, remain unacknowledged, no matter how extreme the scientific theories are.

An artist admits that he cannot paint beyond the edges of the canvas.

An ‘expert’ witness who takes the stand at a civil trial is cross-examined on the extent of his expertise.

The layperson who has witnessed a crime is cross-examined on what he saw before his testimony will be accepted; it is considered preferable if he has committed his observations to paper.

And of course, nowadays, the testimony of anyone talking about anything religious is considered ridiculous and laughable even before he has a chance to open his mouth.

It’s been that way for quite a while now. If you don’t believe me, go read Chesterton. You’ll see how Christian testimony was, even in his day, void ab initio – in other words, invalid from the get-go, from the beginning.

Your testimony, if you are a Christian, is not worth anything because you somehow seem to believe in things called miracles.

(How did Sydney come to believe in miracles? Is it because she experienced one? Or is it because she has been reading and believes the so-called eyewitness testimony of other human beings called the Bible, which is the collected writings of people who put to paper what was known about God and Jesus? Ha ha ha! As if! That book, well, that book, it’s only been around for 2000 years – New Testament part, and I know better because I’ve been around for 20 and I can just, well, tell. I know because I heard some guy say, on some show, that he also can just, well, tell. And I believe him. I mean, I agree with him. I didn’t use the word ‘believe’ just now. Ah, oh well, we’ll never know why Sydney believes what she believes, because now that she believes, she’s put herself into that group of people we don’t listen to.)

(Mind you, if she says she believes in aliens, well, let’s pull up a chair and listen! The trends change; I don’t know – perhaps the polls nowadays would show that 40% of the population under 25 “somewhat believes in” ghosts, aliens, zombies, vampires, evolution, creation, global warming or whatever.)

The point is that when it’s not labelled scientific, we won’t accept everything we hear. We know there are limits to different fields of human endeavor, testimony and knowledge, and we think the artist is sensible when he says he cannot paint beyond the limits of the canvas. We agree with that, yet somehow, if someone makes a claim in the name of ‘science’ we swallow it hook, lie and sinker.

Yet we laugh at those who say, here’s a belief, here’s a mystery, here’s something which goes beyond what can be understood using unaided science.

I think the religious people are being more intellectually honest, because at least they have words which signal when you’re not going to be able to use everyday logic. The scientific people just slide in concepts without much explanation and expect you to go along with it. KindOne’s husband said that a discerning listener should be on the lookout for the phrase, “the consensus in the scientific community is…” That’s a good point.

But anyway, I was outlining a key Catholic belief, called transubstantiation.

It’s perhaps today’s new word. Trans-sub-stan-ti-a-tion. Six syllables for a concept that is too big and too wild for any human word, really.

It’s a belief around for 2000 years, shared by Catholics and Orthodox all over the world. It’s one which shocked people in Jesus’s day. When he spoke of other people eating his flesh, some people were grossed out at such talk and decided to stop following him on Facebook (they knew he wasn’t speaking symbolically). They unfriended him, in fact.

That’s how shocking the belief is.

If you understand anything about Catholicism, you understand that this is not an easy belief for adults to accept.

The words that ‘trigger’ transubstantiation, in English are “This is my Body.”

The key words for the wine are “This is my Blood.”

I don’t know the exact instant when the transformation occurs. The mystic tells me that it all happens so quickly, with the sensation that the heavens have opened and something like a lightning bolt has struck, but I don’t know about the exact timing. Sometime right around the word ‘body’ is what I understand.

So if I were allowed to be poetic about it, I would say that perhaps it would happen right when the last breath leaves the priest’s lips to form the word “Body.” Let’s speculate, for the sake of poetry, that it’s when the last particle of air from his mouth touches the bread that he’s holding, in the manner of the idea of God breathing life into Adam. In the same way that Adam is said to have been animated by the breath of God, perhaps here God is animated by the word of a man. Similarly, for the wine, let’s guess that it changes when the last particle of air reaches the chalice that he’s holding. The wine could be like Eve, coming along a little later, but of equal worth.

But without divine inspiration, I can’t tell you authoritatively exactly when it occurs.

As a side note, the phrase “Hocus Pocus” is a mockery, in a sense, of what happens at the Holy Mass (which refers, at minimum, to the beginning of the key phrase Hoc est = This is..). Yet it shows you how our culture carries, deep within in, many things which are unknowingly Catholic. You think Catholicism is this funny corner on the side of life, adhered to by a backwards people. Little do you realize how much our culture is standing on the back of Catholicism. Catholicism stoops forward like a forgiving grandmother so that you can walk all over her.

Now because Catholics believe that this is what happens at Mass, it is no wonder that they care, very much, about how the Mass is performed.

You can understand.

Wouldn’t it be appropriate – if a person really believed that Jesus Christ, Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity, were going to be so humble as to make Himself available to humanity, simply at the spoken words of a human being, again and again and again all over the world – wouldn’t it be appropriate, in such a “scenario” (let’s call it), for Jesus to be welcomed with respect and reverence?

Ah, indeed!

Now you get my drift.

That’s why there are some rules set out by the Catholic Church about how to show such respect and reverence. It’s in case someone is clueless.

If you are a stranger in a new land, you actually appreciate having a guide book or a reliable friend who will show you how to be properly respectful, correct?

The rules aren’t there to make anybody feel badly; they are there so that you can pay homage properly. Imagine how it would feel to attend the funeral of someone in a part of the world that is unfamiliar to you – certainly you would feel awkward if you didn’t know the customs? It’s the same with Mass – but here, the customs and typical rituals are set out, so that everyone will ‘be on the same page’ as the expression goes.

Or, for another analogy, the rules are there for the priest in the same way there are rules if you make hamburgers for a living. Before the owner entrusts you to make a single burger, he’s going to show you the instruction sheet. The burger is cooked like this, the tomato is laid like that, and then the cheese – are you watching? — the cheese goes like so. When you add the lettuce, make sure that it is in the centre, otherwise, etc etc.

Now, as you can well imagine, some people are a little sloppy with the rules. They slap that hamburger together like they couldn’t care less. How right it is, then, that the owner comes around the corner and says, “Hey buddy! What do you think you’re doing? You want to keep your job at this joint or not?”

How right it is that the customer says, “This burger wasn’t even cooked properly” if it wasn’t.

So, in the same way, it is not surprising that many Catholics keep a close eye on how the Mass is celebrated. The Mass has more to it than this transubstantiation section, but this section, the “Eucharistic Meal,” is by far the most essential part of the Mass, and some people watch it like hawks.

I don’t blame them.

It’s Jesus.

Let’s welcome Him properly! Let’s prepare the table; let’s prepare our hearts!

On the other hand, some people really like the rules, as in, they like the rule book. They have, perhaps, a legalistic mind, and they like to almost play a game of ‘let’s see if all the rules are being followed.’ They notice that some priests tend to break certain ‘rules’ and some other priests bend certain other ones.

I don’t know what all the rules are myself. I was an altar girl once, as in, I served at one Mass. I was poorly trained. It’s not that I didn’t care, it’s just that I didn’t know how to proceed. And little did I know, back then, that the Church hadn’t even officially given the green-light to girls as altar servers.

But I did begin to understand more about such things, and I did develop a personal preference about different things about the Mass. As for male altar servers, I developed opinions about that, liking the appearance and the camaraderie of an all-boys function at Mass, especially because nowadays it seems like boys are losing so much. Their sports teams are being forced to include girls, their Boy Scouts groups need to include girls, and even their first names are being overtaken by girls.

I like the traditions surrounding the Mass. I like tradition in general. I like the incense, I like the incense holder, I liked the way the plumes of smoke rose so majestically and dramatically high when I saw them at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.

I like the candles, I like the full-length garments and I loved the way the wind swept the vestments at the funeral Mass of His Holiness Pope John Paul II. All those colours of the different cardinals and bishops from around the world, oh my. Stunningly, achingly beautiful funeral Mass. Simple coffin like an upturned canoe.

(Hollywood can’t hold a candle to this stuff.)

Ah yes. I get it.

Don’t think I don’t.

Now interestingly, in case you didn’t know it, many Catholics who are especially devoted to the pro-life causes (volunteering their time and energy to fighting abortion and euthanasia and wrongful bio-“ethical” practices which is a euphemism referring to nutty boys with weird ideas in heavily-funded laboratories) also happen to care very much about how Mass is celebrated.

They notice when existing liturgical “laws” are bent or broken.

If you like Venn’s diagrams, picture two very overlapping circles. Advocates for liturgical purity would be one circle and activists in pro-life would be another. They overlap like this, or maybe like that. Not exactly sure.

But anyway, unfortunately, sometimes such rule-loving-tradition-loving Catholics go a bit far. They are like, sometimes, the tattle-tell in the kitchen who runs to the owner, saying, “Ashley put the lettuce on at the wrong angle!” or “Mackenzie let the chips linger in the oil for 30 seconds too long and they were extra crispy! You should have seen the travesty committed!”

John-Henry Westen and his followers, for instance, are often very passionate about these rules and are often the first to point out when liturgical norms are not followed. The article in the magazine about the once-per-year (Holy Thursday) symbolic washing of feet being performed on women, and the issue of female altar servers are more instances of the jumping-up and down over rule infractions, but I won’t delve into yet another article from that magazine. Please just trust me on this one when I say that Pope Francis falls on the ‘wrong’ side of the line according to Mr. Westen and a full-colour photo was again involved.

But Mr. Westen is like the rule-obsessed kid who is so brazen as to challenge the owner himself.

The owner has been inspired by God to begin work on a new masterpiece, called “Even Stephen” and he decides to use two kinds of cheese, mozza and cheddar, and two kinds of lettuce, iceberg and spinach, and he uses two kinds of meat, bacon and beef. The owner is wondering whether God wants him to use 60% whole wheat bread or start a new line of bread which is actually 50% whole wheat.

Along comes Madison and Madison says, “What do you think you’re doing? Can’t you read the instruction sheet?”

Owner turns around, concentration broken, and looks at Madison.

Madison looks at the owner.

Owner says, “Hey kid, did you write that instruction sheet?”

Madison looks at the owner.

Owner says, “Yeah, I didn’t think so.”

Madison looks at the owner.

Owner (not being as nice or as inspired as Pope Francis) says to Madison, “Shut up then.”

Hopefully Madison does.

So, about that so-called famous Turnpike Mass, a Mass held outdoors on the side of a traffic-jammed highway, I have read a short interview by the main celebrant. He says he doesn’t want to take the chief credit for the Mass. I think he needs to. He gave the final green light, and agreed to do it. He had a choice as he considered the obstacles, the benefits and the pros and the cons. It’s called Personal Responsibility. I’m not saying he did wrong (that I cannot tell) but I’m saying it was his choice, and the credit or blame for this one rests with the one who had the last say.

So let’s talk about the Turnpike Mass.

Yes, please give me a few minutes; let’s see what’s left of it.

Many pro-lifers are extremely, extremely proud of this Mass. Spend 60 seconds online and you’ll see what I mean. John-Henry Westen’s Faithful Insight magazine made it a cover story and had a lengthy article about how much of a game-changer it was.

In the mind of Faithful Insight magazine and many pro-lifers, this Mass deserves fame, and all that fame and media attention will show to the world that – youth can build things made out of snow, including large rectangular prisms which can function as altars.

(I’ve seen more intricate things built by younger children than that. If I do say so myself, I’ve been involved in building more interesting things than that. The coolest thing, in my opinion, is to see if you can make a fort which is large enough to fit you and your toque-and-snowpants sibling without caving.

In Canada, we call a knit winter hat a ‘toque’. The word rhymes with Luke. So you could say, “He read from the Book of Luke while wearing a toque” and you’d sound really Canadian, not to mention Christian.)

But anyway, the point is that they used: snow!


Snow to build the altar! Or to put it another way, an altar completely made out of snow!


Um, yeah.

Here’s a direct quotation from the interviewer and interviewee.


No, seriously.

Are you really ready?


Let ‘er rip, boys:

Q: Who built the altar? Was it just snow?

Pilgrims from the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. And yes, it was completely made out of snow. Those Minnesotans apparently know how to build stuff out of snow!

Um, yeah. They apparently know.

Of course people from Minnesota could “build stuff out of snow.”

That’s because it falls there.

It’s been falling there for years as a matter of fact, and it usually falls during “winter.”

The kids in Minnesota play in the snow.

When it falls.

In the winter.

They, yes, build stuff.

Snowmen, snowballs, snow forts — “stuff” like that is what the kids build.

The adults don’t generally do that though. The adults grow up and read LifeSiteNews articles about how incredible it was that some youthful people decided to make a large cubic rectangle out of snow and how that’s proof of incredible devotion. That’s what the adults are doing.

Or maybe, this Mass shows to the world that – the weather DIDN’T STOP those amazing pro-lifers, no!

What did you say?

Oh, the rally was already finished?


Um, okay, never mind. Here’s something else.

The Turnpike Mass proves that – that – Mass can be celebrated outdoors!!!

(It can.)

The Turnpike Mass proves that Mass can be celebrated outdoors in poor weather!!

(It can.)

The Turnpike Mass proves that – that – ?


I’m not sure.

Let me read. Let’s see.

It says,

Overall, I’d say it certainly raised the spirits of all those in attendance. It brought the light of Christ to a very bleak situation, and helped continue to spread the message of the Gospel of Life, that all life is sacred.

Hmm, well, as far as raising the spirits, maybe it did. I’m not sure how “very bleak” the situation was. Sure, it wasn’t ideal, for some, especially if the batteries on their cell phones ran out while they sat in the buses and they didn’t have a way to recharge so that they could continue texting to the pro-lifers who dutifully stayed home when their parents raised concerns about the advisability of being out in such weather. That definitely would have been bleak.

And sure, going to an outdoor Mass on the side of the road meant that a lot of people who were waiting in the buses changed to standing outside. It meant that for a while, some young people were more occupied with preparing for an impromptu Mass than doing something else such as sliding down some nearby slopes on their pro-life signs while they waited (I think the latter sounds like a blast and wish I’d seen it.)

As for “spreading the message of the Gospel of Life” and showing “that all life is sacred,” I’m not so sure exactly what is meant, especially when there were no microphones or audio system of any kind.

Does the Gospel of Life refer to the readings that day? And how exactly did the Mass spread the message that all life is sacred, any more than any other Mass does, anywhere else in the world?

These accolades strike me as exaggerated and misplaced.

Seems like a lot for one snow-altar to carry.

Let’s be honest. Those who are rhapsodic about this Mass are this way because the Mass was so spontaneous, so creative, so daring, so out-of-the-ordinary, so youthful (so E-van-gel-i-cal?) and so incredibly snowy.

Am I wrong?

The first question that interviewers want to ask always seems to be about what the altar was made out of. Nobody focuses on the transubstantiation part.

Did any interviewers ask the important questions?

Let’s go look at the photos. Perhaps I’ll learn more that way.

I see the altar.

Yes, looks like snow alright. On one side it looks as though a white-backed board (perhaps one of the signs from the pro-life rally) is on top of half the altar. Not sure if it stayed there the whole time.

I see the priest is in the midst of celebrating Mass.

There’s a chalice. Next to the chalice there is a – water bottle?

A water bottle?

And that is for?

The water used during consecration?

And what is that large black thing on the altar? Is that somebody’s toque? It’s not there in all the photos, though I see that the holy water is in a tipped-over position in most photos (not the plastic water bottle, that’s upright.)

I look at more photos.

There’s a photo of Fr. Behm trying to use some kind of cell phone or something to read from while many of those closest to him have their backs turned on the altar. Hopefully that’s a photo from before the Mass, or after.

But aside from wondering what the urgency was for such an unplanned-for Mass to be celebrated on a Saturday when it was very likely that there would likely be a good opportunity to attend Sunday Mass the following day in many different locations, I wonder other things.

How could anybody other than those who were within 10 feet manage to hear a word of what was spoken? There was no sound system in place and if you add a bit of wind or a few winter hats or hoods, it means that you have no audio clues as to what stage the Mass is at. If there really were 500 people in attendance, what percentage of them could hear a word? And visually, who could see much of anything, considering that the altar was positioned no higher than the congregation? Sure, if you were at the front, you’d see what was happening, but anybody further back would have struggled to see or hear much of anything. It’s just not how you run an outdoor Mass of any size. In the days before sound-systems, there were many techniques employed to make sure everyone could see and hear as much as possible inside the churches.

But my main question is about the bread consecrated during this Mass. Did someone happen to have some pita bread in their back-pack which got torn up into teeny-weeny pieces? That’s what it looks like, as I see it is not the usual wafers, but something else that was used. The standard wafers are good because they are very compressed and unleavened, which means that it is far less likely that crumbs would fall and be trampled upon.

True, during situations of lengthy imprisonment, priests have been known to ‘make do’ with what was available to them.

But this wasn’t an emergency. Sounds like the Mass was more of a ‘pick-me-up’ or a ‘mood-changer’ than a necessary Mass.

After how many hours of waiting was it decided that a Mass would be nice? Don’t count how long the total wait was at that location. Tell me, how long you were waiting before this Mass was deemed a good idea?

Despite lacking altar cloth, vestments for altar servers, wine, wafers, music, sound system, this Mass needed to happen?

Why not a simple service instead, or some prayers? Or hey, the priests could have gone from bus to bus saying hello and offering other help. What about impromptu confessions? That might have been a very lovely use of time, come to think of it. But I haven’t heard that this was one of the many activities which occurred.

And trust me, it seems that every possible good deed that was performed by anybody seems to be listed. Someone seems to think that the more ‘good Samaritan’ activities that are listed, the better will be my view of these pro-life marchers. They even pat themselves on the back for indirectly saving some lives. You may wonder how. (It’s because some hotel rooms weren’t needed because some pro-lifers weren’t present in the bad-weather areas. The hotel managers decided to let them be used by homeless people, but reading about it, the credit almost seems to be going to the pro-lifers:) “Lives might have been saved by those hotel rooms” according to Fr. Behm to Teresa Tomeo on her radio program.

He may be right, and I applaud the hotel manager who made this call, but wow, this thing just keeps getting bigger! The big deeds keep getting bigger. At this point, lives are indirectly being saved. Good deeds are just flying all over the place! I can barely keep up.

One website even offers me the opportunity to do this:

“Watch Worshippers Receive Communion at the Great Turnpike Mass of 2016.”

No, um —

No, thank you.

Why would I do that?

And by the way, did I just read it being called, “the Great” Turnpike Mass of 2016?

Someone clearly thinks that history was made.

All Masses are great. This one is not greater than the rest.

As a matter of fact, many pro-lifers who judge such things would point out that this Mass was a prime example of liturgical norms and perhaps even rules being bent or even broken. I don’t know. I’m not an expert in canon law, the way many pro-lifers seem to be. And I am not in a position to change any of those norms and laws. (I am not complaining, just stating the fact.)

Another thing I wonder is how the non-Catholics would have known how to participate. The pro-life crowd isn’t exclusively Catholic; how would an Evangelical student, who was suddenly invited to participate in the event (the Catholics went from bus-to-bus inviting pro-lifers) know the rules pertaining to Communion for non-Catholics? A pre-Mass announcement could not have been made, since there wasn’t a sound system in place which could reach everyone. So how would they know that being invited to a Mass isn’t the same as being invited to one of their own Protestant ‘services’ back home, where the bread is not the Body of Christ, but merely a symbol? Who explained the difference to all these ‘pilgrims,’ as I’ve seen them called?

This Mass does not deserve more fame than any of the rest.

If it were not for Jesus being present Himself (under one species only, I presume, since wine would probably have been lacking?), I would say that this Mass does not deserve fame at all. The word ‘infamy’ crosses my mind, but out of respect for Christ, I won’t go further with that.

As a matter of fact, I think this Mass and accompanying photos (probably video; I have not watched) arguably brings disrepute upon the Mass. I look at the photos of the people milling about, and the scattered items on the uneven altar, and I shake my head. I look at all the phones taking photos and videos, and the subsequent media description of this event, and I shake my head. I consider how riddled it was with logistic handicaps, preventing it from being properly seen and heard, and I shake my head. I think of the lack of education for the non-Catholics suddenly invited and in attendance, and I shake my head. (Note that I am not complaining of their attendance, but that they weren’t properly prepared, probably, in the basics of attending a Catholic Mass.)

The “Turnpike Mass” does not compare (other than being a Mass) with the quiet elegance of those very non-spontaneous Masses said by Fr. Karol Wojtyla on an upturned canoe in the company of a handful of people.

The “Turnpike Mass” does not compare (other than being a Mass) with the solemn dignity of those very non-spontaneous Masses said by those who truly are in ‘very bleak situations,’ suffering in prison camps around the world.

It just doesn’t.

Qui, prídie quam paterétur, accépit panem in sanctas ac venerábiles manus suas, et elevátis óculis in cælum ad te Deum Patrem suum omnipoténtem, tibi grátias agens benedíxit, fregit, dedítque discípulis suis, dicens:


On the day before he was to suffer he took bread in his holy and venerable hands, and with eyes raised to heaven to you, O God, his almighty Father, giving you thanks he said the blessing, broke the bread and gave it to his disciples, saying:

He shows the consecrated host to the people, places it again on the paten, and genuflects in adoration.

Símili modo, postquam cenátum est, accípiens et hunc præclárum cálicem in sanctas ac venerábiles manus suas, item tibi grátias agens benedíxit, dedítque discípulis suis, dicens:


In a similar way, when supper was ended, he took this precious chalice in his holy and venerable hands, and once more giving you thanks, he said the blessing and gave the chalice to his disciples, saying:

The Priest shows the chalice to the people, places it on the corporal, and genuflects in adoration.