“…the priest came in- I was there alone. I don’t think he saw me-and took out the alter stone and put it in his bag; then he burned the wads of wool with the holy oil on them and threw the ash outside; he emptied the holy water stoup and blew out the lamp in the sanctuary and left the tabernacle open and empty, as though from now on it was always to be Good Friday….. I stayed there till he was gone, and then, suddenly, there wasn’t any chapel there any more, just an oddly decorated room. I can’t tell you what it felt like. “

This is how Evelyn Waugh had his character, a young Lady Cordelia Flyte, describe the closing of the chapel at Marchmain house at Brideshead to family friend Charles Ryder in the novel Brideshead Revisited.

It was sad when I first read it. But, it was sad in a fictional way. It’s not a real story, after all.

I would read Rich’s blog when he posted about parish closings in his native Rochester and be sad. But, it was a distant sad. I don’t know anybody in Rochester.

The sadness is now hitting home. I often drive past five parishes that either have recently closed or will be closing in my deanery.

On a cold Sunday morning in December, the snow was still on the road here in rural Indiana three days after it fell. I saw an elderly lady, that I know lives across the road from St. Mary of the Rock church, driving very cautiously, hands 10 and 2, erect in her seat, towards Oldenburg, 8 miles of poor country road away, presumably for mass . The last regular Sunday mass was said at St. Mary’s less than a month before. I wonder how many Sunday masses she has missed in the past 60 years? I wonder how many she has missed in the last two months? Franklin county schools have been closed more than open for the past five weeks.

I wonder how many poor souls, that have worked the fields and factories, raised their kids for a better life, and counted on their local parish to be there so that they could spend the last years of their life preparing their soul for eternity by assisting at daily mass, now find themselves unable to get to even Sunday mass let alone daily.

I can’t for the life of me figure out how one man driving 15 miles in one direction to say mass is more economical than 400 people driving 15 miles in the opposite direction to hear mass.  I can’t figure out how not using four perfectly good church buildings yet still maintaining them and building a new church building is more economical than just using the four perfectly good church buildings. I can’t figure out why parishes that have kept their churches and grounds well maintained get rewarded by having their parishes closed while a parish that has let their church and school building crumble down around them get rewarded with a new church and school building.

I wonder if any of the people on the committee that recommended the closing of other people’s parishes has missed a Sunday mass this winter because they couldn’t get there.  I wonder if any of them can’t afford gas to get them to daily mass. I wonder if the archbishop has missed mass.

I wonder if the archbishop or any of the priests that smile and tell us how great this rearrangement will be and how it will strengthen our faith and communities has any idea how it makes me physically sick to my stomach to hear their rot. “This is a victory,”  they say, “not a defeat.” Right. The soldiers in the trenches know a defeat. The brass at the rear can spin it any way they like. The front line soldiers are the ones that pay the price.

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