I said Mass this morning. "Ho-hum", you may say, "was there something special about it?" In most of the ways you are probably thinking about, no. There was one way that it was unique though. It was the first time that I said Mass and had no one show up, and I usually have at least 5 or 6 people there (it was one time that I was glad that Epiphany is transferred to Sunday!). Now, I have to qualify this so that you do not think anything bad about my parishioners. It was 9 degrees outside with snow and ice on the roads when I left my home to go to Church, and I live in southern Missouri where those conditions are generally rare. Therefore, I cannot blame my people for choosing to stay home this morning (I was tempted to do so myself).
Yet, I did go ahead and celebrate Holy Mass. Now, I must admit, I do not know the exact rules for every diocese, but I am a priest of the Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter. In the Ordinariate, we are encouraged to celebrate Mass even if no one is able to attend. Firstly, this is for our own personal spiritual growth (since saying the Mass has a significant effect on the priest himself). Secondly, it is for the sake of the Mass intentions--there is always grace given when the sacrifice of the Mass is enacted, regardless of how many people are present. Then, I will add a third (which is not from my Bishop per se, but is my own opinion). There is something uniquely awesome about celebrating Mass alone.
Yes, I said "awesome" (not in the sense of "cool", but rather "awe-inspiring"). Let me elaborate what I mean by that. I do not actually "prefer" to say Mass alone (I love having a packed Church during Mass). There is a real disappointment that my people were not able to be there for the celebration. Yet, there is something awe-inspiring about going through the Mass with just "Jesus and me" in the Church. My inner inclination is to whisper while I am saying the Mass alone; as though there is something wrong about speaking at full volume with no parishioners present. It is sort of the same feeling you get when you walk into a Church and there is no one else there.
As I said above, this was the first time no one showed for Mass, but as a priest of the Ordinariate, I have said Mass alone (often called a "private Mass") a number of times (e.g. on my days off). Although we are not supposed to seek to isolate ourselves from the rest of the parish, priests do need some time of quietness with God. Having that in the context of the Mass is an especially unique spiritual blessing. Silence is a long forgotten joy that the Devil wants to eliminate from our lives. He floods us with a million media screens and sound speakers to overload our souls until they forget what a joy genuine silence is.
Another blessing that comes from saying the Mass by myself is that during a Mass with the people I am constantly focusing on what is going on, making sure that I am attentive to the people, the servers, the musicians, etc. In a Mass that is said alone, there is a certain sense of being able to worship more deeply (something priests often will let slide and compromise for the sake of their ministry--an odd trade-off when you think about it).
Therefore, yes, I said the Mass "anyways"; even though I was the only one there. Like I said above, however, I would not want to do this frequently (and for my parishioners who are reading this--no, I do not want you to stay home intentionally; only do so when you need to). Each one of us, whatever our situation, needs to look for how we can take advantage of the odd experiences that we encounter, and not look at every unexpected event like a problem. It is possible that God may even be doing something special with you in that specific circumstance. As my Grandmother used to say, "when you're handed lemons, make lemonade". When we are handed silence, we should not seek automatically to avoid it.