A fiddler on the roof…
Sounds crazy, no?
But here, in our little village of Anatevka,
you might say
every one of us is a fiddler on the roof.
Trying to scratch out a pleasant, simple tune
without breaking his neck.
It isn’t easy.
You may ask,
why do we stay up there
if it’s so dangerous?
Well, we stay because
Anatevka is our home.
And how do we keep our balance?
That I can tell you in one word!
Tradition! – Reb Tevye, Fiddler on the Roof
Now, let me move ahead several years to just the other day.
My wife had asked me over the weekend if I could lector at Mass on Monday morning, as the usual lector was unable to. Though I usually don’t go to Mass on Mondays, I agreed. The reading that day was the magnificent poetry at the beginning of the book of Genesis, which narrates God’s creative work in bringing the world into existence and calling all he had made “good.” The Gospel that day told of God’s re-creative work as “the sick on mats” (Mk. 6:55) were brought to Jesus for healing. How lovely to hear stories of God building and rebuilding the world, the very meaning of the word liturgy. What a prequel to what was about to happen.
As Liturgy of the Word drew to a close and we transitioned into the Liturgy of the Eucharist, I noticed a loud hammering sound coming from the ceiling of the Church. As we moved toward the Institution Narrative, it grew so loud that the priest stopped during the words over the Chalice to wait for the banging to end. It continued on and off throughout the rest of Mass. At the end of Mass, the celebrant apologized for the noise, and made of it a teachable moment, saying we should always take care to not allow the devil’s distractions to prevent us from keeping our focus in prayer and on God.
As all of this was going on during the Mass, I had an experience similar to the one I mentioned in yesterday’s post. At the moment the priest paused over the chalice, I was overcome by a flood of insights so forceful they caused me to audibly blurt out, “What the heck.” This, by the way, is why my children prefer to not sit with me during Mass. And just ask them if you think I’m exaggerating. “Dad’s Catholic Tourette,” as one of them once called it.
After Mass, I got in my car and composed a text to send to the priest who celebrated that Mass. We are friends, so I knew he would understand my intention in the feedback. I wrote:
ALWAYS A JOY to be at Mass when you are celebrant.
I loved your way of addressing the noise of the worker hammering on the
church roof during Mass — do not be distracted!
ALWAYS a welcome reminder, especially to A.D.D.D.D.D. peeps like me!
But let me propose another triple-take that had occurred to me as it was
- The sound of loud hammering accompanied the first Mass on Golgotha, so
how magnificent that it intruded on our safe quiet space.
- The sound of a manual laborer, a carpenter, a tektōn mingling with the
Mass brings us face to face with the seamless unity of the liturgy of life
and the Divine Liturgy. Liturgy = laos “people” + ergos “that work.” Inside, outside, it’s all part of a single liturgical act.
“Clap along if you feel like a room without a roof.” #laityontheroof
- Liturgy is the divine-human work of repair-ation, of renovation of the
cosmic temple, the ecclesial temple and of the embodied temples that
gather, preparing each to worthily receive God “under my roof.” Our laborer above was our pedagogue.
He wrote me back an energetic response, and then texted a second time, “I’ll be honest, I feel pretty terrible that there were certain moments when I was tempted to wish ill on our pedagogue 😬” I then voice-to-texted a note to myself:
Welcome to the rest of us! For me, a magnificence of Mass is that it drags into itself from the world outside the messy mass of smelly, noisy, saintly, distracted, baby screaming, phone ringing, worried, irritating, uncouth, stuck up, gossiping, loving, judgy, vain, self-conscious, lonely, desperate, lusting, anxious, angry, bored, pious humanity. “Pray brethren that your disasters and mine will be acceptable to God…”
How perfect it was that Jesus pledged, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all to myself” (Jn. 12:32). Lifted up from the earth, of course, means brutally executed naked on a Roman cross by those he’s drawn to himself. Beginning with the institution of the Eucharist, to the end of time, he proceeds to relentlessly gather to himself the worst of the worst and best of the best. That’s the modality of divine liturgy (Mt. 5:43-48), which murderous St. Paul was assaulted by on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:4) before he became its celebrant (Rom. 15:16).
Every well-wish and “wish ill” is caught up into the cultic act of the Mass of the Golgotha Rite. The Real Rite of which every other Rite is a re-presentation. All (Is. 53:6; 2 Cor. 5:21) gets loaded on the saving Victim and swept up in the Offering.
As we offer this All-sacrifice aright to the new Jonah (Mt. 12:40), tossed by us into the Sea (Jon. 1:10-16), Jesus will quiet our storms before spitting us out in the dismissal Rite onto the shores of our local Nineveh. Out from under the exit signs we flee forth from the belly of the Nave, now reformed into a sufficiently redeemed gaggle of fiery prophets sent to set his mission in motion.
For those who fully succumb, there’s an unlikely joy.
After our journey through the streets of Nineveh, we come back and do it all again, aright. Aright being, Kyrie eléison, Christe eléison, Kyrie eléison.
But here was, for me, the most remarkable detail of all. After I had texted back and forth with Father and sent myself that note, I got out of my car to walk around to the back of the church where I work in a storage room. As I looked back up toward the church roof to catch a glimpse of who that carpenter was, what I saw is what you see in the photo above. I. could. hardly. breathe. Quite literally. And another episode of Catholic Tourette.
For me, that photo captures everything I had written in my car, but with the surpassing eloquence only an icon can convey. That man was a living icon of the lay vocation in the world, a call to labor on the Roof of the Church, straddling the boundaries of heaven and earth, on which we ascend up the dangerous, fraught, breathtakingly steep slopes of Mount Golgotha. From which God so loves the world.
This is the fiddler’s Tradition.
So remember wherever you are in the world, beneath you is an Altar, where all of your sacrifices are gathered up into a Great Prayer offered by a “hearts up” lowly servant priest, an earthen vessel in whom the mysteries of God infallibly act. And he, believe me, is absolutely delighted by your distractions, your hammering sounds sounding from the Roof of the Church…