Is counting the number of people attending Mass a blessing or a curse? Like my underwear, depends. There are many instances of people numbering in the Bible; my favorite is in 1 Chronicles 21 (for extra credit and great trivia: what was the name for the books of Chronicles in the Old Testament in the Douay Bible before the heathen modernists got ahold of it? Answer below). It begins “Satan rose up against Israel and incited David to take a census of Israel.” Right away we see that counting is a tool of the devil, as I avowed to Sr. Casimir in 6th grade math. Biblical scholars know there is more to the story.
David was actually overstaffed and had dozens of minions hanging around pretending to work. To get his chief lobbyist, Joab, out of his hair, he ordered him to tally the troops. Joab wasn’t too keen on this and reluctantly complied, thinking that the Lord God wasn’t thrilled about it either. As it stood, God saw this as a breach of trust and confronted David. David’s reply to the Almighty is not easily translated from the Hebrew, the closest we come in English is “Oops.” The Deity gave David three options: 1) Three years of famine; 2) three months of being slaughtered in war; or 3) watching three hours of The View. David opted for the three hours and 70,000 fell dead of boredom (using a paraphrased Scripture). However, can enumerating the elect be a blessing?
Several years ago, the Church of St. Augustine by the Sea was having problems with the local bishop. The apostolic leader, Bishop Ebenezer (not his real name) wished to sell the church and land it was on to a Japanese conglomerate. By the way, the parish is in Honolulu, Hawaii and is situated on Waikiki Beach. Millions and millions of dollars of profit were in the offing and the bishop, salivating profusely, announced the parish must close. This parish has been served since beginning in 1854 by The Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary. As such they were immune from threats of violence by the chancery; they challenged the bishop’s decision and appealed to Rome. The boss of the diocese averred that the Eucharist was sparsely attended and the parish needed to closed. The Sacred Heart Fathers, knowing that they could not be tortured, maimed or killed by Hawaii and U.S. law, did the last thing expected, they counted.
Yes, brothers and sisters, the calculator is mightier than the sword, or bishop. Up to recently, with the pandemic, you would see hundreds of people at the five weekend Masses, many of them young couples on their honeymoon. During the Mass, the ushers would go down the aisles with the little clicker counters to total the attendance. “Our Father (click click click click click) who art in heaven (click click click click) hallowed be thy (click) Name (click click), etc.” Hard facts as opposed to speculation are the darlings of Roman ecclesiastics. The Congregation of Clergy (just guessing on who handled the appeal) overruled the bishop and the parish and property remain today. In a coda of justice, the bishop was removed the next week from office along with other chancery officials for unspecified concerns. This was rarely done twenty years ago as now the disappearance of a bishop is a weekly event.
The Sacred Heart Fathers had saved their parish but there were no hard feelings. One of their histories reads of that bishop, “Leaving a trail of slime wherever he went…” Pretty sure that’s just a gloss. Calculating numbers is more of a blessing because it reminds us that God has counted us among His children and knows each of us by name. When that holy hymn of jazz sings, “Oh, I want to be in that number, when the saints go marching in,” it is the truth.
The original name for the work of the Chronicler, Paralipomenon, but if you had a Douay Bible you’d already know it. As far as good trivia, count me out.