The Weight of the Mass

Once upon a time an old woman lived in a small village by a mountain. Her husband had died long before. Her only son had left her shortly after the death of his father, looking for a job. He had never returned. Her hut was small, but tidy and neat. Her husband had left her a very small farm, where she cultivated potatoes, pulse and greens. But during the dry season she suffered hunger, which her neighbours relieved by giving her something in charity. Near her small house there was a church. She was very devout, never missing daily Mass. Everyone in the village knew and admired her devotion and her serenity. Despite her poverty, she always thanked the Lord for the opportunity to attend daily mass. It happened that one day she had no provisions left in the house and was expecting a visitor. She was worried. Had it been only for herself, she would have been content with a little porridge, but a visitor had to be welcomed, especially for being a relative.

She went to the butchery to beg for a piece of meat to prepare a nice soup. There she found the Inspector of police with his ten-year-old son. The butcher and the inspector were engaged in conversation, so that the butcher was not very polite on seeing the old woman. “What do you want?” he asked sharply. Trembling, she answered: “For God’s sake, can you give me a small piece of meat? I have no money, but I can pay you with a Holy Mass.” Annoyed, the butcher replied, “Here we sell meat for money, not for masses.” And he laughed at her. The young Boy pleaded for her: “Father, please, give her money. After all it’s only a piece of meat she needs. And she is asking it for the love of God. Besides, she will offer a Holy Mass for you.” The butcher was listening and commented, “Do not bother your father. Here we need money, not prayer for surviving.” And with that the old woman left.

The butcher turned to his friend: “Did you hear? What nonsense! Meat in exchange for Mass…” As both were laughing, tears came to the boy’s eyes. His mother was very pious and attended daily Mass. But Dad did not believe much in prayer, though he was a good man. The butcher turned again to the Inspector: “Now I will show you how much a Mass weighs.” He took a piece of paper and wrote “ONE MASS” and put the paper on the scales. The plate dropped as if carrying a considerable weight. The butcher thought he had touched it with his hand. He removed the paper and the scales balanced. He placed a huge chunk of meat, perhaps three kilos on the scales. The plate dropped. Then he took the piece of paper where he wrote ONE MASS and put it on the other plate. Wonder of wonders, the plate with the paper dropped as if the meat were weightless. The butcher changed technique. He put the paper first. The plate dropped. Then he put a full leg of a cow on the other plate. The scales did not budge. He removed the paper and the scales collapsed under the weight of the leg. 

“Call the old lady,” the butcher shouted to the Inspector’s son. The little boy ran. “Mama, please, come back to the butchery.” When they arrived, the butcher was at the door. He held her hand with great respect and said, “This butchery is yours. You can come any time and take as much meat as you wish.” And he showed her the scales, either the meat on one side and the little piece of paper on the other. She smiled and in her smile was a special glow. The two men insisted, “please, take as much meat as you want. The boy can take it to your house.” “No”, answered the woman. “I am very grateful for the offer, but I only need a small piece. That is what I asked you in exchange for a Mass.” The butcher and the captain asked, please, can you tell us how much a mass weighs?” “I do not know,” she replied. “What I know is that the Mass has infinite value.”

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