When Flies on the Altar “Bug” the Presider, Fr. Drew

Chalice Covered with Pall

This week, at daily Mass, Fr. Drew got hit with the pesky flies written about by Fr. Rich in the September issue of the Northern Cross. What follows is his column, which was referenced by Fr. Drew in “light” of the pests dropping close to his chalice–thankfully covered with a “pall.”

Spinning Flies Give Insight into How to Think of Satan
September 2019
, Northern Cross

Father Rich

This is the time of the year when flies become weird. The summer has wrapped up, colder weather is upon us, and flies just don’t know how to be flies anymore. They don’t know how to move fast, unless it is on their back spinning a hundred miles per hour.

When I was a kid, I used to think that was really cool, but now I just step on them when they are spinning. Flies that once were a nuisance in the spring become a different kind of nuisance in the fall and early winter.

This might seem like an odd transition, but stick with me. One of the things that has become increasingly popular for priests over the past several years is the use of the pall at Mass. For centuries palls (the small cardboard-like square placed on chalices) were an ever-present part of the Mass, but following the Second Vatican Council, they fell out of favor with most priests and thus were abandoned.

In fairness to the priests who stopped using them, palls came into practical existence a long time ago to prevent “creepy-crawly” things from getting into the chalice, but for the vast majority of us in this part of the world, there is not a great risk of that happening. So letting the use of the pall go by the wayside was in some ways understandable.

So here is the connection. In my last parish assignment, at St. John’s in Duluth, I had an ongoing issue that made the pall suddenly become practical again. Right above the altar, way up high on the A-framed ceiling, were four lights directed down to the altar. These lights were very bright, and mostly during the fall and spring, flies that were not thinking right (or not thinking at all) would fly up into the lights.

The problem was that these lights produced a lot of heat, so when these little critters hit the lights, they would get singed, and they would literally drop like flies, because they were flies.

Being that the lights were right above the altar, at any given time fly carcasses would randomly drop near the chalice, so that pall that once was practical became practical again!

If it were not for the pall on my chalice, there was a great risk of my having to consume these cooked flies along with the Precious Blood. To say the least, these little creatures of God were a big nuisance, but that is all that they were — a nuisance.

At this point I am sure I am trying your patience with this column, but here is my big point. Several times throughout three of the Gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, the Pharisees and even Jesus refer to the devil as “Beelzebul,” most famously when the Pharisees accuse Jesus of using the dark and evil power of Beelzebul to cast out lesser demons. So in the New Testament, Beelzebul in essence becomes the name for the prince of demons.

Now, I suspect that the vast majority do not use that name in our common day-to-day conversations, since in English the prince of demons is called either Satan or Lucifer.

A closer look at the name “Beelzebul” kind of makes the prince of demons a lot less scary. The original spelling of Beelzebul in something called the “Masoretic text” was “Beelzebub,” which literally means “Lord of the Flies” or even “Lord of Dung.”

So here is the connection: Flies are nothing more than a nuisance, just like they were at my Masses when I was pastor at St. John’s. They really do not pose a threat in any way whatsoever. Dung is also a nuisance, especially when you step in it, though that does not help me make my point.

Even the great Italian poet Dante presents Lucifer or Beelzebul as a pretty pathetic creature, in his epic work “The Divine Comedy.” In the 34th Canto of the “Inferno,” as Dante is about to leave his tour of hell, he finally sees the prince of demons and realizes he is not really that scary. Satan is portrayed as frozen in ice from the waist down while crying profusely because he is so lonely. This, of course, makes sense, since hell is the complete absence of God.

In either instance, Satan is nothing to be afraid of. He is both a pathetic creature and nothing more than a nuisance. The devil only has the power we allow him to have. We become “low hanging fruit” for him to snatch away when we stray from the sacraments and virtuous living and prayer.

St. Teresa of Avila once said that, “People who do not pray do not need the devil to tempt them.” So as we proceed closer to the colder months and you see those pathetic little flies spinning on their backs, know that you have the same power to crush them with your feet as you do to crush Satan with the power of Jesus, since in essence those crazy flies and Satan have so much in common.