by Jill Ragar Esfeld
OVERLAND PARK — Weekdays at noon you’ll find a crowd in Church of the Ascension here.
People of all ages, backgrounds and from several different parishes pour through the doors daily to celebrate the Eucharist together.
The crowd is so large, visiting priests have often remarked, “My parish doesn’t have this many people on the weekends!”
Those in attendance aren’t surprised. Most have been coming to this particular Mass for so long, they’ve created a community.
They call themselves the “nooners.”
“Noon Mass is really kind of like a family,” said eucharistic minister Judy Arnold. “When people aren’t here, you worry about them and try to check on them.”
Fellow attendee Jamie Fluderer agreed.
“We have this unspoken bond when we smile at each other,” she said. “It’s like being on a sports team; we’re all part of this noon-Mass team.”
A big draw is the convenient time, as Judy’s husband Craig told her after he became Catholic and started joining her for early morning Mass.
“You know I love going to Mass and I’m thrilled to be a Catholic” he said. “But do we have to go at six o’clock in the morning?
“Can’t we be good Catholics at noon?”
The short answer is yes. Most of the nooners acknowledge their lives progress more smoothly when the Eucharist is part of each day.
Fluderer works full time as a project manager and her schedule can get crazy busy. But she always carves out time for Mass at noon.
“There are days when I’m getting out of a meeting in my car,” she said. “It’s not easy; but God knows my heart and he knows my efforts.
“It’s like I’m going to see my dad every day. It’s a bond you have to nurture.”
A convert, Fluderer remembers how she longed for the Eucharist before she was confirmed. Shortly after her confirmation, the COVID pandemic hit and her church was closed.
“I was surprised at how hard that was,” she said. “When we were allowed back into the church, I had a new passion for it.”
Fluderer calls the Eucharist her everything.
“It’s [Jesus’] body, his blood,” she said. “It’s physical, it’s spiritual and it’s unity. Not only are you bringing yourself to him, but he’s giving himself to you and you become one.
“It’s a beautiful thing.”
As eucharistic ministers at noon Mass, Judy and Craig Arnold feel honored to receive Christ in the Eucharist each day, and to be a channel for the sacrament they cherish.
“It is such a humbling and spiritual experience,” said Craig.
The Arnolds are both retired FBI agents.
Judy is a cradle Catholic, but Craig became Catholic in 2006, making the journey to conversion with a priest who counseled him through a difficult time.
“I was involved in a fatal shooting in Kansas City,” he said. “The FBI sent out a team — a mental health professional, a peer support and a chaplain.”
The chaplain happened to be a Catholic priest.
“I took a life to save a life,” said Craig. “He came out to help me deal with this critical incident.”
Nine years later, that same priest invited the Arnolds on a retreat in Rome, and at a small chapel in the Vatican, he formally received Craig into the Catholic Church.
“Ever since that time, we’ve been going to daily Mass,” said Craig. “We are so blessed to be able to do it.
“And we’re even more blessed to serve our parish and the people who come for that wonderful half hour.”
Like many of the nooners, when the Arnolds are traveling, they miss their daily Mass.
“We really are out of sorts,” said Craig. “We say a daily rosary together, we read our readings and do a spiritual Communion.
“But it’s not the same.”
Marcie Stenberg is also a convert and though she loves the music and singing at Sunday Mass, she feels at home with the simplicity of the daily Mass.
“I love the ‘low Mass,’” she said. “You do the Scriptures and you get a good homily and you get the Eucharist.”
Stenberg relies on that formula to meet the challenges of life.
“Because I need it,” she said. “I don’t have the strength on my own to deal with what’s going on in the world.
“I’ve got to have . . . the Eucharist, to fulfill what I need to do, God’s will.”
Whether you’re an early riser or a late sleeper, there is a daily Mass available to fit your schedule.
Daily Eucharist is a great treasure of the Catholic Church, and those who make it part of their spiritual practice unanimously recommend it.
“I think if people understood what they’re missing — hearing the liturgy, interacting with people who are so strong in their faith, developing that relationship with the Eucharist,” said Judy, “I think they would come more often.
“It’s a half an hour out of your day, and the rewards are so great.”