Even with no sleep he always keeps his Sunday ritual of going to mass. Checking the time he wonders if he wants to go to the early mass with the over 60 crowd or to the later mass that’s full of families. Each has there pros and cons. The early mass is emptier and sometimes it’s nice to get it over with early. But it’s always the old retired priest that says the early mass and he never has anything relevant or interesting to say. The later mass is packed and a lot noisier but the people watching is also many times better. The priest tends to be a tad better than the morning one and there is a full choir. Today as has been the trend in recent weeks he decides to go to the late mass.
Despite going to the later mass he begins to get ready early. He likes to show up at least an hour early. The church an hour before mass offers a nice silence that can be found in few other places. He grabs on a pair of dirty jeans and an old sweater knowing that he won’t fit in with the rest of the crowd wearing their Sunday best. He knows his parents would disapprove.
No one has arrived and yet he still goes to the back door, There is a shame from walking through the front door. By walking through the back door he hopes to avoid the eyes of God. He walks in and makes his way to his pew. Another good thing about showing up an hour early is that he gets to pick his spot and he always picks the same spot at the very back pew at the interior corner which is far enough back that he can feel hidden and yet has a nice view to the alter.
He sits and takes in the silence. He relaxes from having to carry the burden of all the sound and hustle and bustle from the outside world. After a few moments of taking in the silence he picks up the missal and flips to the day’s readings. He begins to read them and as he goes through he begins to plan out his own homely in his head knowing that the priest will most likely say some generic lines to help the flock feel better about itself rather than showing the truth. Today’s gospel is the one about the prodigal son. He lets out a sigh.
After finishing the readings and planning out his homely he sits there taking in the silence for a few minutes more before the slow trickle of people begins. First comes the deacon to start setting things up followed soon after by the choir who begins to warm up and mark the end of the silence. Soon a family or two come in and then many more pour in. Small groups of families and acquaintances gather around the church filling it with the buzz of idle chatter.
As the time for mass approaches a surge of anxiety grows that someone will sit directly in front of him and upset the small shrine he has constructed for himself in this temple which will lead to an annoyance and anxiety throughout the mass. A husband pauses for a moment close by but his wife pushes him forward. The altar servers, deacon, and readers make their way to the back. All that is needed is the priest. A minute or two later he begins to make his way out as he waves at the people along the edges. He can’t help but feel the emptiness in the priest’s greeting. When he reaches the back he signals the choir to begin as if they were the ones that were late.
A person from the choir greets everyone and tells everyone to greet each other. Luckily since no one is nearby there is no need for handshaking. Chatter fills the church again until the choir person asks everyone to now put themselves in God’s presence. No matter how many times he hears it this phrase always bothers him. The opening hymn begins and he opens his book and looks at the words but does not sing. It has been a long time since he has been “moved by the spirit” to sing or say much else at mass.
He stands there observing the pageantry. A particular favorite is when they beat their chest as they ask for forgiveness.
The beginning goes by quick and they get to the main scene of the first act. The gospel is read and the priest takes out his notes as he prepares to lecture the people. It doesn’t take long for disappointment to settle in as the priest quickly goes off-topic talking in generic terms about God’s love. The flock eats it up. He has a strong urge to raise his hand and question the priest. He wants to bring back to what should be the matter at hand. But the attention that would garner is not worth it.
Off to the side a father chases after his child down the aisle. He grabs him by the arm and drags him back with his head down trying to avoid looking at the people around him all the while harshly whispering at his son to behave. As he sits in his back corner watching this man who can’t hide from him he can’t help some pity for the child. Isn’t the child’s joy more appropriate than the deadpan emptiness of all the adults at the church?
The priest finally finishes and the second act begins. And so begins the ritual of preparing the crackers and wine or what is also known as the body and blood of Christ. As the priest raises the host and the chalice and says that is the body of blood of Christ he can’t help but look at all the people kneeling and wonder if they actually understand what that means. Does the priest even understand it anymore after saying it so many times? That is the almighty, creator of heaven and earth being raised above the head of the priest. That is salvation. And yet they sit there with empty eyes. How can they contain themselves? These thoughts can’t help but expose the emptiness of it all. Soon after this is feeling is more reinforced as they all say the Lord’s Prayer. Do they even know what they are saying?
Eventually it comes time to get in line and go up to receive his crackers and wine or body and blood of Christ. He knows he shouldn’t be getting in line. If they knew what he believed they would be abhorred and prohibited from partaking in the feast. He finds it ironic that as a sinner he would be kept away from the God that is supposed to save him. As he slowly marches forward he can’t help but feel a small perverse pleasure in getting away with it. He returns to his seat and is he waits for everyone to finish he looks around to see the people kneeling in prayer. He plays a little game as he tries to guess at what they pray for. His eyes catch a young woman with her eyes looking down and her hands locked together close to her body. He couldn’t understand exactly what it was about this woman that moved him to pity. Had she lost a loved one, was she in a bad relationship, or was she consumed by some overwhelming guilt, did she hope to become a better person?
He had worked out the perfect escape plan to not leave so early as to be noticed nor too late as to be forced to interact with others and be caught in traffic. As soon as the priest sent everyone off but before the choir begins he bolts for the door. Knowing he can’t escape his eyes he bows his head slightly as a goodbye before leaving.