Monday, March 14, 2011

A tale of two Masses...

This is going to be one of those "settle in with your tea" posts, so go ahead and fill up your mug...

So, this weekend my husband, ever the practical guy, points out to me that Sunday is the "spring forward" segment of our daylight savings experience, and suggests that maybe I should go to Mass for the Saturday vigil instead of Sunday morning like I usually do. And whenever I go on Saturday, he'll come with us, because for some reason he loves vigils. I'm certainly not going to complain about that, so I agree. The next questions is: where shall we go?

We're very lucky to live in an area of the country in which there are more Catholic churches than you can shake a stick at. Even with a massive diocese-wide examination and subsequent painful closing of churches and Catholic schools (most of them gorgeous old churches in urban areas, which the population has shifted away from) we still have a LOT of Catholic churches. I actually chose our current parish based on preference since it was one of two exactly equidistant from our house, both within walking distance. And just a few miles beyond that, are 5 others. I'm not exaggerating. I just counted on my fingers. We even have *2* local parishes in which the traditional Latin Mass/Extraordinary Form is offered. We have a ton of Catholics around here.

And whenever we go to a vigil, we tend to not go to our parish, since their vigil is at 5 pm. Here's where my husband's practical nature comes back into play. If the vigil starts at 5, we won't be done until 6, and then we still have to have dinner, clean up, bathe Hank, get him dressed for bed, all by 7-7:15. So, he prefers a 4 pm vigil, and I'm happy to accommodate, since I'm thrilled that he's going to Mass with us. There are several beautiful churches that have 4 pm vigils, and we usually go to those, but this weekend I was pooped and each is about 10-15 minutes away by car. (see how spoiled I am about churches?) I suggested a parish right in our town. Granted, it's more modern looking and doesn't have that cathedral-feel/wow factor that Mike enjoys in churches, but I knew they had a vigil earlier than 5 pm, and we'd only have to drive 2 minutes. Mike called their rectory and got a recording stating that Mass was at 4:30 pm, so we agreed to go there.

4:15 rolls around, and we try to get Hank out the door. This delays us until 4:22, and away we go. We arrive at the church minutes later and find that the parking situation is a bit out of control. Mike circles the lot once, and lets Hank and I off to get a seat while he finds a parking spot. Hank and I head in.

By this point it's exactly 4:30, and I'm chagrined to see that not only has Mass started, but we're entering from a door near the front of the church. Some kind of small ceremony was going on with what appeared to be RCIA candidates (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults; how adults enter the Church). I figured that since this was the first Sunday of Lent, this was a prelude to the actual Mass. Makes sense, right? Work with me here, people.

Hank and I creep to the back of the church, and I can feel people looking at us. I brushed it off. I mean, it was 4:32. We really weren't late. I quickly discern a new problem: this church was smaller than I recalled, and it was pretty full. There were some spots, but naturally, all were in the middle of pews, and I hated to step over people, especially with Mike having to join us in a few minutes, find us, and then step over these same people. Eventually, we had no choice. I crept up next to a single-sitting man in the last row and asked if we could step over him. Graciously, he moved down so we could sit at the aisle. Mike comes in and finds us mercifully quickly. We're all standing at this point, still esconsed in the RCIA ceremony. All 3 of us are squished as close to the end of the pew as possible, so as to not inconvenience the man who moved over for us. Finally, the RCIA candidates are released and we sit, me stuffing my purse beneath the pew to make extra butt room.

Well. The first sign of trouble was the appearance of people carrying baskets on long sticks. You know, the OFFRETORY. I lean across Hank, and before I can even part my lips, Mike leans over with wide eyes:

"I swear it, the recording said 4:30!"

"I believe you Honey. But obviously there's been some mistake. Mass must have started at 4, right?"

We both glance around. People are forking over their envelopes, and the priest is preparing the altar for the Liturgy of the Eucharist. Crap.

"Maybe we can sneak out during Communion."

"Well, I think we should just leave now, Honey. I can't meet my obligation by missing the entire Liturgy of the Word. Hank and I will just go in the morning. It was an honest mistake."

We glance around again and sheepishly zip up our jackets. Thankfully, we were in the last row, but still, no *wonder* people looked at us oddly when we entered. The guy who moved over for us must have thought that we were nuts. Add to this debacle the indignity of having to walk all the way down the street to get to the parking spot Mike finally found, and I think it's safe to say we're going back to our old faithful downtown churches with 4 pm vigils in the future.

Sunday morning, I woke up at "8 am" due to the daylight savings thing. It did feel a bit rushed, which is what we were trying to avoid with the Saturday vigil, but Hank and I easily made it to 10 am Mass at our parish.

And! What a beautiful Mass it was. The first Sunday of Lent, and we're all buzzing with our brand spanking new lenten penances and sacrifices. It feels all exciting and fresh. I could see the RCIA members getting ready for their part in the Mass, and I felt so glad that I went to our parish for this very special Sunday.

We have 3 RCIA members becoming Catholic at the Easter Vigil this year at our parish. 2 catechumens (receving the sacraments of baptism, Eucharist, and confirmation), and 1 candidate (having already received a Christian baptism, now receiving the sacraments of Eucharist and confirmation). The first Sunday of Lent includes the Rite of Sending for these individuals, and then later in the day, they attend the Rite of Election with our bishop. During Mass, they all signed their names in the "Book of Life" as members of the elect, the chosen of God. They are being sent forth this Lent, having prepared for months in RCIA classes, toward the ultimate goal of becoming members of the Church at Easter. It was really, really lovely. And this in fact took place following the Gospel and homily (hence what we walked in on the evening before). Hank was back in the sacristy for Children's Liturgy of the Word, and so I got to pay attention and really enjoy it.

This all got me to thinking, and this is where the waterworks comes into the story (aka pregnancy hormones). Here comes the Tiffany anecdote/tangent...wait for it...

14 years ago I started law school in New York City. It was a difficult time in my life, but blessedly I made a very good friend, whom I remain close to to this day. We'll call her "Mary." :) I stopped attending Mass when I started law school, and Mary, although an atheist, came from a country with a Catholic heritage (where the faith was later suppressed due to a communist government) and she enjoyed the beauty of traditional Catholic churches and liturgy. She encouraged me to go to Mass. We actually went to the parish where Thomas Merton was confirmed. They had one Mass every Sunday, a "high Mass" I suppose you could call it, where they used incense, and she loved that. So, I'd go with her. At the time, I still had faith in God, although my Catholic faith was weak. Mary and I talked about religion sometimes, and she just didn't feel that she could believe, that she simply lacked religious faith. Faith in God had always come easy to me, and so I had a hard time fully understanding such a situation, but I certainly understood that our perspectives came from 2 totally different backgrounds and just left it at that. Once I came back to a stronger practice of my faith in my second year of law school, I would pray for her to receive the gift of faith. After we graduated, and I moved away from the City, I added her to my intentions in my daily rosary.

Where are you going with this, Tiffany? We're circling back around, I promise. :) Last fall, some 13 years after our friendship began in law school, Mary told me that she was thinking of entering RCIA. Well. You could have knocked me over with a feather. I mean, it wasn't a complete shock. I knew that she still attended Mass on her own, and that I'd been praying for her, but holy smokes. This was big! I encouraged her, but I wanted to see what she ultimately decided to do. Given how radical of a turnaround this way, it was possible she'd change her mind. And of course, it's always better to just wait if you feel that the time just isn't right or your heart isn't fully in it.

Well, she decided to sign up, and began attending classes. I bit my nails and awaited feedback on how things were going. I fretted about whether or not she'd have a good RCIA instructor who would teach an authentic Catholic worldview in an engaging way, and whether or not she'd enjoy it, find it intellectually and spiritually stimulating, and continue on with it.

She did in fact experience all of those things. And throughout the fall and winter, began to thrive in her RCIA group.

And so, this past Sunday, the first Sunday of Lent 2011, my best friend Mary was received at the Rite of Election as a catechumen. I'm a bit jealous, because as a member of the archdiocese of New York, she got to meet Archbishop Timothy Dolan, whom I hold in very high esteem. :) And this coming Easter Vigil, she will be baptized, receive the Eucharist for the first time, and be comfirmed into the Catholic Church. I'm actually tearing up just writing about it now. There is absolutely no way for me to express how much this means to me, and how completely thrilled I am. At nearly 36 weeks pregnant, I'm driving 6 hours just to see her received into the Church at the Easter Vigil, and I can't wait.

Yesterday, as I attended the Rite of Sending at my parish, I thought of Mary, and what a special Lent and Easter this is. More meaningful than any I've experienced before, I would dare say. I sang all the hymns with particular gusto yesterday, and eagerly anticipate Easter weekend.

What a wonderful life.

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