Idol Chatter

For Catholics, yesterday was the feast of the Assumption of Mary. For almost everyone else, it was the eve of a different kind of holy day: the 29th anniversary of Elvis Presley’s death on Aug. 16, 1977. So Catholics in Memphis, Tenn., where Elvis lived most of his adult life, have figured out how to combine these two important days: the annual “Elvis Mass” at St. Paul’s church, the Catholic church closest to Elvis’s mansion, Graceland.

St. Paul’s “would have been Elvis’ parish had he been Catholic,” remarks “Dennis,” a Catholic seminarian in Memphis who notes the double holy day–which he calls “the Vigil of the Memorial of Elvis” on his Vita Mea blog. The 3 p.m. Mass enables Catholics in Memphis to combine their obligation to attend Mass on the feast of the Assumption with their desire to honor their city’s most famous resident. As Dennis writes, it’s a way to “remember the Queen of Heaven, and to ask her intercession on behalf of the King of rock and roll.” Elvis probably needs her intercession, for his last days before his death at age 42, probably of a heart attack, seemed to have been a haze of prescription-drug abuse and serious overeating.

Still, the King, although a Protestant, was devoted to the Queen, and in 1972 he recorded “The Miracle of the Rosary” in her honor. The “Miracle” is always among the hymns sung at the Elvis Mass, along with “How Great Thou Art,” another favorite among the numerous hymns he recorded. After that, many of the thousand or so attendees at the Elvis Mass (many of whom are non-Catholics) join the crowd of thousands more for the annual candlelight vigil of song and prayer at the gates of Graceland.

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