A couple of weeks ago, a memorial Mass for Michael was held here in Birmingham at the Cathedral. The bishop presided and offered a very nice, even charming homily in which he first focused on the Scripture readings of the day, and then turned to Michael, whom he remembered, among other things, as one who […]
Melkite Catholic parish…one-tenth full at the beginning of the Liturgy…practically full by the end.
An experience so much like other Eastern Catholic liturgies, yet a bit different. We begin and then we…go. For an hour we stand, bow, chant…Lord Have Mercy too many times to count. We cross ourselves, we follow processions around the small, icon-laden church, we chant and chant…ancient melodies with a definite Middle Eastern flavor, although in English. There is incense, the priest, deacon and servers pray behind the iconostasis, we chant some more, the small group of men leading us chant in Greek (or Arabic, I am not sure). A young man chants the epistle and even though it is in English I wonder if I am in Corinth.
At the Gospel, this: we take the candles we picked up before we entered and the dozens of us present move to the front and gather around the priest. The light is passed, it shines, and we listen, close together, every parent with one eye on the priest and the other on the little child with the wavering candle. Crowded around the priest, we heed the Gospel, chanted. And after, the book is presented to us and we kiss it and place our candles in the sand.
At Communion, we approach the priest and deacon and the place Jesus in our mouths – Bread dipped in Wine – we carefully indicate that our little ones, Latin Riters that they are, should not receive, but honestly we are tempted. First Communion right then and there, no fuss, no muss, no parent meeting or labored rehearsal or happy faces pinned to altar cloths.
After the Liturgy, there is more bread, given to each and all, big chunks happily consumed by all as they leave, chatting and cooing at the babies and old ladies conferring, consoling. Agape.
St. Paul’s Cathedral, Birmingham…noon daily Mass, in remembrance of Fr. James E. Coyle, who was shot on that day – August 11 – in 1921, sitting on the front porch of the rectory of St. Paul’s, hours after marrying the convert daughter of a local Protestant minister to a Puerto Rican man.
Shot by the girl’s father.
A typical noontime downtown parish Mass, perhaps more crowded than usual. Quiet and focused. A young priest, careful and reverent, in black vestments. A few Hibernians in their sashes. Prayers for those who pour out their lives for Christ. Prayer that we might be among their number. Will we? Can we?
Afterwards, refreshments and some words. Enthusiastic, impassioned words from Jim Pinto, whose life was remarkably, miraculously changed by his encounter with Fr. Coyle, and from others, including the bishop. They say one of the bullets lodged in the cathedral wall. We look afterwards, without knowing where to look, and we think we see.
Assumption Vigil, suburban parish.. Katie wastes no time. Two days into a new school, she is already so immersed in theater that we must search high and low to find a parish which offers a Mass either today or tomorrow after six. We find one, a few miles away from our place, and so she and I set out, considering the others all have Mass penciled in for Friday already in various places.
The church is under renovation, so once again, we are in a parish hall – one of the nicest parish halls I’ve ever seen, to be sure, with plenty of wood and solidity to it. The priest, again, is young. Reverent and careful, nerves showing a bit as he begins his homily. Oh, and that southern accent. Months ago, when the South beckoned once again, and I started making calls about schools and such, I heard it again..again and again. And although I cannot claim any kind of Southern nativity, not having moved to Tennesse until I was 13, it still sounded so comforting, so much like home. But I confess it is a little odd, after years hearing the Mass prayed by either middle-aged Midwesterners or elderly Irishmen, to hear young southerners intoning, Let us pri-ay..
The music is NPM music, with an able group, good cantors, two keyboardists and a flute. It is good, but dissonance strikes when the priest chants – as he does frequently – and we respond with…not chanting. It is different from the chanting Melkites, different from the quiet daily Mass, and it jolts me because it is not of one piece, as much as I try to prevent it from doing so.
The jolting is not so bad though, for no one is really pointing to themselves at all, but rather to Jesus through Mary today, and it is all about hope tonight, walking out of the building with my daughter and seeing a bright, full moon.
Sunday Mass, normal, in-town parish. Another young priest, who begins preaching about the unusual foods a friend of his who is in China for the Olympics has seen – but alas, I do not hear the rest because Michael the Little, after a good start, is putting up a fuss about something incomprehensible, and must spend some time outside.
A fairly early Mass, but not the earliest. The church is about 2/3 full, the music is average, with a cantor and an organ which, at times, had some…different…buttons pushed, or whatever it is you say about the tones the organ can produce.
Behind us, a man in a deep southern drawl who honestly seems to be a bit impaired, prays loudly and sings loudly a measure behind everyone else, it seems.
I am glad he is there, reminding me to slow down.
This week, as I found my way along new roads, I was surrounded by the Church. Greek Catholics prayed, chanted, in ancient languages and huddled around the Word, candles lit, processing, kissing and bowing. A young woman of South Asian descent proclaimed the Scriptures to me, describing David’s dance in front of the Ark, in her clipped British accent. Downtown workers come down from their offices to sit in wooden pews, finding some cool in midday and peace at the beginning of a new week. Remembering a young priest, come over from across the sea a century ago, killed during his prayers, a few feet from where they were praying. More young priests calling out the names of more martyrs – ancient Roman martyrs – in warm Southern tones. Blood. Bread. Lord Have Mercy. Babies. Old women and men. Theotokos. Ave Maria.