Thursday, January 8, 2015

God Smiles at the Cold

I don’t know what’s more remarkable: Patriots D-lineman Chris Jones practicing in shorts with temps in the 20s (left), or a head count of 30 at daily mass, when the thermometer hanging off the front of the bank sports a minus-sign.

Since Jones got a story and photo in the Globe sports this morning and my fellow daily-mass nuts get no ink at all, I’ll go with them.

I counted more than 30 at mass this morning, including one priest, one deacon, one seminarian serving as lector, and one lay altar server (me). The usual count is 50-plus, but it is pretty cold today, coldest day of our Boston-area winter so far.

I am thinking of charting daily mass attendance on multiple axes, including: liturgical season, temperature, and precipitation. Speaking as an old econ major, I suspect that demand is most sensitive to ice. Extremes of hot and cold matter less, while Lent will pump up the numbers some.

Many of the regulars were there today, much like the crew at Cheers on a snowy night: the retired police chief and his wife, the 90-year-old widower, the 65-year-old woman who may soon be a widow, the 30-year-old director of evangelization. I especially missed the 13-year-old who comes with his mother every morning, and of course Ferde. I always miss Ferde when he’s not there.

I arrived at a quarter to the hour to set up the credence table and light the candles. I found four women and one man reciting the rosary aloud—impressive to hear in a darkened church that seats 800 at Easter. The voices were loud and clear: “Hail Mary, full of grace!”

Then one of the five voices spoke to me. “Webstah!” Shirley stage-whispered to me from the back pew in her best Nohth Shoah accent. “The watah’s froze!” Shirley is 85, my mother’s age, and truly one of my favorite people on earth.

I knew what Shirley meant. Just a moment before, I had nearly broken my finger trying to dip it into the font in the vestibule and hitting a block of ice instead. “C-c-cold!” I whispered back with a mock stutter, and Shirley burst into her irreplaceable laugh.

Of course, her laugh is not exactly irreplaceable, as I learned when another of my favorite daily communicants, Frank G, passed away a couple years ago. Frank G was my model in my early years of daily mass: arriving at 6:20, immediately on his knees in the front pew, and not off his knees until five minutes of. Frank was beloved but not irreplaceable. Bill and Patricia and Henry and sometimes Phyllis, when she feels up to it, fill Frank’s place in front of the ambo nowadays.

As we all fill the places of others who came and knelt before us in the 2000-year history of this greatest of all institutions, the Roman Catholic Church.  

Father Karlo spoke in his homily of God’s unconditional love for us. Whether we come to daily mass or have been away from the Church for thirty years, he said, God loves us. But I suspect that even God has his preferences. I suspect that God shares my for Shirley and Phyllis and the late lamented Frank G.

As Brian, the seminarian-lector said to me afterward, “Daily mass people are the best.” Brian didn’t mean that we’re holier than the rest, not by a stretch. He only meant, I think, that he, Brian, loves daily mass people most, maybe just a bit like God.

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