Sunday morning on vacation, a whirlwind road trip through the Deep South visiting relatives was their primary agenda. But it was Sunday, and Gary and DC gathered up little Oscar to make the earliest Mass time in a parish just outside of Irondale. They hadn’t been down south in a long while, and Gary noticed there were many more Catholic parishes than last he’d remembered. They were joking in the car, wondering if they could join any ersatz choir they’d encounter, and if a slow foot Mabel would be at the console. But Mabel was nowhere in the choir gallery, rather there was, of all things, a modest little schola of men, mostly GenXer’s like themselves, plus a few seniors and a bespectacled teen boy. The leader was more than happy to invite the guys to join, after they’d introduced themselves. Besides it was sort of providential in that both Gary and DC knew the Graduale and Missal very well. Mass began. The Introit Bell rang from the sacristy door and the chant was taken up. The celebrant seemed even younger than them, his cassock (under the vesture) and zuchetta fully visible to all. Occasionally during the ritual, Gary and DC stole a couple of quick glances and smiles at their good fortune, to find in of all places, Alabama, a reverent, humble and serene Mass, even if in the Novus Ordo.
At Communion, after the Communio began, Gary, DC and Oscar carefully stepped down the circular staircase and enjoined the procession. They had been noticed, during the homily (which was more a sermon) by the celebrant. He didn’t know those three new faces, but that recognition didn’t stay in his mind until he saw the trio presenting to receive the Blessed Sacrament. And amidst the rite and routine something washed over the young priest’s mind. “Who are these guys? Who’s the kid with them?” The question disturbed the priest’s conscience, though that turmoil wasn’t evident to the communicants. Gary presented first, and the priest seemed to freeze, the momentum of the procession had a burp. Eyes closed after bowing before the Host, Gary didn’t immediately realize that it had not been placed upon his tongue. He opened his eyes and they met those of the priest, which were fixed on Gary’s eyes as well. It seemed the celebrant was trying to communicate something to Gary, but he didn’t declare the words “The Body of Christ” nor anything else. DC and Oscar likewise bowed, not aware of the standstill. The four were somewhat bunched up (there was no Communion rail.) People started to be aware of the congestion. The three visitors stepped away from the priest, heads down and lips fixed they briskly walked down the right side aisle and straight out the narthex doors. The parish pastor happened to be enjoying a cup of coffee on the rectory balcony and noticed them getting in their car, which then lurched backward with a spray of gravel, and then sped out of the lot. The pastor thought, “Darn tourists, always leaving early when there’s a second collection.”
When the young associate returned to the kitchen after Mass the pastor noticed he seemed agitated. “Hey Damien,” he said, “something wrong?” Damien looked up, lips pursed and cheeks drawn in, and replied “No, not necessarily….there were these guys I didn’t know at Mass and….” “Oh yeah, I saw ‘em leaving Mass in a hurry.” “Well, Roger, those guys were singing with our choir, and I knew they weren’t from here, and they had this kid with them, and I dunno, I got all rankled up and thought I’d better not offer them Communion. Geez, what was I supposed to do? I don’t know who they are, but the three of them, it didn’t seem right, I dunno.” Roger sighed, saying “Don’t sweat it, you followed your conscience, Damien.”
When Gary and DC got back to the Howard Johnson’s, they got out of the car without a word, Gary and Oscar opened their room where Gary’s wife, Oscar’s mom Cecilia was still in deep slumber on the double bed. DC walked into his room as his wife was just sitting up and stretching out the kinks in bed. Only when the five of them sat down to breakfast in the spacious and empty restaurant did the two brothers in law share with their wives what the hell happened at Mass. Gary, the 8th grade teacher of St. Brigid’s School back home, and DC the choirmaster at that parish were still stunned in shocked silence. Nothing of the sort had ever happened to them at Mass like this before.