Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Jeff had a meeting and, therefore, couldn't take Chris to school for me. So I missed the 9 o'clock service in town and, after dropping him off, just went straight to my swim aerobics class at 10:15.

All the while, I was still trying to piece my day together: had to replace Ella's missing earring and give her a ride or two on the merry-go-round. She's been talking about the merry-go-round for days. Once in the pool, I noticed my swim teacher's ashes and thought to myself, "Shoot, this is her second group class of the day so far! If she can fit church in, so can I!"

Now I had an overdue library book with me plus the cash to get it out of hock, a crucial combination that rarely comes simultaneously. So I felt obligated to do that immediately, return the book after swimming because the library is right there. I was gambling on a noon church service someplace nearby, but where? St. Rose in Freehold, an urban church, seemed the most likely place. I got there at noon after dropping off the library book. I've visited the school many times for various events and functions but never been inside the church.

I'm glad I got there when I did because even though I was fifteen minutes early, the place filled up with all sorts of people. Mostly elderly. But plenty of working people too. Not many children, I'd say. My daughter stuck out, well, in too many ways.

She was fine before the service began, quietly flipping through the missal and probably wondering why it looked so familiar when nothing else did. There was no entrance music. In fact, the procession couldn't have been any less disruptive. The presbyter explained that the service wasn't a mass as communion would not be distributed. He understood that people had limited time and he wanted to help people get on their way. There would be three readings, a brief homily and then the distribution of ashes, after which, everyone was free to leave or remain a little while for private prayer.

I remember the first reading and the psalm making an impact on me but after that I just lost it, because Ella was jumping on the kneeler. And, of course, the people in front of her were sitting down so she was right around their shoulders, breathing heavy, I'm sure. I would pick her up to stop her and she would giggle as if I was tickling her. Very, very silly.

I also lost it with the second reading and the Gospel because the wording didn't exactly match my missal. The lector and priest seemed to have more words, and different words, than my book. I have to compare online when I get a chance.1

So, of course Ella declined the ashes without much grace. The minister looked quite perplexed by her refusal but I told her to never mind. Afterwards, we milled around the church a bit. Ella was interested in the stained-glass windows, or rather in the light from windows tucked out of view, behind a large plaster depiction of the Last Supper in bas-relief. I was very interested in the plaster. The church is in a cross shape but doesn't have a long nave (e.g., center aisle). It might be better to call it a "plus" shape. The sanctuary and columns facing the congregation were nicely decorated with leafless branches and barren trees that were backlit and wrapped at the base with purple fabric. I hadn't seen a cry room anywhere but didn't bother to ask either.

Now, someone did slip into our pew during the service from the side door. I don't remember at which part but maybe even as late as after the homily. Ella wasn't really very willing to give up that part of our pew to her and she kept trying to prance along the kneeler as she had been doing. I distracted her with the collection basket. Or rather, by giving her money for the basket which she promptly tried to pocket instead.

There's quite a difference, then, between the urban church which is rush, rush, rush and concerned about getting people back to work on time, and the suburban parish where the pastor reprimands us every year about the "shallow and sneaky" worshipper who enters the service the last five minutes only for the sake of ashes. And imagine moving from one setting to the other? At least I moved in the right direction, expecting quite more than a paltry 15 minute service. What if I were used to the 15-minute Ash Wednesday service at my urban church and visited the suburbs?! I'd be muttering to myself, "And communion too?! What is this?!" Well, not me, but some hardened city person would, you know.

It was what it was and I can't be disappointed. In fact, when I got to the parking lot, I understood the presbyter's concern quite well. The man knows his people and their situation: just tight and busy and hard to get out. And I wasn't even in a hurry.

1 I just checked my missals with what's online at the USCCB website and there's a significant difference. I guess that's one reason I kept losing my place. I'm not aware of any recent revisions but maybe I did know once and have simply forgotten. Oh, well, I'll be buying new missals in a couple of years anyway. To have a slightly different version for two readings on one day a year isn't too terrible especially considering I hadn't really intended to attend in the first place!

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