Order and Disorder

Before I left for Dallas, I mentioned to Jodi that I might try to go to Mass on Sunday at Cathedral Guadalupe.

“That’s one of the nice things about your travel for work,” she said. “You get to see lots of cool churches.”

Well, I didn’t make it to Cathedral for Mass. It was more than a mile from the hotel, and I didn’t know exactly how to get there on foot or what might be between it and me. My Aunt Jackie drove me past it on Sunday night, but that morning, I walked to St. Jude Chapel, instead. I was in Dallas for work, and had quite a bit to do; I figured I could get to St. Jude and back in half the time, and I knew exactly what streets to take, all in the business district, all with sidewalks.

I walked about 10, maybe 15 minutes on mostly empty streets. I could almost count the people I saw on my fingers; would’ve had to use toes, too, for cars, but still. Sunday morning in Dallas was bright, clear, and quiet.

I passed office buildings, weekday lunch spots, a gleaming CVS Pharmacy, and several pubs…and there, across and up the street from a nightclub called Plush, which featured giant, full-body bas-reliefs of well-endowed topless women, was the chapel. I approached the door and hesitated, double-checked the sign. What I could see through the door looked like a tiny Catholic gift shop. I walked in.

It was a tiny Catholic gift shop, primarily stocked with crucifixes and statues, including the pregnant Virgin, a four-foot Pope John Paul II, and St. Judes of every size. Ahead was another set of glass doors, through which I could see the sanctuary. A handful of people were praying the Rosary, which was piped into the gift shop through a loudspeaker.

I entered, dabbed the sponge in the holy water fount, and crossed myself walked to the far side of the sanctuary, genuflected, knelt to pray. Behind the altar, a mosaic Christ in white on a light blue backdrop watched over us; above the altar, Christ crucified; to my right, scores of red electric “candles” with flickering incandescent flames, and a constant procession of worshippers, primary Hispanic, clicking them on, kneeling, crossing, and praying.

I joined the rosary as more worshipers trickled in. When they finished the Joyful Mysteries, I realized that the rosary leaders had been recordings; a pleasant sounding man and women moved directly into the Luminous Mysteries. Some continued to pray, but Mass was about to begin, so I sat.

The priest processed in from the gift shop as the opening hymn played. There were less than 100 people in the church, but they sang and prayed with faith in their voices. The priest was elderly, hunched, almost frail looking, but he ascended the steps just the same and opened with a question (certainly before the opening prayer, possible even before the Sign of the Cross): “Who here has heard of Mother Cabrini? St. Francis Cabrini?”

His voice was loud and friendly, but somewhat indistinct; certain syllables ran together so you had to listen carefully. He told a bit about the saint, and explained that we would say an extra prayer for her intercession along with the prayers of the faithful.

So it went from there. Every so often, he would shift suddenly from the rite of the Mass (is that the word?) into personal asides to draw our attention to particular details or meanings of what we were doing.

A teaching Mass? I wondered.

“…and lead us to what?” he asked, as the congregation dutifully continued, “Everlasting life.”

“Everlasting life,” he said, nodding, smiling out at us. “Wow.”

Just his style? I thought.

The reader approached the lectern, but the old priest remained standing, so she hesitated. He waved her forward, but said, “I wanted to introduce this first reading.” He then offered a brief refresher on the two Jewish kingdoms and the Babylonian exile. Then he sat, and she read.

Psalm. Second reading. The priest rose and read the gospel, but at the point when he should have said, “The Gospel of the Lord” — and without taking a breath or changing inflection — he moved directly in his homily: “This reading is what we call…”

Away to the left, one of the regulars, I presume, looked carefully at the missal to see that he had, in fact, completed the gospel reading for the weekend, then looked around and nodded. A number of other regulars sat. Father hadn’t looked up from the text he was explaining, and slowly, the rest of us caught on and followed suit.

After a few moments, the old priest read the next section of the same gospel chapter in order to expand on it in his homily. When he finished this second section, and again, without missing a beat, he said, “The gospel of the Lord.” The seated congregation dutifully replied, “Thanks be to God.”

Maybe he’s just getting older I decided, but a part of me was getting impatient. At this rate, it could be a long morning.

His homily was intelligent, funny, human and humane, if a little scattered. The Liturgy of the Eucharist came off without a hitch, and Communion was a welcome presence. The congregation sang and prayed. Mass was winding down. I tried to stay present in the chapel, but my mind had begun wandering during the gospel confusion, wondering about the time.: 9:30 Mass…probably 11 by the time we’re done. 11:30 or so by the time I get back to my room and boot up the computer, and the boss’s flight arrives around noon…

“Mass is ended. Go in peace.”

“Thanks be to God.”

I expected an announcement of the recessional, but the priest said, “If you have time, we’ll say an Angelus right now: The Angel of the Lord declared to Mary…

Mass is ended, I thought. I gotta go.

I genuflected and moved quickly, quietly, along the back toward the door, then out through the gift shop. I started down the sidewalk, feeling guilty for not staying until the priest recessed; justifying it because of my work, then feeling doubly guilty for working on Sunday.

“Wonder what time it is,” I said to no one in particular, and pulled out my phone.

10:19 a.m.

What kind of a time warp… Mass had been 49 minutes. Not even an hour, even with the ad libs. And I had skipped the Angelus.

Halfway back to the hotel, something the old priest has said at the end of his homily returned to me: “Sin is a sign of a disordered life. If you live an ordered life — with God, with your neighbors, with yourself — you will get to heaven.”

And of the two of us, who was more disordered this morning?

2 thoughts on “Order and Disorder

  1. I don't go to Mass, but I have had this experience in temple. Last Yom Kippur, I was sad when the two hour long evening service was over, but this weekend I went to a 45 minute long Shabbat service that took three days. Paradoxically (almost), I think services seem longer when they are more like “rites” (to get through, led by a leader) than group voyages of discovery or celebration. For me, at least. Also, I wonder what came first — the chapel or the nightclub? I can only imagine whomever was there first was not pleased about the intruder…


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