Day Three

[I haven't finished writing about Day 2 yet; that article is still in my laptop awaiting the completion of its second half.]

Today started a bit easier than yesterday. I drove into a city just over the border of Arkansas and Mississippi and started looking for a motel room at 12:30 AM. This city seems to lack motel rooms, although perhaps that is because it is not near any interstates. (As you all know by now, my inclination is to plot a course by using a ruler to draw a straight line on a map between two points, and we of course have to be countercultural-- and everyone else uses the interstates. 😊) I drove around town quite a bit, but fate took me past the only Catholic church in town, so at least I knew its name and where it was. I finally settled on a Best Western in a neighboring town, obtained a room, and walked across the street to a pay phone to see if I could discover when and if daily Mass would be offered in the morning. Mass Times said that the daily Mass would be at 8:00 AM. That was a bit early, but it would have to do.

I awakened at 6:54 AM, one minute before the alarm would have sounded, which was a sure sign that God was rousing me, as if to say, "This is your best shot today. Don't blow it." I got myself ready and left at 7:45 AM for the ten-minute drive (which would have been more like twenty minutes back home). I arrived a few minutes before 8 and saw a few cars parked, so that was a good sign. I saw a woman entering by a side door but stubbornly insisted on being countercultural again and tried the main doors, which were locked. Head hung low in disgrace, I went for the only open door.

The church is a tall, fairly simple stone structure, but not sterile at all. It has a cornerstone reading "MCMXXXV" (or 1935 for non-Romans), but the building appears to have been renovated a bit. It has two very short transepts that I suspect held pews at one time. The left transept now is home to the organ; the right transept now houses the baptismal font. The sanctuary is still more or less as it originally was, with its original marble altar and a small, metal, shell-like tabernacle. The rear wall of the domed sanctuary is of stone and is filled with a large, Spanish-style painting of Christ crucified, with a row of people standing underneath Him. A dark beam crosses at the base of the arc of the dome. The wooden pews, probably capable of holding eight people across, are arranged in two sections, split by a center aisle and flanked by side aisles. The tall, arched, stained-glass windows are mostly abstract but have small portraits of saints and angels as well. A choir loft is over the main entrance but almost certainly is not used.

When I entered, I found about a dozen people clustered near the doorway, all on one side of the aisle, all in the first six pews or so. Already I began to feel uneasy, but as I didn't have much choice, I simply took a seat in about the eighth pew and hoped for the best. The Mass was very simple; the priest omitted the opening greeting and dived straight into Form C of the penitential rite, also omitting the "Let us pray" before the opening prayer (and possibly "May almighty God have mercy on us..." as well-- I forget now but remember the feeling I had).

A reader served and was okay. The priest proclaimed the Gospel from the ambo and gave a short homily that basically stressed the readings. He skipped the Prayer of the Faithful and simply said, "To the altar for the Eucharistic Prayer." All but two of those in the pews ahead of me went into the sanctuary and stood on either side of the priest. Those two people were a real blessing to me, as they made the decision a bit easier; if I remained in my place, I would not be the lone holdout. I still felt awkward, though, being in Rome and not doing as the Romans do-- but I would have felt even more awkward had I joined the others in the sanctuary. The chalice and paten were of metal.

After the priest offered Eucharistic Prayer II, it came time for the Our Father. Those in the sanctuary formed a circle around the altar and joined hands, which I could see coming all along. I was safe, but I still felt naked. The two folks ahead of me exchanged signs of peace with one another and with me while the priest was still saying the prayer that precedes the actual sign of peace-- why they could not wait is a mystery to me. Then two women (one a nun) came from the sanctuary to be sure we were included; both walked all the way to where I was sitting, which actually was kind of them (I'm not being ironic or facetious here). Assuming that the two people ahead of me in the pews were not tourists like me, I see a civil sort of tolerance ere; despite what looks to be a serious disagreement, everyone has agreed to remain friends.

My biggest uneasy feeling was how I would receive Holy Communion. I thought that perhaps the two people with me in the pews were not receiving, which might have explained why they chose to remain apart, and I was afraid I'd have to find the right time to approach the sanctuary all by myself, but again, the two others were a blessing, and I simply followed them forward when they went for Communion. The priest and the nun distributed Communion; the chalice was also offered. Everyone (except for us three countercultural types) remained in the sanctuary until the end of the Mass.

I thought that the best place to get a bulletin would be the main doors, but since I knew they were locked, I didn't want to look suspicious by going back there, and frankly, I just wanted to get away from that church before anyone started grilling me, so I just left via the side door-- but once again, God provided, since a lone bulletin was on a table by that door next to a reconciliation room. I got into the car and floored the pedal, not even looking back long enough to get a picture of the church.

Later, I headed through Arkansas, noting that Catholic churches seemed to be more numerous there than in Alabama and Mississippi. The cathedral on the border with Oklahoma even had daily Mass listed; it was a shame that I was just passing through as it looked rather impressive. There was also an abbey and a few other churches that I'd have liked to see, but some looked deserted (and were probably locked) and I was in a bit of a hurry anyway. Someday, I should take this same sort of tour on a much longer schedule-- maybe a few months instead of two weeks.


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