Doing the Vatican Rag

Doing the Vatican rag
Santy brought me a laptop—score! It’s waiting for me in New York. My preciousssss.

When I was a child I could barely contain Santy-related excitement through midnight mass. We used to go to the Jesuit mass at Crescent, where my father teaches, and I fretted about how to drag my parents away from tea and biscuits afterwards. I hadn’t been to Christmas mass since I was nineteen or so, when being a drunk in a midnight choir lost its appeal. The last mass I’d sat through was Arlene’s wedding in Connecticut, where the double nooses placed over the heads of the new couple (a Filipino tradition, apparently) distracted me from the rest of the ceremony. That Cliff is a foot and a half taller than Arlene only added to the drama.

Went back to Crescent this year out of curiosity. Midnight mass is now 9pm, for convenience. Crowds once spilled out of the octagonal assembly hall, but this year there were a sparse 200 seats. No choir, and the school orchestra’s skill has not increased since I laid down my screeching violin. People mumbled along to Angels we have heard on high like surly teenagers—why are Catholics dreadful hymn-singers? Or were we just thrown by the entirely made-up extra verse printed on our programmes?

Fr. O’Connor gave a tortuous sermon linking September 11th to the Nativity. It seems the attacks were caused by our crass, image-conscious society, which had lost its way, but with the birth of Christ we had a chance to regain purity. Or something. He talked about the visual beauty of the flaming towers, all orange and red and glinting steel, how hard it was to remember that it wasn’t a movie. Not if you saw it live, I thought.

And yet the mass was lovely, somehow. Usually I let the words drone overhead. This year, I spoke them all, and they came fluently after ten years. How delightful to stand up with your neighbours and list out your beliefs in ringing prose: “We believe in one God, the father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth, of all that Is, Seen and Unseen…” This is the stuff corporate missions statements grope towards in their clammy way.

I envy the people who believe these words. But still, it was good to voice formless thanks and pleadings, even if no one is listening.