Wednesday, September 04, 2013

On being Catholic

Chet, twelve years old, dons vestments for service at Mass, the black cassock, the white surplice. Sister P. is there, in black habit, her kindly face framed with starched white wimple. She adjusts his surplice. She looks deep into his eyes. She says, "The eyes are the windows of the soul."

He is embarrassed. He scurries away along the ambulatory to where the priest is waiting. Sister P. goes to join the other nuns in the nave of the church, with the school kids. Chet, by virtue of his gender, will approach the altar with the priest. Introibo ad altare Dei. Ad deum qui laetificat juventutem meam. I will go into the altar of God. To God, who giveth joy to my youth.

He kneels at the step, with the Latin prayer card which he no longer needs, and the bells that he will ring just so at the Elevation. He is waiting for the Communion, when he will place the paten under his pretty classmate Carmen's chin, barely touching its golden rim to her throat. She tips her head back, closes her eyes, opens her mouth to receive the white wafer, the body of Christ. And he knows, in some unarticulated way, that he is a sinner, and that he will always be.

The eyes are the windows of the soul. Did Sister P. see it? Did she see the sinner? He looks back along the altar rail. Carmen rises, blesses herself, and returns to her pew, hands prayerfully folded. He doesn't know what has just transpired, but he knows he has experienced something mysterious, disturbing, even –- dare I say it -- sacramental, something that will be with him for the rest of his life.