Hector is a native New Yorker who eventually moved to the Midwest. I grew up near the New Jersey mouth of the Holland Tunnel and eventually moved to the Midwest.
Hector now lives in St. Louis. I now bring my family on pilgrimages to St. Louis to stock up on Italian fare.
Hector lives and breathes the faith every day both personally and professionally. I…don’t. As it says in Envoy, I'm a practicing Catholic who still isn't very good at it but continues to practice every day.
Okay, so the similarities aren't as spooky as they first seemed. But reading about Hector's east coast roots reminded me of an Envoy piece I wrote back in the twentieth century. Thought I’d share it with you (especially since the parish festival I went to tonight didn't yield anything fun to write about as I had hoped it would)….
My wife and I shared a unique liturgical experience, one Saturday afternoon. We went to Mass at the mall.
Don’t bother rereading. It still says, “We went to Mass at the mall.”
There’s a Carmelite Chapel on the Lower Promenade (basement level) of one of the many malls which serve as landscape in our corner of America. One of an estimated dozen or so Catholic mall chapels in the United States, it has been serving consumers’ souls since 1970. A quirky place, it sports electric stained-glass windows inside, and video in the hall for those who can’t get a seat in the often standing-room-only main room.
I assumed people’s reasons for attending that Saturday afternoon Sunday obligation Mass varied widely. For instance, weekend logistics kept Mary Ann and me from getting to our home parish that week. I figured others probably enjoyed the intimacy of the small venue, or the anonymity of worshipping at a crossroads of humanity. My wife, a native of mall country, assured me that the chapel’s main draw has always been brevity.
This had to be among the fastest Sunday obligation Masses ever said in a non-communist country. Barely 30 minutes from start to finish, including 10 minutes of homily, a substantial Communion crowd and a post-Communion “Hail Holy Queen” for various intentions including the conversion of Russia.
You should be able to get through checkout on the Upper Promenade (parking level), as fast as we got through that Mass. I had skid marks from blessing myself too fast. Mary Ann told me the mall chapel once had a Saturday afternoon priest who got your duty done in 20 minutes flat, homily included.
Mind you, that mall chapel is an important place. The priests hear as many as 1000 confessions a month. Their monthly Communion rail can stretch some 1600 tongues long. And, to be fair, those 20-minute liturgies keep my wife going to Mass through an extended season of twentysomething doubt.
Our celebrant that Saturday was a big, jovial priest from Ireland. He was helping out at the chapel during his vacation. This guy led us through the Mass so fast I could have sworn he was praying in tongues half the time. If we’d paused to take a breath during the Creed we wouldn’t have caught up until Communion.
He slowed down exactly three times. Twice for singing: the Gospel Acclamation and the Great Amen. Good set of pipes, too. Probably still trying to prove to his mother he hadn’t wasted his time listening to all those John McCormack records. He also downshifted for a wonderful, insightful homily. Those 10 minutes lost him his shot at the gold-plated brevity breviary I hear the chapel management bestows on its quickest consecraters.
Homily aside, I came away from that Mass winded, cranky and tempted to declare the celebrant disrespectful of the Holy Sacrifice. But, after a careful look into the mirror of the mall, I no longer believed he was. His style made him the perfect man for the job to be done that afternoon - the job of saying Mass in a sad vernacular. He spoke the language of people who want what they want, where they want it, as quickly as they can get it. It’s a familiar tongue to those of us who sometimes allow weekend logistics to disturb our Sunday worship.
Mind you, that mall chapel is an important place. Any conspicuous consumer, seeing the conspicuous words “Carmelite Chapel” on the directory to that very public square, can always find a willing missionary on hand. The priests who service the chapel hear as many as 1000 confessions a month. Their monthly Communion rail can stretch some 1600 tongues long. And, to be fair, those 20-minute liturgies my wife remembers kept her going to Mass through an extended season of twentysomething doubt.
Neither of us, however, is in doubt today. While we hope the chapel stands longer than the mall, piggybacking on the convenience offered by its ministry strikes us as plain wrong. We’ve never been back, but took a lesson away with us: making it known to people that Mass is at the top of your Sunday social calendar is a powerful means of evangelization.
Oh, and I’m afraid the answer is, “Yes.” We did use the occasion of Mass at the mall to return a few things.