We had a houseful of company this morning, and I didn’t get to Mass. This journal entry from two summers ago describes the first Mass I attended at Gaetano’s church in the Santo Spirito neighborhood of Reggio Calabria.
“We arrive at the church at 5:55 p.m. (Saturday)…The nuns are all praying aloud when as Daniela and I take our seats. They pretty much fill the first four rows of the narrow sanctuary. They are praying the rosary with those in church early, and then shift into an Our Father and Hail Mary, all in Italian of course, before the Mass starts sharply at 6 p.m. Three Filipino nuns, two on acoustic, gut string guitars and one on tambourine, start to sing. It is stunningly beautiful, the lovely rythem, the flutey, voices filled with passion, the perfectly timed tap and rattle of the tambourine. I’m surprised by how beautiful it sounds, echoing off the hard surfaces of the sanctuary – marble floors, stucco walls, modern stained glass windows high on the left side of the church. The alter wall is amazingly beautiful, a glorious modern mosaic depicting Jesus on the cross with St. Veronica standing at his feet, head bowed, holding up the cloth showing the Holy Face. It’s a remarkably simple piece of art, sketched in long, bold sweeping strokes of rectangular tiles and soft colors. Totally evocative.
“The singing makes me fee strange – like my heart is rattling around in the chest. I remind myself that I am actually attending Mass in Gaetano’s church, a place he did not say Mass in himself, being that it was completed nearly 10 years after his death. But his remains lie in a glass tomb just a few yards behind me, looking even more like a mannequin than ever. As I listen, I realize I’m on the verge of tears, again. If this keeps happening, I’m going to scream! But I’m convinced this is the most beautiful music I’ve ever heard play in a church anywhere, anywhere, with the sole exception of when I’ve heard Laurelyn sing at wedding or funerals.
“This seems a good place to pray, so I give it a try. The sanctuary is warm and several of the nuns are fanning themselves. A few of the older nuns have trouble standing and kneeling, so they remain seated in the straight-back pews with fixed kneelers. I close my eyes and try to figure out how to make this work. Who to pray to, who to pray for? There are plenty of options, and I won’t discuss them. I don’t know the Bible that well, but I know that Jesus wasn’t crazy about people making a show of praying. In fact, he wasn’t crazy about churches at all. But it occurs to me that he might like this one, simple as it is, stuck in the middle of a shabby working class neighborhood, where the constantly running public water spout on the corner is always crowded with some poor person filling up large, empty water bottles to cart home…”