My mother, a musician, struggled to endure the off-key singers who led hymns, unfortunately for us all, at Sunday Mass in my hometown parish.
So sometimes she’d sneak out of Mass early Sunday and during the week, take me to daily Mass instead. No off-key singing there. No singing at all, actually. There was quiet, peacefulness, intimacy among the 20 or 30 communicants. The lights were dim, the sermons short and to the point. “The apostle picked up his cross and followed Him,” the priest began one sermon I remember, then paused, then ended it: “Would that we would do the same.”
Barely a half-hour long, daily Mass felt to me mysterious and holy and sacred in a way a very busy Sunday Mass, with its ups and downs and all arounds, could not. All these years later, I still prefer it.
Try it, I tell lapsed Catholic friends who complain of no inspiration on Sundays.
It could change everything.
I’ve tried daily Mass at St. Anthony’s Shrine in downtown Boston, seven lightning-fast Masses per day for businesspeople on lunch hours, off-duty cops and firefighters, schoolteachers and bankers on their way to or from South Station’s buses and trains. Sometimes I’d see well-known locals, rich and powerful or politically wired, slip in and out of pews.
For years, I went to daily Mass near my office at the now-closed Immaculate Conception Church in Boston’s South End, then the heart of the city’s gay community. AIDS was still a killer, but this church welcomed hundreds of gays and lesbians unwelcome elsewhere. During November, a memorial table held pictures, draped in purple, of the very young men of the parish dead of the ravaging disease.
Later I moved to chapels at Boston College and eventually knew the regulars by sight, if not by name, the same crew day after day.
The alcoholics in recovery. Mass became their AA meeting. The pregnant women turned mothers with infants, then toddlers, then five- and six-year-olds in tow. The BC students and professors, the frail old ladies and men, the chaplain who, during the prayer of the faithful, would list his dying patients. Richard, Barbara, Gregory. “May God draw them closer, let us pray to the Lord.”
“Lord, hear our prayer,” we’d all reply.
There was the big, broad football star turned big, broad, middle-aged contractor. In his work boots and lumberman’s jacket, Francis would offer the same prayer: “In thanksgiving for innumerable blessings, for all those who need relief in suffering, and for perseverance in fervent daily prayer, we pray to the Lord.”
“Lord, hear our prayer.”
On the day in 1999 when John Kennedy Jr. and his wife Carolyn Bessette were killed in Kennedy’s airplane, I spoke to Francis about it after Mass by his pickup. He was surprisingly upbeat. “Another two saints in heaven,” he said.
Years later, when he’d been missing from Mass, the woman who led the post-Mass rosary told me he was sick. Not long after that, his picture appeared on the chapel bulletin board. He was still young and strong, running down the field in his football uniform. The picture was from the cover of his funeral program. Francis was now another saint in heaven himself.
The writer Andre Dubus, in his haunting short fiction, “A Father’s Story,” describes the intense attachment to early morning Mass of his protagonist, Luke Ripley. Ripley’s a smoker, a drinker, a man’s man, divorced and morally challenged, as it turns out, which makes him so relatable.
“Do not think of me as a spiritual man whose every thought during those twenty- five minutes (at Mass) is at one with the words of the Mass. Each morning I try, each morning I fail,” Ripley tells readers through Dubus. “I can receive, though: the Eucharist, and also, at Mass and at other times, moments and even minutes of contemplation.”
All this receiving teaches Ripley both the necessity and wonder of his morning ritual, Dubus writes, which “allows those who cannot will themselves out of the secular to perform the spiritual, as dancing allows the tongue-tied man a ceremony of love.”
Daily Mass changes everything for Ripley, with all his flaws. Each morning, as the host meets his tongue, he knows it. He understands it. He feels the familiar excitement, Dubus writes. And “spreading out from it is the peace of certainty. Or the certainty of peace.”