Saturday, March 23, 2013


The frustrating act of prostrating oneself before the alter only to get kicked out of church...

Today I went to mass at Holy Name Cathedral in downtown Chicago.  There have been many changes in the order and the vernacular of the mass in the past year.  I am fairly clueless about what is supposed to be said at any given time and often look sideways at the parishioner standing next to me to catch up with the rest of the congregation.  The ceiling of the Cathedral is a beautiful dark wood with gold leaf and amazing stained glass.  I spend most of my time looking up at those hanging cardinal hats, trying to figure out how they are suspended to the Gothic ceiling.   At least I am looking up...

A young priest was performing mass, prefaced with some prayers which I listened to attentively.  The few in attendance beside myself seemed to know what psalms to read and the proper deportment.  As usual I was just going along with the crowd.  The priest left the alter to prepare for mass and I sat down for a minute, not quite in prayer since I was sneaking a look at my texts.   All of a sudden I noticed a man in the aisle on his knees inching towards the alter.  He alternated between moving forward (can I call that walking?) on his knees, hands in the air and bowing to the suspended crucifix.  I looked at the other older parishioners who had not moved and I am pretty sure could not make it back to their pews if they joined the man.  When he reached the end of the pews he prostrated himself before the alter.  Right before mass started he rose and went to a seat on the side of the church.  When I went to receive communion I noticed the priest focused on the man who was still raising his arms and sitting with a wide grin on his face.  At the end of mass the young priest left the alter and headed for the security guard.

This incident forces me to examine my diminished ability to tell the difference between acceptable and unacceptable behavior. I thought the kneeling guy was just in rapture, it never occurred to me that his actions warranted an escort from the building.   When they did escort him out I could not help but think of that line "Elvis has left the building."  Maybe he was actually communicating with Elvis and got carried away. 

Today was not the first time I had been in a church and mistook an act of crazy for an act of devotion.

When I was 21 years old I moved into Lincoln Park in Chicago and my father, sister, her husband, their baby, and my brother-in-law's parents all came to stay overnight in my one room apartment.  I have never been able to figure out why they called it an efficiency apartment since it was only habitable for one person and quite inefficient for seven.  The next day we all woke up a bit more tired and sore than when we went to bed (no air mattresses or air conditioning) and in the morning a few of us catholics and protestants went to mass at the local church St. Clements.  In the middle of mass a woman stood up and interrupted the priest.  The superintendent of my building, Ziggy, was an usher and I watched as he and the other usher moved into the adjacent aisle to try and contain her.

My father was a wool coat, narrow tie republican who I am pretty sure not only voted for Ronald Reagan but tolerated Nixon.   

As we all listened to the ranting woman she made the comment "and how can you live with a president like Jimmy Carter!" then slapped Ziggy across the face.  He in turn tackled her.

At this point my father turned to his family and said "she was just beginning to make sense."

On our way out of church my father thanked the priest for the unusual mass.  The priest responded with an invitation to come back next week when the featured act would be a "sniper in the choir loft." How times change, that was a harmless comment back then.

I am not sure what it means when the actions and words of clearly mentally disturbed individuals begin to make sense to me.  I wonder if there is a freedom in insanity and satisfaction in simply saying what is on your mind or breaking all the rules and laying prostrate in front of the alter.  The next time someone starts a kneeling conga line I think I am going to join them.  I had better test my zealous limits while I am relatively young and still able to run from the security guards.

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