Tuesday, July 17, 2012

VESPERS

IMMACULATE HEART OF MARY
SANTA MONICA BLVD., EAST HOLLYWOOD
"We know what you hate--but what do you love?" I recently asked a writer whose manuscript I was editing.

One thing I personally love is going to 5:30 Mass at Immaculate Heart of Mary on a gritty strip of Santa Monica Boulevard in East Hollywood. IHM is hard by a Rite-Aid, a Staples, a Metro station, a number of Armenian groceries, and LA City College.  Inside the door is a side chapel before which can usually be found a weeping supplicant, on his or her knees, praying. The sanctuary has been undergoing renovations for months--Mass was held for a time last winter in the auditorium of the IHM school next door--and the whole back half, at the moment, is cordoned off with yellow crime tape.

I'm not part of the parish life here but to my delight I have made the acquaintance of regular Mass-goers Larry Bugbee and Eva Link. Larry and Eva run an operation called "THE MINISTRY FOR LOVE, HOLINESS AND EVANGELIZATION" according to their business card. Larry's keen on visions, Medjugorje, and Padre Pio. He's been in a state of high dudgeon for years over the fact that the Church of the Blessed Sacrament up on Sunset, another of his haunts, celebrates but a single Mass on weekdays. And last time I saw him he waylaid me and tried to walk me to my car reporting on Therese Neumann, the Catholic Stigmatist of Bavaria, who experienced visions, suffered torrents of blood pouring from her (sightless) eyes and, from 1922 to her death in 1962, claimed to have subsisted entirely on the Holy Eucharist.

THERESE NEUMANN
Larry and Eva stand outside IHM after Mass--Eva's station is out front; Larry mans the side door--hawking holy cards, rosaries, melamine plates imprinted with religious scenes (Our Lady of Guadalupe, The Last Supper), and copies of Magnificat. When I left my July issue on the plane coming back from Boston, I knew just where to go. Sure enough, Eva sold me a copy ($4.95) after Mass last Thursday. She also reported that Larry is entering the seminary in northern California, so that will be a loss, all around, but of course I wish him the very best.

Anyway, so there are Larry and Eva, there are the women who come every day and who often say Evening Prayer from the Office before Mass, there's the Wednesday novena and the Tuesday Adoration, there are Frs. Rodel and Miloy,  both of whom say a lovely, simple Mass and give a simple, useful homily, often with a bit of sly humor thrown in.

There are the dark scarred pews and the creaky kneelers with their threadbare upholstery and the spirit of love that permeates any place where people have come for decades, after a long, hard day, to bow their heads and give thanks. People who whisper too loudly, forget to turn off their cell phones, get pissed if you inadvertently take "their" seats, and loudly rustle their prayer books, missalettes and paper fans. People who also hunger for ritual, who have the humility to honor the rising of the sun and the setting of the sun, who know to honor the passing, with the Sacrament of Sacraments, of another day.

The world laughs at such people but as a friend who is undergoing a genuine conversion observed the other day, "Christ's love is...extravagant, isn't it?"  That Christ's love is extravagant means that it is always better to err on the side of hungering too much, rather than too little; better to wear our hearts on our sleeves rather than let them harden from cynicism and despair; better to be willing to let our hunger make us look like fools  than to pretend we have life under control and that our hunger doesn't matter. To love Christ is to suffer the full unanesthetized pain of not being in control, not being able to "make" things go our way, not being able to make the edges of life match up. To attend Mass is to bow to mystery, not certainty. 

Catholicism invites the grand gesture, but never the grand gesture that calls attention to itself; rather, the grand gesture that calls attention to the Father;  the grand gesture that is hidden, as the grandest gesture of all, the Crucifixion, is both hidden and made visible at Mass. It's the gesture we make when at the end of Mass, the cantor, a tiny Filipino woman with a helmet of gray hair, leads us in the Angelus.

We're tired but we stay anyway: a lullaby, by us and to us. The angel of the Lord declared unto Mary...And she conceived of the Holy Spirit. Here, across town; all over the world in city and country; for centuries past and for centuries ahead, Christ's ragtag flock lays him to rest for another night.

A hush falls.
The sparrow sings.
Vespers.

JEAN-FRANÇOIS MILLET
THE ANGELUS, 1857-1859

11 comments:

  1. Your essay ( Vespers ) is a beautiful prayer to which I can only say -- amen.

    I will pray for you and your mom tonight.

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  2. One thing that I love, and this really belongs on the previous post, is going out to breakfast with friends from our parish. Our parish is very small--maybe 150 adults at Mass--and the only Mass is at 8:00 a.m. Almost every Sunday a large group of us head for a nearby diner after Mass. You are so right about eating with each other being an extension of the Eucharist.

    AMDG,
    Janet

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  3. Thinking of you and praying for your Mom. Mass so early in the morning is God's way of calling you into His arms during this time of wondering. Thank you for your beautiful writings!

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  4. Love this post. I love going to daily mass and being part of that motley crew. I used to mind the smell of urine or the one woman who may or may not be on her meds mixed in with the successful people. Now I feel uncomfortable if I'm not in a motley crew. If everyone is too together I start looking for the door. I need my crazy mix b/c all we have in common is our love of Christ and that is enough.

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  5. HAPPY BIRTHDAY DEAR HEATHER!!! May your 60th birthday usher in a year rich in blessings and grace, and may there be joy to supplant any sorrow. Also hope that you have some really delicious eats today- you have such great-sounding dinner parties- and that you will write to tell us all about it. Also that you get some cool presents and good surprises.

    Love and HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!

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  6. Heather, thanks for your reflection. I take joy in those people who are sometimes outside the "norm" in my conservative, working class parish. There is the young man with Downs Syndrome who sits down front with his mother holding up a large crucifix and singing in a loud, warbling and off-key voice. There is the blind man who kneels in the front row with his arms raised and sightless eyes staring at a beatific vision beyong my veiw and who makes loud comments at times. There is the vigil choir who valiantly try to make a joyful noise (ever read Annie Dillard's "An Expedition to the Pole"?) It's all chaotic and wonderful. Even the viejitas who complain about the young girls in the low cut tops... Here comes everyone!

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  7. Thank you, my sisters and brothers! "Here Comes Everyone" has GOT to be the title of any upcoming post. And now that I'm 60, I'M one of the viejitas pursing my lips at the girls in the low-cut tops. You KNOW Jesus loves THEM!

    Here comes everyone, thank God...I have to say I love this post to pieces. So glad you all like it, too...

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  8. "get pissed if you inadvertently take "their" seats" LOL! So true, thanks for making me laugh today and Happy Birthday!

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  9. It is sooo much better to wear our hearts on our sleeves than to become hardened. Beautiful post! So glad I found your blog!!

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  10. Started a comment on this post several days ago, but got interrupted. I especially love your writing of the places you go and people you meet. IMHO these kinds of pieces are the very best of your always good writing. To name a few: Rachel's group in Poor Baby, your loud Southern roommate on retreat in the NPR piece, your before dawn quest for coffee and Cadbury bars with a sick Nun on another retreat.
    Best,
    Erin

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