Fr. Jeremy, a priest who used to be stationed at St. Peter Chanel, was back in our area recently, spending some of his vacation with his old parishioners. (Awww....) So Peter and Tam threw a big potluck and pool party for him on Sunday afternoon and had about 75 people over to their house. I think they would have invited the whole church if there'd been room.
The party began with all of us gathered in the living room. Our hosts have six kids and most of the guests were families they'd met through homeschooling, so there were lots of children there. One of the little girls made the rounds with dozens of Rosaries hanging from her arms, and once we all had one we prayed the Rosary, followed by the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, followed by a big ol' blessing of various items that people had brought: water, salt, oil, candles. The blessings were taken from old Roman Ritual books, translated from the Latin. So, for example, the blessing for salt ran,
P: O salt, creature of God, I exorcise you by the living (+) God, by the true (+) God, by the holy (+) God, by the God who ordered you to be poured into the water by Elisha the prophet, so that its life-giving powers might be restored. I exorcise you so that you may become a means of salvation for believers, that you may bring health of soul and body to all who make use of you, and that you may put to flight and drive away from the places where you are sprinkled; every apparition, villainy, turn of devilish deceit, and every unclean spirit; adjured by him who will come to judge the living and the dead and the world by fire.
P: Let us pray. Almighty and everlasting God, we humbly implore you, in your immeasurable kindness and love, to bless this (+) salt which you created and gave to the use of mankind, so that it may become a source of health for the minds and bodies of all who make use of it. May it rid whatever it touches or sprinkles of all uncleanness, and protect it from every assault of evil spirits. Through Christ our Lord.
And then the blessed salt was used in the blessing of holy water. All the praying and everything must have taken about 45 minutes, and I was impressed by how still the kids were during that time. They weren't perfect, but they were quieter than I would have expected. Here's a really wide-angle picture of the blessings (Adonela on the left is bathed in a heavenly white glow.)
After all that, we pigged out on a great variety of food and watched the kids disport themselves in the yard and the swimming pool. Adonela and I had to leave early to make it to the evening Mass, and Tam, our hostess, came to hug us goodbye and thank us with her usual grace, as if we'd done her a favor by coming.
"Thank you so much for having us!" I told her. "I really loved that we started with prayer. How many parties have that?"
"Yes, we were trying to think, 'How can we make this party different from all the others?'"
"It was great of you to host so many of us!"
"Well, when we got this house we promised God we'd find a way to share the blessing with other people!"
Then the next weekend, Shane and Mary were having their newly-adopted son baptized. A big crowd showed up that Saturday morning for the baptism. There were eight altar boys at the Mass that followed; it looked like every boy who knew how to serve had thrown on a cassock and joined in. Father said something in the sermon about the child now being a part of the family of God, and then he paused and looked at him, being held by his parents in the front row. "You all can't see it, but he's smiling!"
I was thinking, after those two fun events, about the blessing of a church community. I've been going to St. Peter Chanel for three and half years and that place just makes me happy, and parties like we had seem to extend SPC to other cities. :) And then it occurred to me that a big part of what forms the SPC community is the shared ritual, the praying together, the words we all know. We gathered at Peter and Tam's house and prayed 45 minutes straight without needing to get a good public pray-er to lead us or plan the meeting beforehand-- it was just, "Let's all pray the Rosary now," and we all started doing it. Same thing with the baptism and the Mass: we could easily participate in the ceremonies we were so familiar with.
And that made me think of the TLM that I blogged about here starting at #4-- how it was only the second time I'd met Fr. Moreau, but we didn't have to know each other to worship together. It's Mass, we both knew it, it was right there in my missal
That's a great advantage of having certain set rituals that are the same the world over. I remember the very first time I went to Mass, how I couldn't feel that I was worshiping God because it was so unfamiliar to me. But now that I do know it, I can go to Mass anywhere and join right in, even if I'm just a visitor. And the Rosary-- it felt so artificial and unspiritual the first time I knelt with the beads in one hand and a booklet in the other and tried to say it right. But it's very different when you know it, and it's perfect for a bunch of people to all pray together out loud for a while, for any intention that deserves more time than you can fill with a few ad-libbed sentences.
The other day I needed an evening Mass near work and ended up going to St. Dominic's in Eagle Rock for the first time. Lovely old church, not too much wreckovated, staffed by (you'll never guess) Dominican priests. We prayed the Rosary, then had Mass, then prayed the Chaplet, then I did a holy hour. I was stressed when I arrived, but one of the readings at Mass was consoling, and praying the Chaplet together gave me peace. I was right at home in a place I'd never been; felt a sense of community with all the people (mostly Filipino women) who were there.
It's nice to be Catholic. Seems like I can go anywhere, and there'll be a church nearby that I can waltz right in and call my own. (I have heard of parishes that just make stuff up and seriously change the ritual-- that would throw me off, but I haven't encountered that in any of the churches I've been to.) This morning I was at the Carmel of St. Teresa in Alhambra, where the chapel is simple and white except for big colorful stained glass windows. I stayed after Mass till everyone else had left and had this whole beautiful place to myself, so I knelt on the steps of the sanctuary and read John 21. (Do you ever just think about that scene? Jesus cooking up some fish by the Sea of Galilee and saying to his astonished disciples, "Come and have breakfast"?) Supposing I was a millionaire and built myself some places to pray in, it still couldn't match what I already have-- Catholic churches all over the world, open nearly all the time, where I can go and worship with like-minded people. Do you know what I mean?
Hey, speaking of visiting new churches, in a month I'm hoping to go to Carmel in Carmel. Yes, the Carmel by the sea in Carmel-by-the-Sea! It's not a vocation discernment visit or anything; we're just going to be driving through. I must be careful not to eat caramel in the Carmel in Carmel-- no, not even caramel lite-- or the interaction of three sources of carmelness will become the seed of a self-reinforcing harmonic resonance that grows through time until in ten years it reaches such amplitude that all nearby glass windows of the same frequency will be destroyed.
That's the signal that I need to stop blogging.