Postcards from the Pews: If You Get Yourself to Mass, You Never Quite Know What Will Hit You

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MY DAUGHTER STANDS AT THE BACK OF CHURCH just before Mass, the tallest of the altar servers this year. She holds the processional cross, 6 feet long. Looking up, vigilant not to bang it on the low-hanging balcony, she hoists it far overhead and steps into the aisle. The figure of me man on me cross precedes them all: children in white carrying candles, lectors, priest. It happens every week, but today it stops me: We hold up an image of a man dying in agony and entrust it to the hands of the young.


She carries the man on the cross to the front of church, turning him to face us. Over her head, above the sanctuary, are words from Psalm 43 inscribed in Latin: "I will go unto the altar of God. To God, who gives joy to my youth."

Holy Thursday night, Chicago. Singing words written by St. Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century, we process around the block with the Blessed Sacrament. Past the prom dress store, the liquor store. My friend Irma appears: "You'll come to my house tomorrow; I'm making Ecuadorian soup with 13 kinds of beans, our Good Friday specialty." I hadn't planned on any such thing, but Irma's hospitality is not to be denied. She is a stellar cook, a true friend. So on Friday after the stations of the cross in the park, where a young bare-chested man shivers on a cross in Chicago's snow, we drive 45 minutes for Ecuador's Good Friday delicacy. My adolescent nephew, thinking of becoming a Unitarian, trudges the chilly stations with us and comes along for the soup. He pronounces it the best he's ever had.

First Communion Sunday, Feast of the Ascension. The pastor asks the kids in white dresses and little suits, "Don't you sometimes wish you could send your body to school but also stay home in bed?" He explains the tricky reality of how, after the ascension of the Lord, Jesus was "not there" and yet "there" at the same time. …