Nearer, My God, to Thee: Mass Celebrated at a Nursing Home Gives a Priest Some of That Old-Time Religion

By Hannon, Patrick | U.S. Catholic, June 2008 | Go to article overview

Nearer, My God, to Thee: Mass Celebrated at a Nursing Home Gives a Priest Some of That Old-Time Religion


Hannon, Patrick, U.S. Catholic


[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

It is a cool October morning, mellow and dream-like, and I am celebrating Mass at Cedar Woods, a care facility on the west side of Colorado Springs. Therese, one of our pastoral ministers to the homebound, is standing right next to me. She's a spry sprig of a lady, prone to hugging anything that moves, and when she does, she grabs hold of you in a way that says in no uncertain terms I love you, but don't mess with me. I'm a mother of nine. Therese just turned 80 years old. She's living, breathing proof of the adage we've been hearing lately, "Eighty is the new 60." She's tough in a very sweet way. She's going to live forever.

Collected around one of the tables--our makeshift altar--in the dining room of Cedar Woods are six Catholic residents, a menagerie of delicate creatures in their wheelchairs locked in place, along with Therese and me.

There's Irish Mary, a Dublin girl who serenades me with "Danny Boy" after every Mass. There's Harry, a blind, cantankerous old coot with plastic rosary beads draped around his neck. "Who's there?" he barks every five minutes or so.

There's Evelyn, big-boned and big-bosomed. She carries herself with a matriarchal air. I see her in her natural state, resting in her rocker on a wide front porch on a late Sunday afternoon in bygone days, peeling potatoes for supper, surveying the quiet neighborhood, and finding it all acceptable.

There's Jane with her hands hidden under a shawl on her lap because they are gnarled now and, at least in her eyes apparently, unbecoming.

Sophia's eyes are always closed, and you think she is fast asleep, but then I say, "The Lord be with you," and, with eyes still shut, she responds emphatically, "And also with you." Sophia opens her eyes twice at Mass: first, when she receives Communion, and second, when I say goodbye at the end. She grabs my hand and says, "Come back again, Father. Please don't forget us." Her eyes are ocean blue, irises blessed and burdened by the soft imprint of every wound and tickle this world has ever given her.

Olivia has blessed us with her presence again. I'm pretty sure Olivia is Catholic, but she has Pentecostal tendencies. When the Holy Spirit moves her, she speaks--and with a tongue free of any need for interpretation. Today, while I am wishing everyone peace after the Our Father, she says, "Father Pat, if you don't stop smiling like that, people are going to think you are retarded."

I am praying the Eucharistic Prayer, and I swear to God Therese is murmuring the words, too. She is standing right next to me, her arms extended in the orans position. Well, at least one hand is. The other is extended, too, but it is connected to one of Jane's hands that Therese has managed to liberate from her knitted pall. …

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