Breathless, Alberto came to the door this afternoon. "Priests," he said. "Seminarians, young, in black soutanes. From Canada. I tried talking with them, but I thought I better come over and get you."
I scooted right over to Bruno's place, and sure enough, there they were. Three Americans and a Canadian, all dressed in black, blank-eyed with exhaustion. English-speakers, no Spanish, none over 20 years old. Their priest and another seminarian were back the path somewhere. They had no working telephone. And could they say a Mass, later on, after the priest showed up? A Mass in Latin? Would that be okay?
I scooped up young Nick and we drove off to Terradillos to find his missing brothers. We stopped at the church, where Modesto was on duty. Modesto bustled up to the car window, anxious to learn about these holy boys. A Mass, a Latin Mass? Dear God, he said -- just the thought of it turned his grey hairs back to black! He still has all his Missals and Breviaries, he said, he did two years in seminary himself, and was altar boy for years and years!
Mass would be at 5:30 p.m. then, young Nick said. Modesto chortled with joy.
And so at 5 we rang the bell. Modesto and Raquel were waiting in fresh clothing, they'd brought water and wine and ironed napery. (I brought some as well. So did Milagros!) Milagros pulled a silver communion kit from a niche in the wall and gave the water-pitcher a good rub. An event!
We lit the candles and waited out on the steps.
Father Daley is well over six feet tall, and the assembled neighbours held their breath as he and three young men strode up the street in their flapping black soutanes. They were tall, young and handsome. They stepped right up and inside, where the priest unloaded a bagful of vestments and altar-ware, all in matching embroidery. They moved the books and candles into new positions, and at 5:30 sharp they sang out the first psalm.
Their Latin was said with flat Midwestern vowels, but the villagers -- the few people not out harvesting wheat -- knew the right responses, or at least the timing. Father Daley said Mass with his back to us. Bells tinkled, boys bowed, knelt slowly and painfully. Over the roar of passing tractors they sang in beautiful Latin, they chanted the Hail Mary and the Our Father and the Glory Be. It was strange, arcane, ancient. It was splendid.
At the end one of the ladies called it "the Mass of our grandmothers."
The men in black went back to Bruno's. Two of them were feeling quite sick, so I brought them some medicine. I took away some dirty laundry to run through our machine. I wondered if I was being silly, giving them this special treatment. I am not one to fawn over clergy, am I?
I asked one of the seminarians which religious order they are from. They are SSPX, he said. Society of Pius the Tenth. It rang a bell with me. Not a bad bell, but something familiar, something harking back to my long-ago incarnation as a religion journalist. Something to do with Vatican II backlash and Swiss bishops and maybe an excommunication or two.
I looked them up.
Sure enough. Very, very conservative. Broken away from Rome. Efforts made by Pope Benedict to reconcile, but talks broke down when the SSPX man copped an attitude -- or when the Vatican refused to return to The Truth --- depending on whose website I read.
And so I clipped socks onto the clothesline, pondering what I had done. I'd invited outcasts into our Roman Catholic church, and they'd used our altar to celebrate a non-standard Mass. Some received Communion, even. Had we done wrong? The clean soutanes flapping on the laundry line were not good old Catholic vestments, they were reactionary uniforms. Holy shit, I thought -- I'd just down two loads of heretic laundry.
And then I gave myself a good smack upside the head.
I have done tons of laundry for pilgrims, and that is what these guys are: Pilgrims. We serve pilgrims of every size and shape and faith, not just Vatican-approved Catholic pilgrims.
I just finished reading a turgid history of the bloody succession crises that followed when King Henry VIII of England -- a hapless pioneer Protestant -- left his kingdom to Protestant firebrands, Catholic reactionaries, and faithless political manipulators, each in their turn. Everyone said he did his deeds for God and Truth and Our Lord. Religious sectarianism is ugly and small-minded. It ain't Christian.
And today we opened our church in good faith, and faith happened there. The people came to worship when the bell rang, and God was glorified.
It is not up to me to decide whose brand of Catholic is best, or which priest or pilgrim deserves a helping hand and who does not.
Me? I am the biggest heretic, the least Catholic of anybody in Moratinos.
It is up to me to just open the door, light the candles, ring the bell.