Sunday, April 30, 2006

The cult effect at St. Agnes

St. Agnes Church

Yesterday we were so busy in the Store that at one point I remember ringing at the register, one Guest after another, without being able to look up - I felt like I was a sort of robot continually processing orders. At days end we were all completely exhausted, our feet, our legs, our backs - everything ached. I went to bed early Saturday night and was too tired to get up for 6:30 AM Mass this morning. I went to the 8:30 AM Mass instead.

I haven’t been to the 8:30 AM Mass for a long time. I forgot there was organ and singing at that Mass. I love the silence of the early Mass. I am always amazed by the large families at 8:30 AM. It’s a more crowded Mass as well and so it just seems noisier and distracting. The retired pastor celebrated the Mass. I had not seen him for sometime either. He rather startled me because of how old he looked and the slow pace of his entrance reminded me of John Paul II when he was showing his age. He impressed me as being quite close to death.

Leaving Mass I noticed a chunk of stone on the stairs that had fallen off the building. For some reason I thought of the dream of Pope Honorius of St. Francis holding up the Church and Francis’ own vision when our Lord said to him, “Rebuild my Church.” I wondered what will become of St. Agnes? After Monsignor dies will they turn the altar around? Will they allow altar girls and Communion in the hand? Will there ever be a female lector? After the current pastor retires will the parish change from what it has been? What will become of the parish?

I had the occasion to ask this same question of a priest and a very astute gentleman at our Store one day a few weeks ago. They both agreed that the more traditional tenor of the parish would stay intact, but the priest said he thinks the parish will have to change in other ways. For instance he felt there needed to be a greater social outreach program, and he simply used “loaves and fishes” as an example. He pointed out how insular in some respects the parish is. They both agreed that the “dogma of faith” would be preserved, but new priests were needed. They implied that there currently is a “cultish” atmosphere in the parish.

I caught that this morning. As I got out of my car and walked towards the Church a very nice woman was approaching to get to her car. I recognized her as a frequent Guest in our Store - she knows who I am. I smiled and said “Good morning.” She barely replied. I was sort of surprised, but not offended. In the Store she speaks to me if she needs something. Going up the stairs the married couple who sit behind me at every single 6:30 AM Mass were just exiting the Church. I smile again and say hello - they ignored me. They also know me from the Store. Again I was not offended because they do not speak to me there either. They were calling after the other woman to get her attention - so it might have been the “excitement of the moment.“ It’s just not a friendly parish though.

Our Lord has granted me a wonderful grace, that is to be recollected at Mass, so I often do not notice people at Mass. Today was different however. I noticed. Coming into Church the veiled contemplative women were scattered about apparently absorbed in the prayer of quiet. The man whose daughter is a cloistered religious was heading back to the sacristy to speak to Fr. Altier. He is always in the sacristy before Mass - I see him when I arrive, and now I discover, he’s also there after Mass. His veiled wife remained in the pew. Apparently no women are allowed in the sacristy. This couple are among many of Father's entourage who seem to only attend Fr. Altier Masses - if for some reason Father does not have the early Mass, they know about it and go to the Mass he is celebrating. There is a regular cast of characters who hang out at St. Agnes, not just the ankle-length, jumper-clad veiled women, but others as well. (Maybe I am one of them and that is why people do not speak to me.)

There is an older adult altar server who has a group - sort of a religious confraternity. (There are a few “make-your-own-habit-and-religious-order” people at St. Agnes in addition to this man.) He wears the altar boy cassock between Masses, at Mass he even wears a sort of cape that is part of the habit of the group. He wears it over the surplice when he lectors at “High Masses.” Some of these people appear to have some sort of "hold” over things at the Church. It can be kind of a weird place. There is a strange, underlying elitist attitude many people seem to have that attend there, a Roman Catholic snobbery of sorts.

Nevertheless, I like the Church. I don't attend for the "community" but for the Sacraments. I am guaranteed solid Catholic teaching there as well as dignified liturgy. It’s worth the 30 mile round trip on Sundays. However, I do believe I will keep to the 6:30 AM Mass while being more vigilant about maintaining custody of the eyes and more rigorous in mortifying my curiousity.