End of Summer Surprise

Over summer, with our move and things being generally disruptive, we bounced around with where we attended mass. There is no parish in our immediate area and we fully intend to stay at our current parish as we have a major sacrament year coming up this year and next year plus we enjoy having Shelby’s Godfather as our pastor and our current church community.

One week we ended up 30 minutes late to the closest parish to our house. The boys weren’t thrilled with the parish filled with mostly retirees and just a few younger families. Joseph commented on there being no pews and kneelers. The following week, Jeff dropped us off at the mission at the beach which provided tourists mass during the summer months. We ended up standing in the back due to limited space in the gazebo and Joseph complained of people being too casual and talking loudly. The teenagers horseplaying next to us did not help either. And again, no kneelers. Now, we weren’t (and still aren’t) looking for a new parish but we were hoping to find a parish closer by than our parish that we felt comfortable at in case we had a scheduling issue on any given Sunday. The mission was never really an option as they only offer mass from Memorial Day to Labor Day there. The closest parish clearly was not the right fit.

This weekend, we had planned to go to 9:30 AM mass at our parish but Jeff’s dad had asked him to bring the boys down for a visit (we were actually all invited but Shelby’s behavior has been on the more erratic side this last week so Jeff thought it was a better idea for Shelby to stay home with me). So we looked at a parish about the same distance away as ours but in the other direction, Infant of Prague in Jacksonville.

Now, I should mention here that our family patron is the Infant of Prague, chosen by Jeff and I shortly after we got married. The parish is about a half hour away from our house and has a slightly different mass schedule. Our parish has 7:30, 9:30 and 11 AM masses. IOP has 8 AM, 10 AM and 12 PM masses. So we agreed to go to 8 AM mass at Infant of Prague to try it out.

That was Saturday morning. I had to work til 7:30 pm on Saturday. When I came home that evening, I was in severe pain. My lower back has become the bane of my existence going into spasms frequently when I work longer shifts and last night was no exception. So I took a small dose of a muscle relaxer and used a heating pad in hopes of getting some relief and sleep as I knew from experience, I would not be able to drive and would have to move very, very slowly in order to get to the point I could drive. So I prayed and settled in.

That’s where things got interesting. For the first time in nearly five years, I was struck with a crazy case of insomnia. It was after 2 AM when I finally fell asleep. And stayed asleep until Joseph woke us up in the morning. When I opened my eyes he was dressed for mass. My boys are good about going but waking up on their own and getting dressed independently for mass has never, ever happened before. He told us my father-in-law had just called and left a message on our machine about their visit today. Suddenly a thought dawned on me and I asked what time it was. 8:46 AM…yikes! I had slept through mass!

William was dressed and ready to go so Jeff told me to hop in the shower (Shelby was just waking at this point). Jeff said he would keep Shelby home since readying her was not an option with just 30 minutes until we needed to leave to ensure we got there on time. He made sure the boys had eaten breakfast and in 25 minutes, the three of us were out the door for 10 AM mass. While this later mass messed with the timeline for their visit, no one for one second suggested we skip mass which in itself was a miracle.

We arrived at Infant of Prague about 13 minutes early. I was nervous about what the parking situation would be like having never been there before. We found several great spots and took one. Jeff had a co-worker who attended the parish and said she felt it was “cold” and “unfriendly.” But I wasn’t thinking of that. I was thinking of the many miracles that had occurred this morning to allow us to get to mass when Satan had thrown up lots of roadblocks.

When we entered the church and an older couple was there preparing to be Extraordinary Ministers of the Eucharist in the back of the church. They warmly greeted us and welcomed us. We went from the vestibule into the sanctuary and caught our breath. I was standing in one of the most beautiful churches I had ever been into and I’ve gone to mass at Cathedrals and Basilicas. This day, I was unprepared for the physical beauty of the church. We quickly found seats near the front of the altar and Joseph pointed out to me that we were sitting on “St Joseph’s side of the church.” On either side of the altar were pictures of Mary and Joseph. We had talked about the Infant of Prague being our family patron and the boys found the Infant of Prague statue behind the altar, above the doors leading from outside to the Perpetual Adoration chapel. We saw beautiful stain glassed windows and gorgeous Stations of the Cross. Then William focused my attention to the ceiling above the altar. There hung the Infant’s crown and in the bottom of it was a stain glass image of the Holy Spirit as a dove.

But the beauty wasn’t just physical. We saw a variety of people there to celebrate mass that day. In addition to many friendly retirees (our experience with retirees at mass has been a mixed bag, so that was pleasant) we saw lots of young families. Lots of military families and some of those had a parent on deployment. Over the years I’ve learned to ignore looks when I bring the boys in by myself because Jeff is either in the vestibule with Shelby or Shelby just could not handle mass so they stayed home both at our old parish and our current one. Most people are fine but there are always a few…but here, I got no looks at all and people weren’t cold and unfriendly but welcoming and kind. I’m not saying everyone is or was perfect, but overall it was a positive impression. And they sang! At our old parish, the use of electric guitars at one mass and the lack of a choir at another meant that we usually were hearing only the cantor sing along with us. And it seems like people are more timid at our current parish but people really sang out joyfully with the choir and cantor.

The priest had an excellent homily that both the boys and I were heartened to hear. It wasn’t dumbed down but it also wasn’t so existential that the boys fell asleep (that happened exactly one time at a parish we didn’t belong to).

If there was one thing that I wasn’t thrilled about, it was that there were no bells during the Consecration. However, I grew up for many years without the bells and the priest did hold up the Body and Precious Blood for a longer time than I am used to and it still felt reverent.

After mass, the priest recognized that we were not regulars at the parish and made sure to tell us he enjoyed having us there. I have been a member of many parishes where the priest can’t tell most parishoners except a few, so it was very nice to hear him greeting many by name and to welcome us.

This week has been super blah. Then there was the back spasm and sleeping in nonsense. But I kept praying that God would lead me to where I needed to be and should be and this Sunday, I am sure He was letting us know that there was a parish with a slightly different schedule that we could feel comfortable at.  Joseph even remarked on the way home that as there were many happily vocal babies in the parish that Shelby would “blend in” as long as she was happy a bit better. I also realized as we were leaving that the parish, which was constructed pre-Vatican II, is designed so that mass can be celebrated both ad orientum and versus populum which I think is so cool and I could tell where the Communion rail was once upon a time (if you’re new here, I kind of love Communion rails).

We will happily be back at our own parish next weekend but I feel so incredibly blessed to have another parish so close by that we also feel comfortable at. Who would have thought that this would turn my whole “end of summer blues” around?