The sky at 4 a.m. was nothing short of swimming-pool blue and I wondered if I should both to wake up my son Mack, who was only 13. Since we had met Sister Mary Pastry last month at the European Market in Chesterton, IN, he insisted he wanted to attend the mass of the apparition. After a few moments of thinking about it, I knocked on his bedroom door and whispered, “Do you really want to go to the Mass?” half-thinking he would roll over and go back to sleep. But he woke up and dressed and we were in the car by 4:40 driving to the Austin neighborhood in Chicago. It was eerily silent as we drove, increasingly moving into what I would call the ghetto area of Chicago, blighted and scary, black men standing on corners with no specific purpose. As we pulled into the parking lot, it was just as Sister Mary said — police officers patrolled the lot and we slid into a parking spot, escorted into the church for the Mass of the Apparition.
As we entered, a nun in full habit handed up a head set and I asked her what it was for. She looked quizzically at me and I realized she spoke only French. “Pour quoi?” I asked her and she only pointed us toward the pew. My friend Gloria was already waiting for us in the pew and Mack and I silently slid in toward her. We gave each other the “eye”. What were we in for?
St. Mary de Frechou is the mother house of Fraternite Notre Dame in a dicey area of Chicago. Across the street from a hospital, it seemed imposing with an iron gate enclosing the parking lot. As Mack and I sat with Gloria, we took in the church. The ceilings were low but dressed with religious murals and a massive set of organ pipes. Soon, no less than 18 men in religious vestments entered the church in a processional. Jean-Marie, the bishop, entered last with an elaborate peaked hat.
The mass began in Latin and I gasped. This was the traditional Latin mass. I made a mental note — I had grown up and been married at St. Michael’s Church in DePere, Wisconsin via Father Hector Bolduc. My children were baptized there as well, as much for convenience as the fact that a family member had started the church amid a great deal of Vatican II controversy. I was not prepared for this.
It soon became apparent that the headphones were for simultaneous translation of the Latin and French mass into Spanish and English. As I looked around, the predominant attendees were Hispanic with a high proportion of Filipino’s. This was one organized Church.
Personally, I like to think that I come to religion from a wide variety of spiritual traditions. Raised as a Catholic, I have studied Buddhism, Judiasm, spiritualism and a wide variety of approaches. I’ve come to believe that we are a conglomeration of experiences and that there is no right and wrong in belief, which would probably excommunicate me from the Catholic Church, particularly the Tridentine Mass I was currently experiencing.
As I looked in front of me, I saw at least 20 nuns in full garb — white for a high mass and the black habit. It was something of a culture shock to witness and as much as I searched for Sister Mary Pastry, I could not differentiate her from the others lined up in front of me.
Mostly what I thought about as the Mass progressed was the Bishop. If he had truly seen an apparition of the Virgin Mary and been guided by her, what did it take to do a Mass of this magnitude every month? To commemorate the apparition? It was impressive.
As Mass concluded, two nuns appeared with hundreds of white and yellow roses — roses being the sign of Mary. Bishop Jean Marie gave a rose to every one in attendance, including Mack and me. I kissed his ring as he offered me a yellow rose, so schooled in Catholic tradition was I. We looked up and it was already 7 a.m., two hours since the start of the mass. Mack nudged me and asked if we could leave as the Bishop began the rosary. We had already been there 2 hours and we were ready to go.
It was not at all as I expected in that the Mass was a high ritual, the kind of service where you get lost in ritual. It was a meditation on a grand level, but maybe Mack and Gloria weren’t there as I was. For me, it was a place to lose self and commune with a larger purpose. I had to pull my awareness back to the church, if that makes any sense at all. “Yes Mack, let’s get going I said as I came out of the trance.”
For one of the first times in my life, I understood the rapture. It could have been a yogi meditation as well. It was a moment of leaving time and space, and spending time with a higher power. Sister Mary Pastry told me that the Virgin Mary is there for these masses and I felt the presence in the quiet space of meditation. If there is a power beyond us, it was here.
I thought of fruit tartes and the Chesterton European Market where this all began. Maybe there is magic to their pastry. I’m okay with that.
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