Catholic culture was once one of great families, seemingly chaotic to the sight of an outsider, but possessed with raucous joy by those who were part of it.
With more than enough players for any game, playing at the local park quickly attracted other local kids who would easily slip into the crowd to hunt or play in the field.
Mass was at the heart of Sunday. Families wore their best clothes, filled entire pews, and controlled their siblings with a stern stare or a subtle squeeze of the hand. Parents took unsteady babies to what was called the “weeping room”, with glass windows from which the mass could still be seen while the crying toddlers were inaudible to the rest of the congregation.
The time after Mass was to meet up with friends from the community. Church picnics and balls were an opportunity for families to spend time together. The Catholic Elementary School parents became lifelong friends, comforting each other in difficult times.
The Easter ceremonies commemorating the death and resurrection of Christ were a painful reminder of Christ’s suffering and also of the hope of apparent disaster. Christmas masses were always crowded.
A lesser-known celebration was the Coronation of Mary in May, when children were selected to place a circlet of flowers on the head of a statue of Mary, an enduring example of the courage and strength of an early woman.
The elders support the Catholic community now. They volunteer to read at Mass and to bring Communion to the sick. Many are grizzled and frail, some on walkers, but they have an enviable determination. They are there at mass come rain or shine.
I am here too, sitting on a quiet bench with my family. The setting sun shines through the windows, bathing me in its golden light and warming my hair. It’s not always easy to go to mass, but I come anyway.
I am here because in Mass the world stops for an hour and I open my mind to the presence of God and the deep peace he offers.