Under a canopy of trees, less a grove or forest, more an outcropping of overgrowth in the corner of our back yard I celebrated the Mass. Greeting my friends as they entered my chapel of branches, I’d place white bread and grape juice on the makeshift altar of rocks and mud, alternately lifting hands, speaking words, making signs of the cross in the air. I celebrated the Mass.
I was more than 8 and less than 10. I was a weird kid but they were Catholic and they all came. They thought nothing of it. No one worried we were heretics, no one made jokes. Under that canopy of young trees, that outcropping of overgrowth, I celebrated the Mass.
Sometimes when I least expect it I find I’m crossing myself, in the grocery store, in the car, in the middle of the night when I cannot sleep. Even a minute later my fingertips are still pressed together; thumb, index, middle as if releasing the hand position will break the silence of that act. It means something to me now, this act.
At one moment in the Mass during the Liturgy of the Eucharist, the altar boys would bring a basin, a towel and a small flask of water to the priest. They would pour the water with some gentleness over his hands, his fingers. The priest would speak words I could not hear and then dry his hands on the towel before beginning the breaking of the bread, the pouring of the wine. For my brothers it meant that Mass was nearly over. Once we reached communion the number of pages left in the daily missal was manageable. But this moment was holy for me. When this happened in the Mass I knew we have shifted away from words and into movements. Communion was my favorite part of the Mass.