Monday, August 17, 2009

Churchly People

It is Monday, and as usual, I found myself trooping to the chapel to attend the 11.30am Mass. I developed the habit during my high school days, and honed it in college, where initial boredom and alienation saw me cultivating my piety as I had not done before. It is Monday, and as usual, the chapel is filled with students still stuck midway between Sunday and the present.

I am typing this post in my thoughts; I am seated a good distance from the altar, neither too far nor too near. The pew immediately in front of me is occupied by an old English teacher; she is fiddling with her fan, and she has her prayer books in front of her. To my right, a few feet away from me, a boy in blue is brooding. He momentarily glances at me; I am almost certain he is checking me out. I am strangely flattered. Behind me is a family of four; they are all dressed in pique polos, even the four year old boy who looks like a teddy bear. In the sanctuary, an altar girl in jeans makes a double genuflection before the tabernacle. I've seen her before in the library; she always reads the newspapers in the afternoon, and I'm sure I've heard her humming 'O Sacred Heart' while doing so.

At around 11.20, an old lady with a cane enters the chapel. She makes her way to the pew nearest to the altar, and mumbles some prayers along the way. She has done this everyday for the last three years, possibly longer. A cellphone rings loudly for two or three seconds before the owner shuts it off. Her ringtone is 'West End Girls' by The Pet Shop Boys. I can't help but chuckle to myself, as it is one of my favorite songs from the '80s. I cannot get it out of my head now. Outside, the clouds darken; more people file in, students, teachers, the prayerful, students who will be taking three hour exams later in the evening, a nun in a habit, a nun without a habit, an African seminarian, and some waiting for their respective boyfriends or girlfriends. In front of me, a couple takes a seat to the right of the eccentric English teacher. I've seen the boy doing aerobics early in the morning, and as usual, he is always smiling. The girl is blushing; there is a rose in her bag.

Another grandmother enters the chapel. She takes her seat in the pew two rows from where the English teacher and the happy couple are seated. I recognize her; she is without her husband, whom, I noticed, would often 'talk' to the image of St. Ignatius by the door and make a quick visit to the Blessed Sacrament before the Mass started. It's possible that I was not able to notice if and when she made her own visit. Still more people, majority of them taking their seats in the back. I've always noticed this to be a peculiar habit; I don't know why, but when Filipinos go to church, they always take the seats from the middle to the back first. Perhaps it has something to do with a sense of humility or 'reverent distance' from the tabernacle; my grandmother used to suggest that it was so because that way, the priest would not be able to hear the old wives gossip and their men whine about being made to sit still. I am more positive, and generally suspect that the former is true. The side entrance swings opens, and in comes a boy from one of my classes. I have to be honest, I didn't really think him the prayerful type when I first saw him. He proceeds to the back, taking the back most pew from the altar.

Finally, the priest himself arrives. He is American, and is dressed in a yellow polo and light khakis and a ballcap, which he immediately doffs upon entering the chapel. His umbrella is wet, and he is met by a man in orange at the chapel's entrance, who then helps to conduct him to the altar. A few minutes pass, and the Holy Sacrifice begins. He eventually gives his homily, but to say that I did not hear a thing would be putting it lightly. At exactly 11.58am on my watch, the Mass ended.

The polo family knelt for awhile before each one finally bowed before the altar and left. To my right, the boy who had checking me out genuflected at the very moment the priest left the sanctuary; he opened the door for an old man, smiled, and left. Some chose to pray a little while before leaving to take their tests and give their reports. Just as quickly as the chapel filled with people before the Mass, so too did they disperse. I wonder what all these other people think of me? Perhaps they notice that I am always early for Mass, or that I hardly receive Holy Communion. Or perhaps some of them might think of me as 'that boy' who always keeps looking around during Mass-- I certainly would like to know, but at the same time, I don't really think it bothers me much. It is certainly delightful to see that many of the 'regulars' at Mass are the same people who regularly attended in 2006, 2007, and 2008. Old faces disappeared to be replaced by new ones, but always, I take comfort in the fact that, no matter how unpleasant or sinful I can be sometimes, I can at least pretend to be good at Mass and not end up being hypocritical.

Prayers said, I prepared to exit the chapel. I genuflected, and immediately the boy from one of my classes. He was mulling over a list, and as quickly as I had spotted him, he stood up, and went inside a confessional (more like a reconciliation room). Thank God I am wrong most of the time.


Enbrethiliel said...


Very nice! =)

It's almost as if you typed up the whole thing in the sanctuary. I really felt as if I were there. (Hmmmmm. If I had been, I wonder how you would have described me!)

Archistrategos said...

Thank you! I have to admit, I was really looking around me most of the time. I always like observing people, their quirks, their stories, their language. I'm sure I'd be able to make up an interesting story about you hehe :)