The church of St. Hubbins has the largest share of traditional Catholics in our region of the city. Some of them are convinced the pending archdiocesan closing of St. Hubbins in 2014 is an attempt to suppress traditional Catholicism. In truth the closing is a business decision, a consolidation of property in response to a declining population of Catholics. Most of the regular Catholics in our area are elderly, and they have either died, are dying, or are not able to attend regularly.
No one in our fair city is threatening traditional Catholicism, and no one is threatened by it. Perhaps the greatest threat is from within. Like nurses, traditionalist Catholics tend to eat their young. We are a strange crowd. We are not all nuts, but all the nuts are here. For instance, the Catholic “New Mass” is fifty years old, which means it has not escaped its status as a novelty. Traditional Catholics in my neighborhood measure changes by the centuries. Any deviations from the sixteenth century Council of Trent are suspect. Men wear suits to Mass, women wear veils. Families are expected to be large; that is, more than four children. The pews are old-fashioned with kneelers. Communion is received kneeling, on the tongue. No exceptions.
This Sunday my children and I enter late and sit in a pew in the back of the church. Father Doom and Gloom is not saying Mass today, so the sermon is short and non-hysterical. The liturgy proceeds silently and swiftly. At the moment the host is consecrated an altar boy rings the bell in three crisp, distinct intervals. A small dark-haired girl in a red dress waves her right hand and arm vigorously at the host as the priest elevates it over his head.
We leave the pew to stand in the Communion line. Near us a mother wrestles an eely toddler. Under the veil her face is patient and composed. She is aware of her young bundle of arms and legs, and of why she is standing in line.
Behind us a boy with a blond crew cut breaks away from his family and runs – either away from his parents or towards the Real Presence. He wears two multicolored plastic rosaries around his neck. His lack of shoes makes his mismatched socks obvious.
Perhaps the young ones mistook joining the Communion line with leaving church for the great outdoors. They cannot be blamed for the length of an old Latin Mass, or that most of the parents here do not practice birth control except perhaps the Catholic form of birth control known as abstinence – truly a hard road, that one. The other alternative for spouses at this Mass is the “rhythm method” from which arose the joke: What do you call couples who practice the rhythm method? Answer: parents. One more question: do any Catholics besides traditionalist Catholics not contracept?
We shuffle closer to the altar rail. I think about abusing priests who for decades consecrated hosts every day, consumed their loving Creator, then ravaged Catholic children. Are my sins worse than theirs? Must I stay away from God because I do not follow every letter of the law? Perhaps, but not on this day. Today I remember Christ saying he comes for sinners, not the righteous. I kneel at the Communion rail. The priest stands over me. Holding the host between thumb and finger he makes the sign of the cross over me and whispers: Corpus Domini nostri Jesu Christi custodiat animam tuam in vitam aeternam, Amen. “May the body of our Lord Jesus Christ keep your soul unto life everlasting, Amen.”
I open my mouth and receive the host on my tongue. I close my mouth and for a time all doubts disappear.