OLOTOB has fallen upon hard times. No longer does she rest in a shaded grove by my brother's upside-down and slowly rusting watercraft, alongside a stone bench which only lacks a cupholder to make it a perfect spot to enjoy an adult beverage. My mother has sold an acre of her backyard to a developer, and will soon have two new neighbors. The grove where Our Lady sat is no longer on her property, and She has been transferred to a green spot by the back door.
That brother now lives in the house permanently, keeping an eye on Mom, who is frail at 89, and he sleeps in the guest bedroom, where the other icon of Catholicism in my mother's house dwells. I speak of Hot Mother Cabrini in the Closet, a statue my mother and another elderly Catholic woman purloined from a rectory in another Philly suburb for their own reasons, and is still in transit to its rightful owner, my mother's favorite priest, who hasn't quite enough closet space for it himself, apparently.
Thus, I no longer sleep with Hot Mother Cabrini. My brother does. I don't resent her transfer of affections. Long distance relationships are so difficult to maintain.
My brother Matt's memorial service was not religious, because he wasn't. Mom has set up her own formal funeral Mass in a few weeks, because no one should be laid to rest without a Catholic service, in her opinion. Fine with me, because I wasn't about to fly back and forth to Philly twice in two months, and thought I had escaped another Mass.
Not so. Mom made it plain that I was taking her to Mass the following day, and furthermore she was exercising her powers as a bereaved mother to make sure I attended the Mass, instead of just driving her to church, having a cup of coffee at a local Dunkin’ Donuts, and picking her up when the service was over—my preferred method of assisting her at worship.
I am ecumenical in my dread of religious rites. Any ceremony that does not involve human sacrifice or, at the very least, snake handling, I find intensely boring. The only advantage of a Catholic Mass over the others, in my case, is that, having been shepherded to a thousand of them in my youth by my above-mentioned mother, I know when it’s going to end. I was stuck at a friend’s kid's bar mitzvah a few years back and nearly suffered a public panic attack when I realized I had no idea how long it was going to last.
My mother’s favorite priest has been transferred from a regular Catholic parish to a Catholic nursing home, where people who have lived Catholic can waste away and die Catholic for $6,000 a month. This made the Mass even less inspiring than most to me. There were no striking Catholic women in tight skirts to admire. Most of the faithful were in wheelchairs and even hospital beds. My mother is not that feeble—she picked a pew for us to sit in. The orderlies promptly blocked us in there with two wheelchairs, one on either end. If a fire had broken out, we would have had to hurdle cripples in order to save ourselves.
The lady in the wheelchair to our right kept trying to get out of her seat to participate in the usual Catholic gymnastics, and had to be restrained by two orderlies so she wouldn’t go face-first on the floor trying to get closer to God. Apart from that and two Alzheimer’s victims in the back having a completely demented but loud conversation about only what they knew for sure, the Mass proceeded ponderously along.
There is a point in the Mass where it is considered proper to leave, if you are unworthy of receiving Communion, which is me for sure, and I mean unworthy squared, and it is right before the hosts are distributed. Unfortunately, I was blocked from bugging out at this juncture by those wheelchairs. I had to sit through the distribution of the hosts. Ordinarily, Catholics line up and approach the altar where the priest and his assistants wait with golden cups full of the Eucharist. Due to the nature of the congregants at this service, though, the priest and his helpers had to scatter through the room to serve Communion. Inevitably, one made the mistake of drifting towards me, host in fingers.
“Body of Christ,” he said.
Then I panicked. I had forgotten the response. In retrospect, I think it is a simple “Amen,” although there are other standard Catholic phrases which might apply, like, “And also with you,” and “Blessed be the Father,” etc.
Couldn’t come up with it though, so I settled for looking him prayerfully in the eye and replying, “No thanks, I’m trying to quit.”