We arrived at ten minutes of twelve, my father and I,
at St. Dominic’s, my grandmother’s church, though by then
she was tucked away in a nursing home south of the city
where nuns in nurses’ uniforms cared for her, prayed
the rosary with her until her mind went, until
the nursing home doctor prescribed restraints
so Grandmother wouldn’t assault the kind nuns, or
scratch herself till her thin arms bled.
St. Dominic’s was a grand church, studded with statues
of the Blessed Virgin, vaulted ceilings,
Stations of the Cross, painted wood, punctuated by gilt
as fancy as you’d see in a cathedral.
Two heavy glass doors at the front entrance, too modern
and the parish school, sturdy structure of gray gneiss stone,
Things that were always there. I must have absorbed all this,
Though what was important was being with my father,
on Christmas, in the days of the Latin Mass,
genuflecting at the pew he chose, watching him flip up the kneeler
to accommodate his bad leg, it wouldn’t bend.
I opened my Sunday Missal to Mass of the Catechumens.
The priest faced the altar, not us, he mumbled his church Latin.
I loved the sameness of it all, the waiting till the usher
approached, waved us into the communion line.
I loved standing behind my father, shuffling
to the altar rail, waiting for him to kneel,
laboriously. I loved sticking out my tongue
to receive the tasteless paper disc that was Our Lord,
walking back to our pew, covering my face with my hands
as my father did, praying for whatever it was I prayed for
in those days, usually for God to repair my father’s leg,
Let him walk again without the brace.
My thoughts wandered to Christmas morning,
Whether I’d find what I ‘d asked for under the tree.
Everyone stood up. The priest, his back to us,
Was saying Ite, missa est. I know this because
The Mass is ended, it said.
But we weren’t done yet. We said
prayers for the Conversion of Russia.
I loved these, especially asking for protection
against the wickedness and snares of the devil, who wandered the world seeking the ruin of souls.
Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on us.
Now, the Mass ended.
My father grasped the back of the pew in front,
pulled himself up to stand.
We exited with the slow-moving crowd,
were disgorged onto the front steps of the church.
In the black night, everything seemed possible.
Merry Christmas, pal, my father said.
Want to get breakfast?