ANOTHER KIND OF COMMITMENT
On Saturday, my friend Adam was ordained as a priest. He entered the order of the Discalced Carmelite Friars about eight years ago. When I got the invitation to the ordination I was very excited because, not being Catholic, I had never witnessed this ritual. Although I spent most of the day confused, and I have a whole list of questions, I was incredibly moved as I watched him make his vows to God surrounded by his Carmelite community and his friends and family.
I got there late which pretty much blew because that meant I missed sitting with my friends who all went to Catholic school. Instead I slunk in and sat in a folding chair that was set up behind a huge post. This also blew because I brought my camera to take pictures of this big event and from that vantage point I couldn’t see a thing that was happening up on the altar. I couldn’t even see the altar!
I was on Mary’s side though and that was cool. When I go to a Catholic church I like sitting on the left, close to the altar to Mary. Kind of like when I used to go to Grateful Dead shows and I liked sitting on the left, close to Jerry. They are both kind of laid back. The church was absolutely beautiful. The light fixtures featured angels perched with their backs to each other, their angular wings meeting in a circle and the walls of the altar at the front of the church were paneled with a red wood inlaid with brass fleur de lis and reliefs of Jesus and Mary carved into pillars on the side. It was all very Moderne in flavor, e.g. made around 1930. At the reception later I was talking to a woman who told me that, in fact, the church had been built 75 years ago. There is some beautiful work in that church and it has been preserved with much love.
The church was packed with parishoners and nuns. Lots and lots of nuns. And lots of ladies with lace scarves on their heads. The nuns were wearing brown habits with cream colored wimples and further head craning revealed that there were also a bunch on the other side of the church that were dressed in the blue and white habits like Mother Theresa wore. The brothers or friars were all gathered up at the front of the church and they were wearing white robes with hoods. Like friars! I didn’t see Adam. There was a lot of talking/droning by a guy who looked like my favorite martian, and finally Adam was called to the altar and I about died! I haven’t seen him in so long and his head was shaved although I don't think that was a preisty thing, I think it's more about a balding thing.
Another priest who also droned but was wearing red and gold asked if Adam was worthy as he stood in front of a guy in a gold crown. And apparently it was decided that he was because then the guy in the crown started to speak. Once he started speaking I relaxed because he talked in a normal voice and the ritual stopped being all Catholic and scary and started to feel much more focused on the commitment, the step, that Adam was making. He talked to us in English and Spanish and I found myself crushing on him. The smell of incense would get stronger and then dissipate and I was completely captivated by the whole experience.
Then somebody’s cell phone started ringing. And instead of turning it off the dumbass just kept letting it ring. It’s amazing how quickly I can go from feeling the love to feeling the irritation. I really dislike cell phones. Anyway, the guy in the crown – who I found out later is the Bishop – addressed the fact that these days being a priest in the Catholic church has got some inherent challenges because of the rampant pedophelia that’s been allowed to fester and perpetuate. He didn’t use those words exactly, but that’s what he meant and he expressed it pretty clearly.
The Bishop, took off his gold cloth crown to reveal a red yarmulke, and asked Adam a series of questions to which he responded “I Do” and THEN Adam prostrates himself on the floor and everyone sings. He is laying on the floor in front of the altar! At this point I can no longer restrain myself and I run up to the front of the church to take a picture because this is a pretty amazing thing to witness and I wanted to remember. I thought it might make me laugh, but it doesn’t. It moves me to see such utter surrender. I’ve never been moved in the Catholic church, even during a really good homily. But surrounded by all the nuns and priests and brothers who had also made this commitment I was really feeling the gravity of Adam commiting his life to serving God.
Peg was sitting on the aisle up with the family members, in front of the nuns and she grabbed me as I was scuttling back to my seat and told me to come sit with them. So I got to watch the rest of the prostrating from a much better seat. When Adam stood up and knelt to receive the blessing from the Bishop and all the other priests I took some great pictures of the altar. Boy – the Catholics sure do like red and gold and pomp and circumstance. Peggy and I discuss which priests we think are hot. I like the tall Hispanic cantor (they have cantors who sing just like in temple!) in the black robe. Black is just way more attractive than white when you have wear a lot of it.
There is a HUGE statue of St. Therese in a niche above the altar and I totally dig this because she is the focus in this church, which makes sense since the church is named after her. It’s a lot nicer to look at a beneficent looking woman looming large than a bloody Jesus. He’s still there, but rendered in a brass statue that sits below the altar. He’s got a magic compartment under his feet where they will put the leftover sacrament after they give out communion.
So I’m really wanting to know why the Bishop is wearing a yarmulke? And why does he take his various hats off throughout the ceremony? I’m sure there’s an answer. I also want to know why they have cantors, guys who sing prayers in the Catholic church? I always thought that was a Jewish thing. But then I also notice that the huge marble altar is inlaid with a bronze lamb that looks like an ancient rendering. Peg said she thought it represented peace, but sacrificing animals on altars has been part of religious ritual for a really, really long time.
The pagans were into that, and by the way Happy Solstice!
After everyone has laid their hands on his head and blessed him Adam receives his stole and chasuble (vestments). This is called “vesting” and after this he goes and has his hands anointed in oil and wrapped in white cloth. So now he could do all those rituals like last rites and marriage ceremonies – for Catholics.
All the priests are up on the altar and they’re getting ready to serve communion again and there’s a guy swinging that incense holder. There must be a class for that because there’s a definite method he’s got going on. I totally get how people could pass out in church. That smell is intense and we’ve been sitting there for about an hour and a half. The Bishop takes off his yarmulke and everyone lines up for communion. Thank God there are so many priests to serve it because with all those nuns and pious people there’s a big long line.
I’m pretty much bored by now and briefly think about going up there just to give Adam a hug, stretch my legs and get a closer look at the hot priest, but I catch a nun glaring at me. Yes, I was getting chatty, and I was having a hard time sitting still, and I was wearing a black lycra top with spaghetti straps rather than a linen suit, but it was a really hot day and the air was still in there. I was probably the only person who was comfortable. I had also forgotten to put on my underwear because I was running really late, but there’s no way she could’ve known that. It’s also possible that she walks around with that look on her face all the time and has no idea that she appears forbidding and judgmental, but in any case I decided not to get up and go for a walk because nuns still kind of scare me.
Though I have to say that they sing beautifully and they did. After communion everyone stood and sang and all the priests filed off the altar following the Bishop who carries a staff like a shepherd. I asked Peggy why he had that – like do all Bishops have a staff? Is it one of the accoutrements of being a Bishop? She told me it was in case he lost one of his sheep. Then it was over and we got to go have sandwiches with all the priests and brothers and nuns. I was a little overdosed on Catholic ritual by the end of the day, but I was so proud of Adam and now I know a priest! And I bet he can answer all my questions!!