Monday, September 27, 2010

A summer in the country - part five.

Post 563 - Some Sundays, I was allowed to sleep in and go to second mass, which started at 11am. This meant I had to walk all the way to Horeswood, a distance of about three miles, a trip that took about an hour if I didn’t get a lift from a neighbor. The custom in the church was that the women filled the pews on the right-hand side, the men filled those on the left-hand side, and young children like myself knelt in the space in front of the pews close to the altar. This meant kneeling up straight for over an hour with no support on the cold, hard flagstone floor of the church. After the long walk and since I was usually still fasting in preparation for receiving Holy Communion, I usually fainted away about the first gospel. Some nearby adult would then carry me out and set me down to revive myself in the church grounds, sitting among the monkey-puzzle trees. I think I set a record at the time for fainting at late Sunday mass.

Sometimes, when the weather was fine, I stayed out in the sun rather than going back into the church and sang out loud to amuse myself until mass was over. On several occasions, my singing disturbed the worshipers inside the church so much so that the priest sent someone out to ask me to tone it down. When I did return to mass, I stayed with the men who congregated around the door at the back of the church.

Priests had tried for years to entice these individuals to join the rest of the congregation in the pews but had never succeeded. No matter what the weather, these men stayed, grouped around the door but outside rather than inside the building. Some of them had attended mass every Sunday for 30 years without ever setting foot in the church itself and had the reputation of being as close to sinners as you could come in those days. It always felt a little dangerous and subversive to join them, like being a member of some band of outlaws. Although they were attentive to the mass in a general sense, they were not above talking and smoking on occasion, especially during the sermon. The sermon usually detailed the wages of sin and seemed to urge people to feel guilty and do penance for all the bad things that had happened in the world since the beginning of time. As a result, sermons were a bit of a downer and had the overall effect of lowering most people’s spirits even if they felt good when they came to mass in the first place.

But these sermons did little to diminish the good humor of the fellows at the back of the church who clearly refused to be intimidated into feeling guilty about anything. The men at the back were always in a good mood, telling jokes and laughing quietly among themselves. They usually arrived a little late and they seldom stayed past the beginning of the last gospel. But they always seemed happier than most of the other, more pious people and I could never understand why this was or why God didn’t strike them dead or exact some other retribution for their irreverence.

Once mass was ended, I could usually get a lift most of the way home with a neighbor or with someone I knew. This was especially welcome when it rained, which was a relatively frequent occurrence. No wonder visitors commented - and still do - on the many different shades of green in the Irish countryside.

To be continued.....

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