Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Mass Card Office

This post is not particularly meditative, but it sort of goes as an illustration of what I was talking about in the last couple posts about the peculiar branch of the Church known as Irish Catholicism. This post needs an Irish Flannery O'Connor to write it, I think, but you'll have to do with me.

Yesterday I had my first experience of a strange cultural phenomena called The Mass Card Office.

After the Saturday exam I had my classmates over for lunch, and when the last of them prepared to leave my friend Seamus’ schoolbag (they don’t seem to call them backpacks here) was missing. There was another mysterious schoolbag in its place, and when we looked inside we found the name of Hector, the Augustinian seminarian who had left earlier.

Since Seamus is a local who lives a 45-minute bus ride outside of town, I didn’t want to leave him stranded in the city without his books, so I went with him to the priory to hunt down Hector, the fiendish schoolbag thief toward whom the good-natured Irishman directed many an empty threat. There was no answer when we rang the doorbell at the priory, so Seamus and I walked to the next door, which happened to be the tiny mass card office nestled between the church and priory.

It was a tiny little room with a small wall full of cards and a lady encased in a glass ticket-booth who spoke to the customers in a sharp raspy voice through the small holes in the glass. We had evidently come at a busy time, and when we explained our plight she directed us to the back of the line until she could get a hold of the folks at the priory.

“Now, you’re not Catholic, right?” Seamus asked me.

“Not yet,” I answered.

“That’s right,” he smiled. “Well, welcome to the mass card office. I doubt you have a Protestant equivalent.”

We tried to keep our voices down as we stood between the open door into the church where people were gathering for the daily Rosary recitation and the glass counter where the wrinkled woman tried to hurry through the long line of customers buying mass cards, which (I gather) one buys when a mass is celebrated in someone’s honor.

“Male or female?” the woman’s sharp voice barked behind the counter at the next customer as she tried to hurry through the line.

“Male,” came the answer from the customer who laid her purse on the counter to fish out her wallet.

“Dead or alive?” she barked again, her Corkonian accent following its infamous reputation for speed.

“Dead,” the customer breathed quietly.

“Young or old?” The words whizzed out of her mouth like bullets.

The bereaved relative did not have a simple response to the sterile question, and she fumbled for an answer. “Oh, I don’t know... somewhat midlife, I suppose...”

At this point, Seamus and I were on the verge of being horrendously irreverent, and we mumbled something about needing to get some air, fleeing the mass card office as if it were on fire. As soon as the door closed behind us, we exploded in laughter.

“If that experience does not make you question whether or not you really want to become Catholic,” Seamus managed to get out when he had gained control of his laughter, “I think I would lose some respect for you! I think the mass card office must have been somewhere on those 95 Theses...”

(Perhaps after my past few posts my Protestant friends are wondering why I am still hanging around with the Irish Catholic Church this summer. There is much wonderful to say about it too; those are just less anecdotal and harder to blog about. Mass today, for example, was wonderful, and I’m sure I’ll get to writing about these sorts of things too...)

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