This is a beautiful selection from an author I am rediscovering, Andre Dubus, whose main work was short stories. he was a devout Catholic and a deep Eucharistic faith weaves itself in and out of his stories. make no mistake he is a deeply humane and realistic author, a heartbreaking one who communicates the harsh reality of living. But often he doe sit in reference to living heartbreaking lives while conscious of God and Christ and the sacrament.
This passage is nice because it portrays what it is like to go to church, not from a doctrinal or liturgical stance as we pastor types so often understand it but from the point of view of being in the pew and actually experiencing "the Mass". It is from the short story, "The Pretty Girl".
Dressing for Mass was different from dressing for any other place, and she liked having her morning coffee and cigarette while, without anticipating drinks or dinner or a man or work or anything at all, she put on makeup and a dress and heels; and she liked entering the church where the large doors closed behind her and she walked down the aisle under the high, curved white ceiling, and between stained-glass windows in the white walls whose lower halves were dark brown wood, as the altar was and the large cross with a bronze Christ hanging from the Null behind it.
When she was with her family, her father chose a pew and stood at it while Margaret went in, then Polly, then her parents; alone, she looked for a pew near the middle with an aisle seat. She kneeled on the padded kneeler, her arms on the smooth old wood of the pew in front of her, and looked at the altar and crucifix and the stained-glass window behind them; then sat and looked at people sitting in front of her on both sides of the aisle. There was a scent of perfume and sometimes leather from purses and coats, tingeing that smell she only breathed here: a blending of cool, dry basement air with sunlight and melting candle wax.
As the priest entered wearing green vestments, she rose and sang with the others, listened to her voice among theirs, read the Confiteor aloud with them, felt forgiven as she read in what I have done and in what I have failed to do, those simple and general words as precise as she could be about the life, a week older each Sunday, that followed her like a bridal train into church where, for forty minutes or so, her mind was suspended, much as it was when she lay near sleep at the beach. She did not pray with concentration, but she did not think either, and her mind wandered from the Mass to the faces of people around her. At the offertory she sang with them and, later, stood and read the Lord's Prayer aloud; then the priest said Let us now offer each other a sign of peace and, smiling, she shook the hands of people in front of her and behind her, saying Peace be with you.
She liked to watch them receive communion: children and teenagers and women and men going slowly in two lines up the center aisle and in single lines up both side aisles, to the four waiting priests. Coming back, they chewed or dissolved the host in their mouths. Sometimes a small boy looked about and smiled. But she only saw children when they crossed her vision; she watched the others: the old, whose faces had lost any sign of beauty or even pleasure, and were gentle now, peacefully dazed, with God on their tongues; the pretty and handsome young, and the young who were plain or homely; and, in their thirties and forties and fifties, women and men who had lost the singularity of youth, their bodies unattractive, most of them too heavy, and no face was pretty or plain, handsome or homely, and all of these returned to their pews with clasped hands and bowed heads, their faces both serious and calm. She tenderly watched them.
Now that she was going to Mass with her family, she watched them too, the three dark faces with downcast eyes: slender Margaret with her finely concave cheeks, and no makeup, her lips and brow bearing no trace of the sullen prudery she sometimes turned oil Polly, sometimes oil everyone; her plump mother, the shortest in the family now, grey lacing her black hair, and her frownlike face one of weariness in repose, looking as it would later in the day when, reading the paper, she would fall asleep on the couch; her father, tall and broad, his shirt and coat tight across his chest, his hair thick and black, and on his face the look of peaceful concentration she saw when he was fishing; and she felt merciful toward them, and toward herself, not only for her guilt or shame because she could not receive (they did not speak to her about it, or about anything else she did, not even —except Margaret— with their eyes), but for her sense and, often at Mass, her conviction that she was a had woman. She rose and sang as the priest and altar boys walked up the aisle and out the front of the church; then people filled the aisle and she moved with them into the day.
Selected Stories, Anre Dubus