From the Pastor: Is Aunt Irma All Right?
I want to thank the countless people who have inquired if Aunt Irma is OK after seeing her sobbing after Midnight Mass last week. She is fine, as you will read in just a moment. Christmas Eve evening I always invite the family to come to visit me since I cannot take time away to get to anyone else’s house. My mom comes over and does all the cooking and everyone knows that they may not actually see me much except for at the meal and Mass. Whoever is in town comes by. Aunt Irma showed up this year and went straight to the kitchen to help. But mom had already done most of the cooking and baking at home so there was plenty of talking and snacking but not much food preparation and Aunt Irma felt slighted. She didn’t believe that everything just needed to be reheated and thought she was being given the brush off because her cooking “skills” have, in past gatherings, several times necessitated visits from the fire department and other emergency personnel.
Anyway, she left the kitchen in a bit of a snit and declared that she would just help tidy up and decorate the rectory. After all, only men live here and she assumed that a woman’s touch would be needed. But she didn’t count on Ella. Ella is like a member of the Epiphany Rectory Family. She has been cleaning here and taking care of the priests since WWI. If she ever decided to write some articles for our bulletin, boy would she have some rip-roaring stories to tell. But because taking care of us is in her blood and not just an extraneous part of her life, Ella was having nothing to do with a complete stranger messing up her handiwork. The rectory was clean and sparkly and decorated exactly as she wanted it and that was that. There was nothing for Aunt Irma to do. So she sullenly plopped herself into a chair and barely said a word to anyone most of the evening. I went to celebrate the Vigil Mass and came back to a table set with our family’s traditional Polish feast. Aunt Irma sulked her way through the meal and I knew that I had to give her something to do or she would have a blue Christmas. I got a bright idea. “Aunt Irma,” I called loudly across the table, “could I have you assist me at Midnight Mass tonight? I have something important to be done and I know you have done it at your parish before.” Her eyes brightened and she cheerfully accepted as I gave her a very important, though really quite simple, task.
The Midnight Mass was beautiful. We had three priests (yes, a third one actually did just happen to stop by—as I wrote in almost wistful hope in last week’s column—and agreed to be our subdeacon) so we had a Solemn High Mass. Every altar boy had signed up to be at Midnight Mass but some had somewhat reluctantly agreed to switch to the Christmas morning Masses instead, sacrificing for the sake of others. Great kids! Even so, we had a full company of boys. We celebrated by candlelight and it truly was a spectacular Mass in the externals as well as in the hidden reality of the Holy Sacrifice. Midnight Mass did not have a very big crowd our first year here, which is quite understandable considering how far away so many of you parishioners live. Yet the crowd has been increasing each year and this year we had over 200 people in the church. The choir was, as always, outstanding, but at that Mass I think they were given even more graces than normal and our spirits were certainly lifted up to the Lord as if we were actually within a choir of angels singing the praises of the newborn King. Everything was just perfect all the way through to the end. It was only when we, the priests and servers, gathered together in the sacristy for the final blessing after Mass, that we discovered the one and only problem with the nighttime (or, rather, early morning) celebration. Aunt Irma burst in ashen faced and crying. She was shaking so badly that she couldn’t tell me what was wrong. I was afraid she was badly hurt and I was kicking myself for giving her, a frail, elderly, defenseless woman, that one simple but important task earlier in the evening. You see, I had asked her to take up the collection. Seeing her empty, shaking hands I thought the worst: some thief had beaten her to steal the biggest collection of the year. It was my fault if she was hurt by a robber. Much to everyone’s relief, only her pride was hurt. She had simply gotten caught up in the prayerful majesty of the Mass and forgot to pass the basket. “Don’t worry,” I assured her, “It’s only money! The people will probably be even more generous when they find out that my favorite Aunt made a simple mistake.”
Because it was dark in the church, Aunt Irma doesn’t know who was there and who wasn’t so she can’t track you down for your offertory envelope. But if you want to help alleviate a little old lady’s shame, feel free to send in your contribution marked “Midnight Mass” even though it is a little late. Next year I think I will just leave a little of the cooking to her and have the poison control on speed dial.
With prayers for your holiness,
Rev. Fr. Edwin Palka