The church was crowded with worshipers that Holy Thursday evening. James was late and had to look hard for a seat. There’s always a seat in the front, he said to himself and pushed forward. This was a Catholic church, after all, and people preferred to sit at the back. He found a spot in the first pew on the right side by the statue of Saint Joseph and sat down.
The sermon was preached, and the men’s feet were washed, just like the year before and the years before that.
When James got back to his seat after Communion, he happened to focus on the children still at the altar rail. Some of the smaller ones the priest skipped over. They hadn’t made their first Communion yet but, obedient to their parents, were practicing going up to the altar rail and coming back. Most often, the priest would touch them on the head as a sort of blessing, so when the priest skipped past some of the children, he didn’t think anything of it. They would study their catechism, learn their lessons, and return in a year or two for the real thing.
When the priest was finished with the last row of communicants, he went back up the altar steps. Strangely enough, a tiny dark-haired girl remained at the altar rail instead of going back to her place. She looked so small there now, by herself, the altar rail completely empty except for her. James was puzzled. What was she doing?
Seconds went by. Ah-ha! He figured it out. Thinking she was too young to receive, the priest had passed over her because of her small size. James watched in fascination. More seconds went by. The longer she knelt there the less likely it was that the mistake would be noticed and repaired. Another minute went by — at least it seemed that long. Why didn’t she give up? Would she stay kneeling there until the church closed and they threw her out? Or would she finally get up and leave in embarrassment and tears, thinking she had done something wrong, that she was being punished? She kept kneeling there quietly, just waiting.
Should he do something? Was it up to him? He could get out of his seat; stand next to her; and call out, “Excuse me, Father — you skipped someone.” That wouldn’t be hard. People would think he was her dad, that’s all.
Before he could resolve this internal debate, the blond altar boy kneeling at the left of the priest turned slightly toward the girl, perhaps seeing her out of the corner of his eye, then turning to her for a better look. He tugged at the priest’s robes and whispered to him.
Father Bruno was just starting to purify the vessels when he felt the tug on his vestments. He listened to the altar boy’s voice, then looked over his shoulder at the girl. He was a mountain of a man with lines of care etching his face. How he must have appeared to her as he started back down the steps toward her with the ciborium, this bear of a priest towering over her before placing the Host on her tongue. “May the Body of our Lord Jesus Christ preserve thy soul unto life everlasting. Amen,” he said in Latin. Heaven seemed to hold its breath in that instant. Finally, the Lord whom the dark-haired girl loved came into her heart. The God that she hoped in and waited for finally came to her. James could almost hear angels singing.
James was sitting on the aisle of the pew, so when she returned to her seat, she passed right by him. He wanted to grab her and give her a big hug for being such a wonderful girl. He offered up a silent prayer that he would have a child like her someday. Like many of the people at Mass that evening, James was waiting and hoping for something, too.
Jerome is a pro-life activist formerly of New York City, currently living in Scranton, Pa., where he attends the Tridentine Mass at Saint Michael’s Church. Author of several unproduced screen plays dealing with contraception or abortion, Jerome is looking for talented collaborators to make these unproduced screenplays into films. His email address is [email protected].