Saturday, December 25, 2010
There was a time when I would go to Christmas midnight mass at a tiny little church down in the farmlands on the Sacramento river. It was an unpretentious parish, the men dressed in clean bibbies with their hair slicked back and the women mainly in house dresses or slacks. The bare trees in front of the church had been decorated with a few twinky lights and there was a small Nativity scene...none of the grand displays of the churches in town. Driving down the river road under a full moon with frost heavy on the fields, you couldn't help but sing, "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear." The choir was clearly untrained, and there was always a soprano who sang with gusto...just a little off key. The reading was from St. Luke, always the gentlest of the apostles, to my mind. To put the finishing touch on this bucolic scene, there was a little dog who would come down the aisle all the way to the communion rail, wait for the bells to ring out after service, and throw his head back and howl along. It was the perfect Norman Rockwell portrait of Christmas.