GALEN HOLLEY: Attending midnight Mass in the church where I was married

By Galen Holley/NEMS Daily Journal

Taylor Boulevard looks like polished copper under the streetlights on Christmas Eve. The dusting snow melts as quickly as it lands, blowing in fine drifts and clinging to the dead, brown grass like the first gray in a young man’s beard.
Cars are parked around the block outside Most Blessed Sacrament Church in the south end of Louisville, Ky. Old ladies emerge gingerly from behind the doors of Chryslers, their grandsons holding their arms.
The lights of a whiskey bar loom up in the haze from across the street, ready to welcome the old Irish and Germans from the neighborhood, working folks who see the Lord’s birthday as a time when a good Christian can have a snort.
The church inside is the color of candlelight, and as midnight approaches families trickle in, greeted by the voices of the choir. The singing is soft, a medley of welcoming selections. The choir is saving the holy thunder for the heart of the Mass.
I sit beside my little niece. She’s smiling at me through the gap where her incisor used to be. She insists I hold her hand. She’s done up pretty, in a dress with a red skirt and a black top, a black bow tied around her tiny waist.
I lean over and kiss the crown of her head. Her hair is warm and sweet, like cotton candy, and soft as a cashmere scarf. A delicate, pretty little person she seems to me, and very real, and when I look at my own hand I can almost see through it.
Golden angels are kneeling on either side of the tabernacle, their faces tilted upward in rapt adoration. The marble steps on which the priest stands distributing communion are the same on which Angie and I took our vows.
As the last of the communicants return to their pews, quietly folding down the kneelers, the choir launches into their feature selection.
They’re led by the organist, who fingers the opening chords of “Angels we have heard on high,” with a crushing beauty. I can feel the vibrations in the wood behind my back. When they reach the first chorus, the cascading voices, the smooth, flawless harmonization of “oh’s” feel like they’ll burst my heart.
I close my eyes and open my mouth, trying to fight back tears.
The warm, sweet glow of the communion wine inside me is nice. Combined with the singing and the candles, and a kiss on the cheek from my niece, it’s almost more than I can stand.
The choir closes with “O little town of Bethlehem,” and as the priest moves down the isle past me, led by the altar boy and the tall, smiling girl carrying the crucifix, I feel as though I could sit in this spot forever.
We move through the vestibule, shaking hands with the priest, and out into the cold. The rhythmic click of ladies’ heels on the smooth stone is like music, and the air is heavy with perfume and healthy smell of the cold.
I take my niece’s hand again as we cross the street, and she insists on riding home with me and my wife. The copper-colored streets are empty now, and the glowing puddles are riffled with little waves, like the breath of the earth across the dark sea.

Contact Daily Journal religion editor Galen Holley at 678-1510 or galen.holley@djournal.com