At the center of it all, behind the altar, hung a porcelain Jesus with a chiseled face and outlined ribs. Jesus wore little more than a loincloth, even more revealing than the short-short bathing suits of the dads I saw at the pool. I stared at Christ’s beautiful body, his long, sand-colored hair. Sometimes I thought I glimpsed Him on the street, only to discover a hippie in sandals asking for a quarter.
Mary and Joseph flanked the altar in recessed coves. Mary was clearly the favorite. The month before, we had honored her with her own procession and special songs in the concrete pavilion that separated the convent from the school. We had crowned her with a flowered wreath as if she were a living person. The Mary in the church also wore her traditional blue and looked down on us as if saying come to me with her open hands, her figure obscured by flowing robes.
Despite my occasional drifting, I still found this part of the mass the most fascinating. The congregation became still as the priest mumbled secret blessings, using glass cruets that looked just like the vinegar and oil some families put on their kitchen tables. Altar boys rang bells for reasons unknown. Father Adaire raised the chalice, made several signs of the cross, and dropped down into graceful genuflections.
He’s Jesus! a woman suddenly shouted from a row in front of me. I heard gasps and mumbles. My sister covered her mouth with her hand.
I’m telling you, he’s Jesus Christ!
In the first row I saw Mrs. Cardullo in a smart two-piece suit like the kind Jackie Kennedy wore, white gloves and a small, rectangular purse lodged in the crook of her right arm. A white veil was bobby-pinned to her hair. I looked for Pat and her brother but didn’t see them. They must have gone to the folk mass. Mrs. Cardullo stumbled to get out of her pew. Father Adaire stopped praying and watched as kneeling parishioners leaned back to let the woman out.
He’s Jesus Christ. I know he is. Lord, I am not worthy to receive you. Only say the word, and I shall be healed!
Mrs. Cardullo ran for the apse. With only the altar between her and Father Adaire, she came around to one side and threw herself, prostrate, onto the carpeting.
Please let me wash your feet, oh Lord. I am not worthy! I love you, Christ! I love you!
I heard the slapping of soles. A herd of broad-shouldered men in dark suits—the ones who slid the long-handled baskets down the aisles to collect the offerings—appeared like actors on a stage. One of them stepped in front of Father Adaire. Two others squatted on each side of Mrs. Cardullo and tried to pull her up by her arms. Somehow, the small rectangular purse remained in the crook of her arm.