Sunday morning’s 11:30 Mass at Most Holy Trinity Church in East Hampton should have been like a hundred other Masses I’ve attended since my first holy communion at Immaculate Conception Church in Astoria many springtimes ago. Mass is usually enlightening, uplifting, rewarding, but this day’s Mass left me depressed, withdrawn, withered, humiliated. No other Sunday service will remain with me for life other than the one when I nearly choked on the wafer at my first holy communion, approached Mother Superior so say that I couldn’t swallow the half dollar-size host, and they stopped the communion service.
“Sister, I can’t swallow the host, I’m choking,” I mumbled.
I clearly remember her scolding an 8-year-old little Frankie at the back of the church for speaking with his mouth filled with his first holy communion wafer. Nevertheless, all of Immaculate Conception’s congregation knew the name Frankie Vespe in May 1963 . . .
Normally I attend the 11:30 Mass with my wife and one of my four children, but my wife was busy applying her third coat of Bain de Soleil for her sojourn to Main Beach, my 16-year-old daughter was straightening her long blond hair for her job at Dylan’s Candy Bar, my 12-year-old son focused on his “25-cent Lemonade” lettering for his lemonade stand, one son shot hoops in the backyard, and another son screamed at a virtual enemy in Call of Duty on his Xbox in the basement.
On Sunday, I was alone in my quest to spend time with my maker.
The Mass was overloaded with visitors when I arrived 20 minutes into the service, so I stood in the foyer at the back of the church, sometimes leaning on the marble holy water podium, smiling broadly to a handful of people near me. As soon as I arrived, Monsignor Hanson began the Lord’s Prayer, or the Our Father, as I have called it for 40 years.
At the end of the prayer, the monsignor asked visitors to show a sign of peace to one of their closest congregants, such as a kiss to my wife and daughter, or a peck on my sons’ heads, but I was caught off guard and forced to adjust to a new strategy and quickly shook hands with three male ushers, then turned to my right and extended my hand to a striking 30-something strawberry blonde with beautiful green eyes wearing a pink, well-fitting blouse and an above-the-knee black skirt, Sofia Vergara earrings, and sandals with three-inch heels. Her very proper mother stood alongside, and I shook her hand in peace as well.
As the monsignor continued his sermon for holy communion, the strawberry blonde walked behind me and over to a GOJO, a hand sanitizer hanging on the left wall of the entranceway foyer of the church, a few feet from where I was standing, and pushed three times to dispense a huge amount of sanitizer into her hands. A minute later, her mother walked over to the GOJO and did the same thing, right after they’d shaken my hand! “That was odd,” I thought.
Attending Sunday service has always meant a day of respect for the church, and so I make an effort to dress properly: slacks, dress shirt, and shoes, always black shoes.
“You live in a resort community,” my wife would always blast me. “Some of the community’s most famous residents come to church in T-shirts, shorts, and sandals,” she’d always say, and so I followed her advice and wore a dress shirt, shorts, and sandals this particular morning, but somehow the look was seen as inappropriate, as evidenced by the two women sanitizing their hands after shaking mine.
“Do I appear unhealthy, seedy, unkempt?” I kept asking myself for the remainder of the service.
When the service ended, I sat immobile in a rear seat I grabbed after holy communion and stared at the ceiling, the stained glass, until the monsignor exited the rear of the church. “If hand sanitizers had been available when Jesus walked,” I thought, “would he have used one, especially with the amount of healing and prayer he gave to many ill and impoverished people? Or is this really a sign of the times as more and more people become reclusive and fear the closeness of others? What kind of message is the church trying to convey with hand sanitizers hanging throughout when the church setting is one of love, closeness, togetherness?” I pondered these questions long after the monsignor left the foyer and began pressing flesh with his congregants.
Perhaps the message is not one of epiphany or mystery, but one of not staring at a striking strawberry blond 30-something woman with green eyes wearing a well-fitting pink blouse, Sofia Vergara earrings, and three-inch heels in church when your wife of 25 years is sunning herself at Main Beach.
Frank Vespe is sales manager at 94.9 News Now, WJJF, and a video producer. He lives in Springs.