Morning person fondly recalls 6 a.m. Mass on Easter Sunday

March 30, 2002|By JACQUES KELLY

I AM convinced that you can separate the human race into two halves: the morning people and the night crawlers.

I am cursed to be among the early risers, those infused with a burst of unforgiving energy as the sun's first light appears in the east. Many mornings I've got a pot of homemade soup on the stove and three batches of laundry washed while it is still quite dark.

But come evening, my brain atrophies. I get out my road map leading to the Land of Nod, often enjoying a pre-bedtime nap around 7:30 p.m.

Baltimore's recent mornings have been a joy this year - fairly cool and wet, often moody, as befits the early spring. The thousands of Bradford pear trees planted over the past 25 years are putting on a great show of white blossom, making up visually for the snow we didn't get this winter.

As I prowl about in the morning half-light, I think of my fellow morning travelers, my Great Aunt Cora and her side-kick, Lily Rose, my grandmother. They had the day wrapped up and their work over at the time when most normal people are lifting back the sheets and cursing the alarm clock.

And no more so than on Easter Sunday, when Cora would be awake at 4:30 a.m., dressing in her seasonal finery for the 6 a.m. Mass at SS. Philip and James. If it were a warm Easter, she might even make her spring debut in a mink stole worn only on state occasions.

Cora, accompanied by the group of church ladies who walked the streets of Charles Village with her in the semi-dark, left the house about 5:30 a.m. Woe be unto the sexton if the church's doors were not open when this merry band arrived. She and her friends (I think of Loretta Byrne, the long-time secretary to the chief of city public works, and milliner Sue Martin) were all very put together and dressed up; good hats were de rigueur, as were makeup, jewelry and Sunday outfits like tailored suits. They obviously dressed to suit themselves. Who else could observe their slumberland Easter parade?

This was about 40 years ago and chances are, the celebrant of that first Mass of the day was Monsignor John J. Duggan, as savvy a man of the cloth as I've ever encountered. He understood that organized religion has got be there and ready to serve all - whether they be day or night people.

Among my favorite Monsignor Duggan stories happened not so long ago, long after the deaths of Aunt Cora and her friends, when he was living downtown on Charles Street, a thoroughfare where he often walked attired in his clerical black suit. He was obviously a priest - and obviously sinners are everywhere.

After his death, several people told me that Catholics would approach him and ask to have their confession heard outdoors, on Charles Street. He, ever the practical absolver, heard their transgressions as the No. 3 and No. 11 bus rattled past.

While this curbside confession story was told to me - I never saw it happen - what I did read was a letter he penned to the Baltimore Archdiocese's chancellor requesting that he be allowed to schedule the Holy Week services at an hour tailored around his Charles Village flock. In those days, many single and widowed women lived in apartment houses near the Johns Hopkins University. These apartments had their own in-house restaurants where most of the residents took their meals. It was possible that a overly long Good Friday service beginning at 6 p.m. could mean no dinner. (There were all sorts of official rules about services times.)

In the same vein, I'm amazed at the growing popularity of Sunday night Masses. This may be the ultimate triumph of the night people over the 6 a.m. crazies. So be it. Seeing is believing, as I did some weeks ago. As a crowd was dashing for the church door as the evening's shadows lengthened, so did that night's church musician, a gent carrying a saxophone, ready to make a joyful noise at the very hour when my eyelids were growing heavy.

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