Football, pubs and churches are all now available to us again. While I love all three, they also, respectively, cause me stress, temptation and guilt. I did not go to mass at the weekend because, as with pubs, I thought it might be a bit of a melee. I imagined feisty parishioners clamouring at the door being spoken to severely by sunglassed, earpieced bouncers. No, I left it until Tuesday to allow calm to prevail. My church’s website advised me places were limited to 48. Pre-booking online was advised but the IT for that was still in development, so I decided to take my chances for the 11.30 kick-off.
I get my fruit and veg from a stall opposite the church. I always chat to the Brentford fan who works there – an enormous, and enormously nice man. Brentford were playing that evening – a match of great importance to supporters of my team, West Brom, who are rivals for promotion. My man was nowhere to be seen.
“He never works matchdays,” his mate said. “Too nervous.”
“I’m serious,” he said.
I told him to pass on a message that I was on my way to church to pray that Brentford lost.
There was no queue outside the church. A masked usher led me in, to the free-standing, no-touch hand-rub dispenser. Where once I would splash myself with holy water, I waved my hands in front of the machine, but gel came there none. Someone suggested I tried kneeling, but before I did so a splurge emerged. Rubbing my hands, partly in anticipation, I was led to my pew. It felt great to be back.
The sculpture in the corner caught my eye, as it always does. It is of a woman praying. It stops me in my spiritual tracks every time. I thought of her there alone, in prayer, behind the locked door of the church for all those months.
The bell rang and Father Michael appeared. I have always had a soft spot for him. Just before I became a Catholic, 13 years ago, I bumped into him one day in the street.
“Ah, hello Adrian,” he said. ”And how is your supernatural life this morning?”
I burbled something but was stumped for an answer to the question. It is one I’ve asked myself most mornings since, and I remain generally stumped.
The mass was great. I enjoyed it much more than the football and, in a different way, just as much as the pub. When the time came for us to go up to receive the blessed sacrament, an usher sprang up at the front to point us in the right direction, rather in the manner of a traffic policeman in an old Italian film. We formed queues on either side of the aisle; at the head of each was the station at which the priest would administer the host. These stations were about three metres apart, so the task at hand required some agility from Father Michael. He was equal to the task, darting between the two, sidestepping rather in the manner of a goalkeeper trying to distract a penalty taker. Never was he not in place as, upon a precise signal from the masked Italian traffic cop, we presented ourselves at the required position. The coordination between priest, cop and congregant was something to behold.
I hadn’t realised how much I had missed receiving the blessed sacrament. I felt, well, blessed I suppose, to be receiving it now.
My anti-Brentford prayers were not answered, by the way. They went and won. Serves me right for being so mean of spirit to my nice fruit and veg man, who will doubtless do me a particularly good deal on my groceries today.