California Dreamin’ This Was Not


I just had to pass along this liturgical horror story. I was passing by the cathedral and looked in on some big liturgy. While viewing from the side, I was motioned to come into the sanctuary by the bishop’s master of ceremonies. Somehow, I had on a server alb, and before I knew it I was handling incense. Decorations around the altar were stacked so high I couldn’t see to the other side. I retrieved the thurible from the MC and waited (it was the silence after Communion) for the signal from the bishop. I couldn’t understand how or why I’d managed to get involved in this liturgy. I wasn’t even sure what it was for. Instead of incense, the MC gave me a container of a fluffy, hairy dark gray substance. It looked like it was already burned.

“What kind of incense is this?” I asked.

“Peyote,” came the reply. “The bishop’s suggestion.”

While my mind was swimming, trying to determine why, the bishop caught my eye and was motioning me — I thought — back to the MC. This is better. I hadn’t rehearsed any of this, and while at first I was confident I could perform the role, the interjection of peyote into the mix was a little unsettling.

Soon, the bishop is nearly in a sprint across the other side of the sanctuary and he’s calling out loud for incense. I have to run to catch up. Swishing the thurible a little too enthusiastically, some dirt pours out of a poinsettia pot at the top of a stack of decoration. Additionally, some of the fluffy stuff pours out of the smoke holes at the top, mixes with the dirt, and burns his chasuble. In my mind, I get the idea of napalm rather than peyote because the stuff seems so sticky. The Mass comes to an abrupt end with the bishop leading the procession out, and I’m finding my way out the side door to find where I had left my change of clothing.

That’s how I remember it upon waking up this morning. That’s what I get for reading Marc Eliot’s biography of the Eagles, To The Limit. Bedtime snacks don’t seem to influence this kind of night cinema, but for the record I had a bowl of granola and milk before sleep.

Dreams are for the dreamers, I’ve believed. This episode has less to do with the characters than about me. But if there are any amateur interpreters out there who’d like to take a stab at it, be my guest.

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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