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JEFF BEHRENS: Salute to the good old days and the feasts yet to come

Photo by Howard Reed

Photo by Howard Reed

We celebrated the Feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel and Augustine was the celebrant of the Mass. The feast was July 16. He gave a good homily, starting off by telling us how he grew up in the Southside of Chicago and was baptized in Our Lady of Mt. Carmel parish.

He remembered the feasts, and spoke about the processions on the streets of his neighborhood, tying it in with a link to the Vatican Council document on the liturgy, which stated that the liturgy should reflect, be in conversation with, human life. I liked what he said -- the phrase "street liturgy" appealed to me. I suppose I experienced a lot of that myself in the last parish to which I was assigned, prior to my entering the monastery.

The name of that parish was also Our Lady of Mount Carmel and the parish celebrated accordingly on its feast day. As I remember, there were several other feasts. There was the feast of Saint Sebastian and Saint Vito. More recently, friends from the parish have told be that there has been inaugurated a feast of Saint Donato.

Different societies in the parish were responsible for the parades and the food booths on the respective feast days. I used to enjoy watching the statue of Our Lady being slowly carried by the men of the society.

It moved slowly up the street and it was the custom to pin money on the statue. People lined the streets and looked out the windows. Kids ran up to the statue and walked along side it. On the feast of Saint Sebastian, the celebratory Mass was always said by a much loved Sicilian priest who came in from a parish from a considerable distance away. His name was Sylvester Livolsi. When he preached, he did so in Italian and had a way of stirring the waters among the faithful. I could not understand a word of what he said, but it must have been powerful.

There were tears, looks of awe, bowed heads. After the sermon, he continued with the Mass and at the consecration, a man at the door of the church gave a signal and fireworks were set off in the street. I suppose it was a sign of the arrival of the real presence, not unlike the function of the ancient custom of ringing the altar bells at that time.

Times may have changed. A lot of the old Italians have died off and not many have picked up where they left off. I think there are still feasts, but the numbers have dwindled. People these days are used to other forms of devotion, other ways of walking with God.

One thing, though, has remained. Food.

People like to eat. And you cannot beat good Italian food. I cannot spell most of the Italian delicacies, but when I was in Mt. Carmel I understood how good cooking was pretty close to something divine. If Jesus gave himself as food in the best of earthly and divine repasts, I am sure he wouldn't mind if a bit of garlic and pasta are also on the menu.

These days, you need permits for so many things. Parades, parking, fireworks, public gatherings, on and on.

Liturgies are permit-free.

Liturgy should reflect life. Indeed, I think it always does reflect life in its most earthy manifestations. The Italians in my hometown and in the Southside of Chicago knew how to celebrate God's presence through food, a parade, wine and generosity. I felt good listening to Augustine this morning as I thought back on some good memories. His words helped me make some connections with my past. Good liturgy does that, too. It is all about making connections.

Customs change and parades may come to a rest. But share food we must, and along with it the loving presence of God. So ... salute. Salute to the good old days and the feasts yet to come.

Father James Stephen (Jeff) Behrens, O.C.S.O., serves at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit, 2625 Ga. Highway 212 S.W., Conyers. His email address is james@trappist.net.