Mass for Shut-Ins

Growing up in a family of devout Roman Catholics, one of my favourite weekly activities involved avoiding going to church. I had it all down to a science: there were four possible masses that I could be made to attend. The first, the vigil mass on Saturday night, was the easiest to avoid. One strategically timed sleepover or play date, and I was golden. The second, the 9:00 a.m. Sunday mass, was also a piece of cake to get out of, as I could generally count on other members of my family to sleep in and miss it (though I myself was always wide awake, given my proclivity for an 8 p.m. bedtime). 

The  11:15 a.m. service  on Sunday was the one that usually got me. Late enough to ensure that even the most inefficient of people  late risers were awake, and early enough to beat the Sunday afternoon birthday party rush, I usually found myself dejectedly sitting in the back of the Church, convinced only not to impale myself over the side of the pew by my father`s continued promise of fresh bakery rolls after all was said and done.  

If by some grace of god (pun intended) I was able to avoid the 11:15 mass, I still had one hurdle to overcome: the 5p.m. service. In another town. 25 minutes away.  You might think to yourself; “that sounds like a lot of effort”. But you don’t know my parents.

My strategy was usually to try to lay low for the afternoon and draw as little attention to myself as possible, hopeful that my parents would forget about it. This usually involved going down to the basement to play barbies for extended periods of time; one eye always on the clock. I still remember being starvingly hungry, and not allowing myself to go upstairs until at least 4:50p.m (late enough by my accounts that we wouldn’t make it anyway without being embarrassingly late) for the fear that my appearance would trigger their memories and I’d be screwed.

While more often than not, my novice attempt at avoidance paled in comparison to my parent’s religious zeal, this scheme sometimes worked. I continued my weekly antics for years, until one Sunday, after a rare victory, my mother, fed up, threw her hands up in the air and said: “That’s it! You’re watching Mass for Shut-Ins!”.

“Mass for Shut-Ins”.  It was about as horrific as it sounded: a full catholic church service televised on local cable, complete with fuzzy video, and a barely audible priest with a voice that was both droning, and eerie enough  to raise Zombies from the dead and lure them straight into confessions.

¨**This is not the one I watched, but in case you want to tie anyone up and torture them later, here`s a good soundtrack for it:

Admitting defeat, as I  begrudgingly grumbled  the Lord’s prayer along with the TV priest (aka Zombie Lord), I wondered to myself – who were these “shut-ins” that this televised mass was aimed at?? Were they other, equally ill-fated and unlucky children such as myself?  Or did they have bigger problems than simply attentive parents who lovingly hoped to pass on their faith?   

Forgotten for many years, this idea came back to me one night this summer as I lay awake in bed, depressed after realizing that in my unemployed funk, I had not left the house in several days. Quickly, I did a mental scan of all of the activities I had engaged in over the past few days:

  •  Organizing internet explorer favourites into folders (3 hours);
  • deleting duplicate songs from Itunes (4 hours)
  • watching an entire season of Top Chef on the Food Network (8 hours)
  • moping and generally being emo (72 hours)

In a curious case of life imitating art (“art” being loosely defined), I realized, that perhaps I myself, had become the shut-in.

In my half-asleep state, I did a quick google search on my phone for the definition. The first hit that came up was from  Ù

  mushroom woman 3 up, 6 down
a female shutin,one that stays inside and has a pale, pasty complexion and commonly wears a faded housecoat and obviously doesn’t leave the house very often or open many windows.Rarely seen or even noticed,possibly ill.

Due to my sun-loving tendencies, the `pale`part was a bit off, but other than that- all seemed to fit. 

 Armed with my new title, I no longer felt depressed about my life of inactivity; rather, I wore it like a badge of honour, and accepted the next day with a resigned calmness. I carried on my usual morning routine of watching the “Today Show“ over my cereal, followed by a long, leisurely bath, (like all good shut-ins do, so as to avoid bedsores) when my mother asked me if I would be interested in accompanying her to the grocery store.

I took a moment to think before responding: “Naah. Can’t”.

“Why can’t you??” She asked. “What else have you got to do?”

“Well, its just that I can`t, because I’m a shut-in”, I responded, matter-of-factly.

“A shut-in?? What the hell are you talking about??” She said

“You know… like the mass you used to make me watch when I was a kid”.

“You’re not a shut-in” she said, rolling her eyes. “Shut-ins are people who are sick, or old as the hills, and physically can’t leave their houses”.

Google would have to confirm this.

Including the (apparently crucial) hyphen this time, the arguably more authoritative informed me that a `shut-in`was actually someone who was`confined to one’s home, a hospital, etc., as from illness.“ I guess in the newfound comfort I felt in my self-pity, I neglected to note that there were several, important differences between myself, and a real shut-in. Like for example, the working use of my limbs.

Realizing that my current position undoubtedly left me in a better state than most bona fide shut-ins, I resignedly agreed to accompany her on her drive to the grocery store.  I was staring out the passenger window, depressed that I once again had nothing to blame for my boring life, when, like a bad M. Night Shyamalyn movie where the protagonist realizes the plot twist only a moment too late; I noticed that we had pulled into our church parking lot.  

 “12:00”. She said, as she put the car into park. “Just in time to catch the ‘Stations of the Cross'”.


5 thoughts on “Mass for Shut-Ins

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  1. Twenty years ago, I was the manager of a local cable TV station. Corporate headquarters decided to discontinue the live Mass in order to put on QVC. I had such protests. My name was mentioned in sermons all over the city!


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