Yesterday and today I have had the early Mass at 6:45 in the so-called "friars' chapel," which is adjacent to the left side of the sanctuary of the main church. It's a group of eighteen or so, and I enjoy it very much. I try to get the church open and everything set up by 6:15 or so, and then I get half vested and go to sit in the back of the church, which ends up being the quietest spot leading up to Mass.
Sitting back there trying to pray I have come to know the arrival of the regulars by sound. The first is always the quiet but quick feet of the old woman who has probably been doing this same devoted routine since before I was even baptized. I hear her stop for a moment before passing through the sanctuary into the chapel, and without even looking I know that she is kneeling on the sanctuary step, offering a prayer.
Then come the two early morning chatters, usually audible before they even come in but quieting down right away when they notice that it's me that day and I'm sitting out by the entrance. I hear them begin to make their way up to the sanctuary, after speaking the whispered script about whether Father remembered to bring some missallettes up to the small chapel. I turn my mind to gratitude for the example of their piety and constancy, grateful for the opportunity to mortify my annoyance at their little racket.
Then I hear the quick and purposeful steps of the Italian lady whose granddaughter's wedding is being prepared in Atlanta for celebration next Spring at our church. Her path is intermittent, the sound of her steps coming and going as she stops to pray at the shrine to Fr. Solanus and then again at St. Anthony's altar on her way to the chapel.
And so on it goes until the last rush of folks arrive right before Mass begins. Over my time here I have noticed that I depend on these folks spiritually. The example of their stability and constancy holds up my own prayer, and reminds me to repent of how shallow and fragile is my own devotion. Each morning I am grateful for the grace of their stability and routine, and I pray that I might grow into something of their regularity in my own service to the Lord.