Most mornings, I go to Mass where the abuelitas sing loudly (so, so, impossibly loudly. It is an impressive decibel) in their nasal voices. They sing familiar hymns, and some not so familiar. They are a fascinating crowd. The population of daily Masses is always fascinating, and, no matter where you are in the world, generally similar.
There are always the one or two ringleaders. These are the women who actually run the Church. They are the regular daily Mass-goers who lead the rosary before Mass, who glower at those poor fellow abuelitas whose cellphones ring indiscriminately during the Consecration, who take care of the statue of the Virgin Mary, who choose which hymns to sing, and make sure their voices lead those of the congregation.
I have never yet been to a daily Mass that is not attended by an elderly woman who is clearly the master of ceremonies, and I'm not sure I want to.
Because, as I walk among the abuelitas, being shepherded to wherever they tell me the communion line begins, I feel certain that these women are very important. Faith is not a passive affair; it requires constant action on the part of the believer. These women are full of action. While the rest of us slumber each morning in our beds, they are up and about, full of the restless energy of the elderly, born of insomnia and shortening days.
They are ahead of us, dusting the churches, preparing the altar cloths. They attend to the sacred spaces we take for granted. They pour their entire heart and soul into each liturgy, without concern for decorum or proper restraint. The Church is not for them, as it is for so many of my peers, a place of awkward stiffness and embarrassment. There is nothing alien to them about the sacred. It is familiar as the upholstery in their living room.
And as I walk with them down to communion, I learn from them how to bring all the parts of myself--even the silly, bossy, nasal-singing parts--to the sanctuary. I learn to walk towards the altar with humility and honesty, and not pious pretension. I learn how to be at home in the sacred.