On Sunday at Mass, I grabbed a pew card as I entered the church. These cards have been a great help over the past few months as we've been adjusting to the words of the New Translation. Practically everyone is still using them except for a few old people like Jean and Gary...


We slide into our usual pew near the front of the church, and the old lady in front of us turns her head and smiles. She starts to say something so I put my head close to hers: “The girls look beautiful.” I smile back and then we both attend to our prayers.

After Mass, the lady again leans towards me: “Did you knit the girls’ cardigans?” and I nod. “You are a saint!” she declares. “I don’t know where you find the time. You’ve got a beautiful family.” She wishes me a happy day before leaving her pew. I kneel alone to finish my prayers, feeling all warm inside as I remember the lady’s kind parting words.

One day we have the opportunity to chat properly with this lady and her husband. We are at a parish barbeque. “I’m Jean and this is Gary,” she says turning with old-age stiffness to her husband. I introduce my family and we shake hands all round. “You have a beautiful family,” says Jean. “Another beautiful family sits behind us at Mass every Sunday. Lots of lovely children just like yours!”

Should I tell Jean those lovely children are actually our lovely children? Should I point out that we are the family who sits in the pew behind her every Sunday? I decide to say nothing. Jean is complimenting the girls on their hand-knitted cardigans. “Did you make them?” she asks me. I nod and she declares, “You’re a saint! I don’t know where you find the time.”

One day we arrive at Mass to find the door still locked. The acolyte with the key is running late. While we wait Jean asks, “How many children do you have?” and I reply, “Eight,” explaining how Thomas died some years ago as a baby. Jean touches my arm and then with sad eyes shares her own story of grief. It must be many, many years since her own child died but her memories are still vivid.

Some months later, we again arrive at the church to find the door locked. While we wait in the cold wind, Jean tells the girls how pretty they look. She asks me, “How many children do you have?” I reply, “Eight,” and explain again about Thomas. Jean gives me a compassionate look and shares her own sad story of loss.

The New Translation of the Mass has been introduced. We all have pew cards to help us pray the unfamiliar words. Jean and Gary are mumbling quietly to themselves, heads close together. They turn the cards over, and then over again. Should I lean forward and point to the prayer we are saying? I decide not to. Gary shrugs his shoulders. I can hear him saying the old words. Then his hearing aid starts to whistle and he gets distracted for a moment. Jean turns her pew card over and then over again. Finally she abandons it. It is too difficult.

One Sunday after Mass, Father invites us to congratulate Jean and Gary on their 65th wedding anniversary. Sixty-five years?  Somehow I haven’t realised Jean and Gary are quite that old.

It is a week before Christmas. As usual, Jean and Gary are occupying the pew in front of us. As usual, they can’t keep up with the New Translation of the Mass. As usual, they stop trying and say things their own way. After Mass, Jean turns to me and wishes us a Happy Christmas. I remember she and Gary always travel to Sydney to spend Christmas with their family.

“Are you going to Sydney as usual?” I ask.

“Yes, we’re going to our daughter’s home, the daughter who couldn’t have any children. One day she told me she had some news to share. We were hoping she was going to announce she was expecting a baby but instead she said, ‘I’ve just found out I can never have children.’” Jean looks sad as she remembers this conversation of many years ago. Then she smiles and says, “Have a wonderful Christmas with your beautiful children!”

I look at Jean and Gary. Does it really matter that this lovely couple never say the right words at Mass, that they find it hard to cope with change? There are some things that are very clear to them despite the confusion of old age: children are beautiful and a blessing, grief is never forgotten and younger families need a few words of kindness and encouragement. These things are a part of them and can never be forgotten.


Jean and Gary are too old to adapt to the New Translation of the Mass. But I'm not. I want the beautiful words to become part of me so I am going to learn them properly. 


And soon, very soon I too am going to abandon my pew card.

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  1. Thank you, Colleen. I'm glad you think so because I was writing about two beautiful people.

    God bless!

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  2. Too many things to comment about here.

    I remember when we went to church once and we sat next to a couple like Jean and Gary.

    Jean sat to my left, and as we sat there waiting for Mass to start she kept looking at me and smiling. I smiled back and said nothing. Minutes later she looked again and smiled. I smiled back. This went on for a few minutes. Now I know I'm very handsome so I was quite flattered by the attention I was getting from Jean. So next time she smiled at me I said "Hello. It's a nice day isn't it?"

    She replied, "You're sitting on my spectacles!"

    And now the serious stuff ... does it really matter how we follow the prayers in church? These new words must be confusing to many people. I bet St Peter will not deduct points from our entry score when we get to meet him in Heaven, just because we didn't know the words!

    God bless.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Beautiful story, Sue! Jean and Gary's faithfulness to each other and to their Church is so much more important than their memory and ability to say the proper responses! Thanks for sharing!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Victor,

    I love your spectacles story. I can just imagine that happening to you!

    The new words are beautiful and I am glad we have the New Translation but I am sure it is difficult for many people to adjust to the change. Jean and Gary must have lived through the Latin Mass and then two English translations. I hope I will get old saying the current New Translation of the Mass!

    God bless.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Hi Ellen,

    I was thinking about your wonderful book "Come My Beloved" and how Jean and Gary's story would fit right in there with all the other stories of inspiring marriages. May Andy and I also grow old together in love, and stay as faithful to each other and the Church as Jean and Gary.

    God bless you!

    ReplyDelete
  6. Susan,

    I have another story about some more beautiful older parishioners. It's still in my head and not yet on my computer. Maybe soon... Older people can teach us so much. I feel very fortunate to know so many wonderful people in our parish.

    God bless!

    ReplyDelete

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