Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

Another Sunday In The Land Of Memories

By LORRAINE V. MURRAY, Commentary | Published January 3, 2013

Childhood memories beckon on Jan. 3, the Feast of the Most Holy Name of Jesus. In my mind’s eye I see the church in Coral Gables—The Little Flower—where my family went to Mass each Sunday. I see us pulling into the parking lot, my father at the helm of the big Oldsmobile with fancy fins with his faithful first mate, my mother, at his side.

The church, built in the 1920s, is Spanish style with a red tile roof. The grounds are carpeted with an emerald lawn from which spring shaggy palm trees, bushes dotted with gaudy hibiscus flowers and creamy white gardenias. As we process from the car into the church – my parents, my sister and I –a lizard scoots across the sidewalk and takes cover in the thick underbrush.

In my memories it is always hot, even in winter, and my father dabs his face with one of the white handkerchiefs my mother ironed the day before. My sister and I are wearing crisp cotton dresses with puffy sleeves. We’re calling a temporary truce, even though seconds before we were arguing vehemently because one of us had invaded the other’s territory in the backseat.

We all take turns dipping fingers into the holy water and crossing ourselves. The simple gesture takes us across a border into a realm far removed from lizards and flowers and cars. In the pew, we kneel down and say our prayers. I busy myself with my standard laundry list of people I’m determined to get out of purgatory, which I cover every Sunday in short order.

Soon I spy the wavering flames of votive candles, and glance imploringly at my mother. It’s a huge treat if a kid is allowed to light a candle without adult supervision.

“Be careful,” she whispers, because she is sure that eventually one of her daughters will set fire to the carpet and engulf the entire sanctuary in flames. Then she hands me a coin, and I dart from the pew, secretly smug that I got permission before my sister even thought to ask. Looking extremely pious, I light a candle for Flat-top and Wormy, my deceased turtles, and then return to the pew.

We sit quietly, trying to still the growling of stomachs that are protesting the fast begun at midnight. When Mass begins, I inhale a spicy cloud of incense and begin reciting the mysterious sounds of Latin. Even children know this is no ordinary place and the Mass no everyday event. We are entering another dimension because, as Sister has taught us, the Lord Jesus Christ himself is present on the altar.

We take extra care with everything. We genuflect carefully when crossing the center aisle, we cross ourselves slowly and precisely—and we bow our heads whenever the holy name of Jesus is spoken. All around the church, you can see the heads moving, some more dramatically than others.

Even if my sister and I bow our heads in unison, we are no angels. We are prone to doing things that drive my mother to the brink of madness on a regular basis. And sometimes, out of frustration and rage, she shouts various shocking phrases as she chases us around the house. We know enough to make ourselves scarce then, until the storm passes.

After receiving Communion, I cover my face with my hands and talk to Jesus. I ask him to take care of my parents and help me fit in better with the kids at school. I pray grudgingly for my sister, and ask him to watch over my deceased uncle. (The Lord knows about the turtles, of course, so I don’t belabor that point.) I ask him to help me be a good girl without filling in any details.

After Mass my father swings by a bakery on the Tamiami Trail near our house in Southwest Miami, returning to the car with a grease-stained bag bulging with jelly doughnuts and sugar-encrusted French crullers. We gobble these down at home while my mom prepares the meal, which always features macaroni (we never called it “pasta”) and her famous gravy (we never called it “sauce”).

Later, a cluster of relatives shows up, and we take our places at the table. We say grace in unison, and at the holy name of Christ, we all bow our heads—and then, one second after “amen,” my sister declares, “Let’s eat!” The smallest cousin knocks over a glass of milk and my mother races to the kitchen for towels. It’s just another Sunday in the land of memory, in a place I will never forget.

Artwork is by Jef Murray, whose paintings and sketches of Middle Earth and Narnia may be seen at The Murrays are parishioners at St. Thomas More in Decatur. To contact them, write