Fire and brimstone
It's Good Friday.
In the Catholic faith, this is in some ways the spookiest day of the year. There's no Mass, no communion wafer. No music. Worshippers remember the death of Jesus, a horrible death, executed as a criminal for standing up to the local authorities.
Back when I was a kid, there were lots of statues around the church, and for this week, Holy Week, they were all covered up with long purple cloths. In that era, with the communion host inspiring absolute awe, the tabernacle in which it was normally kept was emptied out for the entire day, and its gold-plated door was left open to show that Jesus was no longer there. He'd be back on Saturday night, of course, when the bells would ring and the organ would blare at midnight Mass, louder than at any other time of the year.
But starting on Thursday night, and all day Good Friday, there was silence, darkness, and black and purple everywhere. Even the little bell that we altar boys would ring at key parts of the Mass was put away, and a loud wooden knocker device was brought out to replace it.
In those days, religious people would keep the "three hours' silence," from noon to 3 p.m., to commemorate the three hours Jesus hung on the cross. It was a holiday, and banks and many government offices were closed. But the mood was anything but celebratory.
Like many Catholic grammar school kids, I was a little jittery all day as I hung around the block. Baseball season had just started, and so the boys were thinking about the Yankees. The first of the season's baseball cards were being tossed in competition against somebody's front stoop. But the emphasis on death, and on the ultimate in the supernatural -- the resurrection of the dead! -- was enough to make most of us a little edgy.
And so it was with great alarm that we discovered one April Good Friday afternoon that our neighborhood was on fire!
A duplex or four-plex a couple of blocks west of us caught fire. There was a pretty good breeze blowing our way, and burning cinders were falling around us. The smell of smoke was strong. The fire trucks, which luckily were based pretty close to the blaze, were blasting their sirens, adding to the drama.
We kids were in a panic as we watched the roof of a house on our block -- our block! -- catch fire from the cinders. Was this the end of the world? Was this Jesus showing us what His "descent into hell" was like? We remembered what the Bible said happened at the moment He died:
And behold, the veil of the sanctuary was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth quaked, rocks were split, tombs were opened, and the bodies of many saints who had fallen asleep were raised. And coming forth from their tombs after his resurrection, they entered the holy city and appeared to many.We ran back into the house, where our elders had very concerned looks on their faces. The sirens got closer. We were dying to get out there and watch, but it was too dangerous. We were ordered to stay inside, and even the moms and grandmas did the same.
The main fire and the few spot fires that it spawned were put out pretty quickly. The party line telephones were ringing off the hook with the news when all was clear. The primary blaze caused a good amount of damage, but the smaller fires didn't do much harm. Nobody was hurt.
At 3:00, we all trudged dutifully to church for just another round of Stations of the Cross, right on schedule. But for about an hour there, we had already said enough prayers to last a month.