As a practicing Catholic living in Virginia, I have to confess that going to church was getting to be kind of boring with the same old, same old post-Vatican II liturgy. Until last week, that is, when it became downright exciting.
That's because Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli had just handed down an opinion saying people in the Old Dominion could bring a handgun to a religious service as long as there was "a good and sufficient reason" to carry a concealed weapon, such as personal protection.
As a result, when I went to Mass last Sunday, and the priest began, as always, by greeting the people and making the Sign of the Cross with the words, "In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit," I distinctly heard the guy next to me say, "and the National Rifle Association."
Then when the priest invited everyone to reflect on their unworthiness and sinfulness by reciting the Confiteor ("I confess to Almighty God, and to you here present, that I have sinned through my own fault, in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done and what I have failed to do") a man in front of me with a conspicuous bulge in his jacket added, "to make it easier for law abiding people to pack heat."
And when the priest led the congregation in reciting the "Kyrie" ("Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy") a woman behind me with a pearl-handled revolver protruding from her purse, added, "on anybody who tries to mug me."
Then came the first of two readings by laymen lectors who appeared to be wearing shoulder holsters. The first one read from Exodus 20:1 ("Thou shalt not kill, unless another draw on you,") while the second one read from Ecclesiastes 3:1: ("To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven; A time to kill, and a time to reload.")
By now, I was getting freaked out, and it didn't help that after the priest read the Gospel and began his homily, the guy next to me patted the Colt revolver tucked in his belt and muttered, "He better not be giving us any of that 'love thy neighbor and turn the other cheek' stuff."
To my great relief, the priest didn't, and as we stood to recite the Creed, the woman behind me said, "I believe in God the Father Almighty, creator and heaven and earth, and my semi-automatic Glock."
Well, that just about did it for me and I decided to move to another part of the church, but when I told the guy next to me I was getting very uncomfortable sitting with people who were carrying concealed weapons and wanted to leave, he said, "Go ahead punk, make my day."
I wasn't about to argue with him, so I stayed put. Just then, they passed around the collection plate, and when I put in a $20 bill, the guy in front me turned and grabbed it and said, "Thanks buddy, you just made a donation to Sarah Palin's campaign."
I was afraid to argue with him but after we said the Lord's Prayer and everybody exchanged the Kiss of Peace, I said, "Peace be with you," and he patted his holster and said, "My Smith & Wesson says you better believe it."
Finally, after Communion, as the priest gave us his blessing and dismissed us with the words, "The Mass is ended. Go in peace to love and serve the Lord," all three of the people carrying concealed weapons added in unison in a loud voice, "Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition."