Day 26: Attend A Catholic Mass

OK, I’ll just say up front that I am not Catholic and I don’t have the same beliefs of the Catholic faith. For these obvious reasons I have never gone to a Catholic mass. Sure, I’ve been in some Catholic cathedrals in the U.S. and Europe, and I once attended a Greek Orthodox mass (that was quite an experience!) for a college class, but I have never gone to a legitimate Catholic mass (I don’t really know what I meant by that. Are there un-legitimate masses?).

I figured if I was going to go to a mass I wanted to do it up right, in a big church. Ya know, the ones with super high ceilings, a pool of holy water at the entrance, candles, icons, adornments and “gold”- painted trim everywhere. Like I said, I was in many cathedrals and churchs in Europe, including St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican City, and wow, wow, wow. They are so incredibly beautiful and viewed as so sacred, I always imagined attending a mass in one of them. I also figured that the bigger the church, the more attendees. And the more attendees, the less attention on myself, looking out of place, not knowing what actions to make or words to say. I could sit in the back, observe and go unobserved, and pretend I knew what I was doing, when really I would just miming all those in front of me. This plan was brilliant.

Well, wouldn’t you know, my plan might have been brilliant, but it sure wasn’t fool-proof because I turned out to be a fool, and I botched up the plan. First off, I decided to go to St Jane de Chantal Catholic Church which, although is big and beautiful, isn’t that big. But, I chose this church because my friend, Karl wanted to check it out having heard about it from a co-worker. I figured I didn’t mind compromising on size and adornment if it meant I was able to have a friend go with me. (Thanks Karl for going!) However, it was still pretty big, and I could still slip in the back unnoticed. So I thought.  When we got there this morning at 9A.M. we found out that, due to the lack of attendees on an early Saturday morning, the mass was held in a small chapel instead of the big sanctuary. Do they even call them sanctuaries in a Catholic church? Oh, I don’t know what to call it. But I do know I was disappointed. I should’ve known people don’t show up at 9 on a Saturday morning! Heck, I barely got up for it! And actually, I was supposed to go to a mass at 9 a few weeks ago, if you recall, but I ended up over-sleeping! OK, so another bump in the revised Plan A, which was soon turning into a Plan B, but maybe we could still just slip in unnoticed.

We entered the chapel and my heart sank. First of all, it was pretty full except for a few spots here and there requiring the awkward “lap-straddle” to get to them. NO, thank you! Just then, the priest came in and declared that mass had started, and Karl and I stood awkwardly against the wall in the back, like wallflowers. Except that we didn’t blend into the wall.  So, I guess we were actually more like brightly-arranged bouquets placed in a stark white kitchen. Then came the initial prayer reciting and something else- I’m not too sure what it was. (I’ll admit I was not paying attention to what they were doing, but trying to figure out if I could be comfortable standing there for an hour or if I should just bail on Karl and run out the door) That’s when I spotted the mother taking up a whole pew with her bag, her coat, her baby, her baby’s bag, her baby’s coat, and her baby’s car-seat carrier. I asked myself if I was brave enough to ask her to move all her junk- er, I mean, her precious items and bundle of joy- to the side, so Karl and I could sit down. Fortunately, I didn’t have to answer my own question, as a few older women in the last pew on the far side of the chapel saw we were standing and shifted down, closing gaps, allowing us a place to sit on the end. OK, not quite slipping in unnoticed, but far from being the main attraction. I could handle this.

Once we sat down, I was good. I honestly cannot tell you the exact order they did things or even what most of those “things” they did were. I can tell you there was a lot of repetition and response between the priest and the congregation. A lot of “May the Lord bless you”‘s, and “And you as well”‘s.  Next thing I knew we were standing up, only to sit down 1 minute later. The priest gave a short reflection/ preaching on some scripture from the Bible. And we’re up again. Cross our hands in front of our foreheads and shoulders, recite a phrase, and we’re sitting. Next came a prayer for many different things, and now we’re standing. He prayed for the church, the people of the church, etc. and after each request the congregation responded with a phrase I can’t remember.  Now we’re sitting, some more words are spoken, and we close with the Eucharist, or communion. Now we’re standing. We filed out of our pews, went to the front and received a representation of Christ’s body, and a few, short moments later mass was ended. Yes, I know, that was an awful attempt on my part at interpreting a Catholic mass, but hey- it was my first time!

The only thing I could think was, “How in the world do they remember what all is supposed to be said and when to say it, when to sit and when to stand? Do kids raised in the Catholic church learn this by the time they are 5? Or 15, even?” I found it so interesting that everything they do has to be done in a certain manner for it to be considered “right” or “effective”. Now, I’m not saying that what they were saying or doing is wrong. I have no real ground to say that because I haven’t learned why they do what they do and what it really means because, like I said, I’m not Catholic (which I’m sure I proved to you by my description of the mass). I am a Christian, (I am not “christian”, but I am a Christian- a follower of Jesus Christ) and I don’t pretend to understand why Catholics believe what they believe, as my faith and salvation are based on truths different from Catholic beliefs. I also don’t pretend to understand anything that went on in mass this morning.

All this being said, I can honestly say that I enjoyed the insight into the Catholic religion. The experience wasn’t a very comfortable one for me, but it was interesting to see how Catholic men and women worship. I find myself now wanting to know more about this religion, wanting to be able to understand what drives these people, what exactly they believe, and why they worship and serve the way they do.

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4 Comments on “Day 26: Attend A Catholic Mass”

  1. Geri Says:

    I was raised Roman Catholic, I can say by the ripe old age of 10, I had the responses and routine down pat. Funny but by age 7 they had switched from latin Mass, adn I can’t recall knowing what was being said! I have attended Mass since leaving the Church some 20 years ago and I can still recite the responses by rote. I guess it’s an indelible, subconcious response but I still don’t know what it all means!

    • Sarah Sullivan Says:

      I love hearing this insight, Geri! Sometime we’ll have to go together to a big, old, traditional Roman Catholic church, I’d love that!

  2. Jules Cripps Says:

    this is hilarious! kendall and I are catholics and just had a conversation the other day debating what age we learned everything. bravo for going, i can imagine they would be super intimidating. i love reading this blog!

  3. larick Says:

    I hope you didn’t take Communion? The only real “rule” in Catholic Church is you cannot take Communion unless you have been prepared through Confirmation. Catholics take this very seriously- the Catholic Communion is not symbolic. They believe the wine and wafer offered in Catholic Mass (and only in Catholic Mass) *actually, physically, and literally transforms* into the blood and body of Christ when it is blessed by the appropriate clergy. It is extremely disrespectful to take Communion in a Catholic Church if you have not been prepared their way – even if you were baptized Catholic as an infant. It is kind of as offensive as spitting on them. Granted, you didn’t know, but some cursory web surfing should reveal this for anyone preparing to attend Catholic Mass or speaking to a Catholic. One thing all will tell you no matter who is DO NOT go up and take Communion! If necessary you go up and may stand there with your arms crossed over chest to receive a blessing.


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