Monday, March 26, 2007

You Know, I Never Met A Papist I Didn't Like...

Hey all! Thanks again for everyone who kept the "quote tag" game going. It was really fun seeing all those great quotes, and it's just amazing to see just how far back these little games can go. The blogosphere is a wonderful place sometimes. :)

Well, yesterday I had a really interesting experience. In my Intro to Religion class (which is pretty awesome, by the way) I have to write a 10-page paper, comparing and contrasting two religious services which I am supposed to attend and summarize. One of them has to be from a tradition with which I am familiar, and the other should be from a tradition with which I am unfamiliar. I could have just done something as simple as go to a Baptist and then a Methodist service. But you know me; I wanted an experience, so I decided to head to my first ever Catholic Mass.

Now, I'll admit that the Mass I went to wasn't exactly what you think of when you think of Mass. It wasn't held in a big, solemn cathedral. Instead, it was at the Catholic Student Center, which is really just an ordinary-looking one story house right off campus. There's a large open living room, empty except for the altar, a large cross, several wooden chairs, and a piano. It was filled mostly with students, many of whom I had seen around campus but had no idea were Catholic (there was one somewhat Gothic-dressed guy that I was surprised to see). However, there were also several adults and even a few senior citizens. It was, to say the least, an odd mix. No one was dressed up at all. I mean, I felt out of place with my just my polo tucked in (I was wearing jeans, fortunately).

I had gone to the service with my friend Tanya, who's one of the nicest people I've ever met. She's extremely knowledgeable about Catholicism and is very active in the Church, so it was good to be able to go with her. She told me what I could and couldn't do, how to cross myself, and where to stop in the Lord's Prayer. (I was especially thankful for the last part. If I hadn't known I would have kept going after "deliver us from evil" and would have looked mightily foolish). But mostly I didn't interact. I just sat there, followed Tanya's lead, and observed the service.

The funniest thing about the service was how at peace I felt throughout it. Even though I had never been to Mass in my life and didn't know half of what was going on, it was one of those rare instances in which I really felt the Holy Spirit's presence. I loved the universality of the service: the way that everyone from the Goth kid to the old lady participated equally and were treated the same. I loved the reverence of it all (I think I've mentioned before how the more modern Evangelical "arms-in-the-air" worship makes me uncomfortable). I loved the Father's message. The reading was the story of Jesus, the Pharisees, and the adulterous woman. It's always been a favorite of mine, but I especially liked it here.

The priest's reflection on the reading was also very good. I wasn't expecting a sermon, of course, but I still felt that he hit home with a lot of points. The compassion of Jesus Christ for sinners was highlighted (as it was in the story) and in so many words the priest basically called those assembled to be compassionate towards others, especially those outside their comfort zones. He mentioned the poor, and those of other races and cultures, and those of different sexual orientations...yep, he went there, and he used those words too. It was encouraging to me. I've been hearing Evangelical sermons for a long time and I never heard such a sincere call to compassion for gays and lesbians come from them (it's rare enough to hear such a serious call to help the poor). It's not that I don't think Evangelicals don't believe in compassion or helping the poor. I know for a fact they do! But sometimes it's just nice to hear it said. It's nice to be around people who don't give a hoot about politics and are just in the business of being loving, compassionate, humble, and of service to their fellow man. A lot of my Catholic friends are like that. So are a lot of my Protestant friends, but there's a sort of difference between the two that's hard to put a finger on.

Anyway, like I said it was a wonderful service and I truly felt at peace despite not knowing what was going on. I loved the rhythm and the reverence of it. There are some theological differences that would keep me from becoming Catholic, obviously, but if not for them I think I would take a swing at it. Peace out, y'all.


Norm! said...

It's so interesting to me that the service made such an impression on you even though it wasn't in an ornate Catholic church. It seems the liturgy itself created the specialness of the setting -- not the sanctuary.

I was raised in Evangelical and independant protestant churches, so Catholic liturgy was very alien to me. However, for the last several years, my friend and I have developed the tradition of attending a Catholic midnight mass on Christmas Eve.

I do appreciate that the liturgy is focused on honoring God -- rather than soliciting a response/emotion from the audience. I've heard it described as having a vertical focus (i.e. uncomfortable rituals, ancient music, etc.) rather than the horizontal focus of consumer-friendly protestant church (i.e. comfy settings, contemporary music, etc.).

Thanks for sharing your experience.

Jay said...

That's a pretty good description with the vertical vs. horizontal focus. I didn't think about it like that, but it does seem true.

I was surprised, too, about the fact that I got so much out of it despite the setting. I had wanted to go to one of the more traditional churches so I could at least admire the architecture should I have gotten bored. ;)

But I was surprised at just how Spirit-centered it felt, and maybe the fact that it was in a house was more of the reason for that. I've been to a few worship services in houses before (Protestant, of course) and I get the same feeling.

Maybe I'm just anti-traditional church. :)

Audrey B said...

I'm curious, do you have any Jewish friends? If so, how would you feel about going to a synagogue on the Sabbath?

Jay said...

Hey Audrey. The only Jewish person I know one of my professors. I would be interested in going to a synagogue one day, though, just for the experience. Thanks for stopping by.

jerubaal said...

Worshiping with Catholics RULEZ! My own church copies them all the time. Like their liturgy and stuff, we do exactly the same liturgy they do every Sunday. We love the reverence of it, and crossing yourself at the communion table is a fad catching on like wildfire in our church.

There is something immensely beautiful, like a single shoot sprouting out among the ashen debris of a desolated city, when there is deep reverence for the most set-apart God. In a country that reveres nothing and transgresses everything, to hold something in solemnity, and silence, and worship, and awe, and in community with others just like you who by some force have come together to honor the One who is the meaning of everything.

It's awesome dude. Reverence here is like an oasis.

Not just where I am in San Diego, where 94% of the people are not Christians. But everywhere.

jerubaal said...

Oh yeah, I almost forgot...

Hi Jay :).

Jay said...

Jerubaal: That sounds really interesting. It was the reverence that got to me.

Jay said...

Oh, and...

Hi Jake. :)

Mephibosheth said...

Hey Jay,

I enjoy your comments on DM's blog, and your posts here. I came back to the Catholic Church after nearly 20 years in Protestant churches, even after holding ordination in 2 different denominations, because ultimately I missed the Eucharist. There are a lot of theological issues as you say, but I haven't regretted the move one bit. I'm glad you felt peace at Mass.


Jay said...

Mephibosheth: Well, I of course didn't get to take Eucharist, but I kind of wanted to. Your story is very interesting, though. When you say you held ordination, does that mean you preached? Anyway, thanks for stopping by!

Mephibosheth said...


I preached a little, but mostly was involved in music and youth ministry. I posted a little of my journey here: