My First Catholic Mass
My wife and I went to our first Catholic Mass this past Sunday with a good friend of mine. I had been to a special event or two at Catholic churches and gone to a couple of dinners at the Catholic ministry at Queen’s, but I had never done a Mass. It was a great opportunity to learn from a tradition that is a “big sister” in the faith to my own. Here are my scattered thoughts, sorted as likes and dislikes. It is about my own experience in one particular church, not about “good” and “bad” which would imply a universal judgement which I don’t pretend to have.
I have a strong appreciation for well-done liturgy, and I don’t think anybody does it better than Catholics (with all due respect to Anglicans and Orthodox). I’ve experienced other well-done liturgies occasionally in some of my Protestant mainline experiences, although usually not consistently from the same church and usually with a lot of less-meaningful liturgies in between. A liturgy poorly done tends toward rote repetition, but a liturgy well done can be a powerful setting for meeting the divine in a way that having to find your own words may not always be able to provide.
This is related to the above, but I love that Catholics actually move in worship. The most movement we do at our church is for saying hi and shaking hands with people around you. We also stand to sing, but we’re definitely not of the charismatic variety, moving during songs or even lifting hands. So standing to hear the Gospel reading (meaningful in its own right), kneeling through the Eucharist liturgy, and some other standing and sitting in between, helped keep me alert and added meaning. We are embodied beings and I do think it is very valuable to make use of those bodies in worship.
Disliked: Speed of Liturgy
While I loved the liturgy, the church went through it at such a rapid pace that I had a hard time even making out most of the words as I followed along in the missal. It probably didn’t help that the acoustics were not great as the reverberation did make it harder to make out words, but I definitely did not have more than a minute total across the whole service that I could stop and think about what was going on. I do imagine that if you do this every week, you get used to making out what is being said and the familiarity with the words means you’re able to actually meditate on the meaning. But I as a newcomer couldn’t even tell you at the end of the service what any of the liturgy said other than the frequent reply of “and with your spirit” which I remember just because I kept saying “and also with you.”
Liked: Theme of Homily
For the homily, the priest worked from the Genesis text where Abraham argued with God not to destroy Sodom if there are only 50, then 45, then 40, 30, 20, or 10 righteous people left. The priest drew from this the theme of the sanctity of life and how God will avoid violence against people as much as possible. Maybe didn’t go as far along with the nonviolent God theme as Anabaptists would, but it was still good to hear, especially coming from a Bible story that is usually associated with the exact opposite image of God.
Disliked: Length of Homily
While the priest definitely made good use of his time, I still felt like he was barely getting started when it was all done. As with the speed of liturgy, I understand how this can work and be very good for a lot of people. Quick and to the point makes it harder for people to lose focus or get confused with the message. And I can agree with the Catholic emphasis on experience above abstract theologizing, so if you have to pick one I don’t mind going the direction that they did. For somebody like me who wants to wrestle with something for a while before letting it go, though, I had just barely gotten started, and I am not in such a rush to get through a service that I feel like there’s no need to give up the abstract theologizing alongside the experiential.
Liked: Importance of Eucharist
Leading from that, obviously the Eucharist is the centrepiece in Catholic worship the way that a sermon usually is in Protestant worship. As an Anabaptist I hold to the general Anabaptist stance that it is not a sacrament (a means of grace) but is rather an ordinance (a command of Jesus). The latter should still carry with it a huge importance, particularly in my opinion as a reminder of being a part of the greater body of Christ, but unfortunately it usually doesn’t. I’ve even taken Home Church leader training for our church and were told that it should be done in Home Churches about once a month. It seems pretty common that this doesn’t actually happen, but maybe I just have a small sample size.
Torn: Exclusion of the Eucharist
I could probably do a whole post on it by itself, but I’m torn on the fact that non-Catholics cannot take the Eucharist at a Catholic church. I know why and I respect why. I went up with my arms crossed for a blessing instead, not having any interest in making a statement by taking it anyway (it was a big enough church nobody would have known except for my friend). The reasons as I understand are two-fold: 1. Catholics believe they, institutionally, make up the true Church and the rest of us are to some degree missing out, and 2. the different understandings of what is happening in the Eucharist would mean that somebody like me would be taking it with a view that it is less important than they would say themselves, which is insulting. The second one in particular I do understand and that’s mostly why I didn’t take it myself.
But then on the other hand it feels contradictory to emphasize the unity of the church as the Catholic Church does while rejecting those who are Christians of another type from the central ritual of the universal church. Then again, some people would say that Anabaptists are contradictory to speak of equality while specifying that the Eucharist is only for believers (or any denomination, but believers nonetheless). So a few days later I’m still not sure how I feel about that experience.