Sunday, June 29, 2008

The Universal Church

That's what the Catholic Church calls itself - that's what 'catholic' means after all. And I find it comforting that wherever I attend Mass on any given Sunday - or weekday - the Mass itself will be the same. The music choices may be different, the sermon will be different, but the prayers and the readings - and most importantly the Blessed Body and Blood of Christ will all be the same.

Generally speaking we attend just one church now. Occasionally we'll go to another local church if circumstances warrant - but we don't tend to venture too far afield. And when we've gone on vacation with the kids it's often a Monday to Friday vacation and we're back home for Mass on Sunday.

But there was a time when we traveled more - and attended Mass in various places.

When I was fifteen I spent a month with my cousin in Germany. I attended Mass in their small and very ornate - with wonderfully decorated ceilings - church. Perhaps it was the same church my ancestors once attended (I'll have to check with my cousin.) Of course going to Mass in Germany meant that the Mass was in German (for the first time in my life I understood why Latin might be handy.)

I didn't understand what was being said during most of the Mass. But I knew what was going on nonetheless. I knew when the readings were being read and that the responsorial psalm was being sung. I knew when the Gospel was being proclaimed - and of course I stood for it. I did know some of my prayers in German so was able to say the Our Father and the creed. I knew when the petitions were being made and was able to respond "Bitte fur uns" with the congregation. And of course I knew when the miracle of transubstanation had occured and that Jesus was present in the Body and Blood of Christ.

I didn't know the words - but I knew the Mass.

Most Masses I've been to since then have been in English (actually, probably all of them). And while each one is the same - in that is The Mass. There are also differences. And that's what makes going to other churches so interesting.

When my husband and I used to travel more on weekends we often ended up having to go to Mass in the local church. We had some wonderful experiences.

There was the church in Watkins Glen, NY where a priest had just gotten back from Rome and had blessed medallions that we was handing out. We declined to take any - figuring we were just visitors - but the person next to us in the pew insisted. We each kept those medallions for years (both were eventually lost).

There was the church in Montana where the congregation was so small that the priest knew everyone. So when a contingent of people (in town for a wedding) came in - he noticed - and asked us where we were from. And welcomed us heartily to his parish.

There was the church in Colorado where instead of a crucifix behind the altar there was a wall of glass. And beyond that wall - the Rocky Mountains. As we participated in Mass we could see the wonders of God's creation - including an eagle swooping by.

There was another church in Colorado - that we attended for the Feast of the Assumption. It was a Thursday - we were on vacation - we weren't exactly at our best dressed - but when we got to Mass everyone was dressed up. It didn't take long to figure out why. It was the Graduation Mass for their parish school. Yup, a special Mass for the three boys who were graduating from eigth grade. It was the most touching ceremony - I ended up with tears in my eyes - and I didn't know a person in the place.

And one of the best Masses - was in the Cathedral of the Pines. And where is that you ask? Why on my Uncle's property in the hills by the New York Fingerlakes. There beneath the canopy of pine trees, my grandparents renewed their wedding vows at a special outdoor mass in honor of their 40th wedding anniversary in 1975.

One time, though, I attended Mass in a church while away from home (I won't even say which state) and I got a particularly bad feeling while there. The odd thing was that there was nothing about the Mass that I could pinpoint as wrong or bad in any way. A baptism was performed and people were joyful about it. They sang nice songs. The sermon was okay. But I had a distinct feeling of uneasiness the whole time I was there - as if there was evil lurking there. That had never happened to me before - and has never happened since. I know nothing about that parish - I didn't try to track down if there was something amiss there (I'm no super sleuth). But I felt evil pushing in on me while there.

Overall though, my experience with visiting other parishes has been positive. I recommend it to everyone. When on vacation, go to the local church. You never know what treasures might await you there.


patjrsmom said...

This is a beautiful reflection and I wholeheartedly agree with you. We just visited a brand new church during our time in the Boston area. And when I was a little girl, my mom was fond of saying, "Every time you enter a new church, the first prayer you say will be answered."

God Bless,

Ellen said...

Interesting post. I, too, like to attend mass in other places. On our tenth anniversary in St. John, we were sung to in honor of our anniversary. In Hawaii, the priest wore shorts and sandals under his vestments and watch (yes. watch) the closing hymn sung and done with hula hand gestures. but like you, I find comfort in knowing that where ever I go, mass is the same.

Christine M said...

Oh, I completely forgot Mass in Hawaii (during our Honeymoon) there was a choir that sang in Hawaiian and they were wonderful - we even bought the tape! Thanks for reminding me about that, Ellen.

And Jane, I didn't know that the first prayer you said in a new church would be answered. Good to keep in mind!

Bill said...

The most memorable Mass that I can recall was many years ago on my birthday, 40th or 43rd, I think in a town called Nazareth. We were in the lower church and after the Mass they told us that behind the altar was the grotto where the angel appeared to Mary and where she gave her consent. On only one day of the year do they open the grotto and allow people to enter. That day is the feast of the Annunciation, March 25th, my birthday. And so on that day I was able to stand in there and read an inscription in Latin that could be written in no other place in the world. "Here the Word became flesh and dwelt among us." Quite a birthday.

Christine M said...

Dad - what a great birthday!

Anne K said...

Christine, This is from you Grandpa's Diary:

We set up an altar in an area in the woods which Ruth called "The Cathedral" and which I hope will continue to go by that name. We had 8 picnic tables for seats.

Father Wolfe said the field Mass. Christine did one of the readings. Eileen brought her guitar. Father led us in renewal of our wedding vows and said very kind words about us and our family. I was in tears of joy several times. Everybody was impressed by the beauty of the ceremony.

In my sleep during the night I tried to relive every moment of the beautiful day.