Thursday, January 06, 2005

The Maze of the Mass

Today at our simple, brisk but reverent morning Mass, I was suddenly struck with how hard it must be for a non-Catholic Christian to go to Mass for the first time.

When you come in, you put your finger in holy water and cross yourself but you don't say anything. Then you go to a pew and you don't sit down, you kneel a little. How long? Then you sit down. Then you stand up. Then you cross yourself and this time you say something. Then you answer the priest. You know all the words.

You strike your breast during another prayer everyone seems to know without a book. You stand, you sit. By golly, you burst into song! How did you know? You make a little rubbing motion on your head and mouth and chest. Up, down, up, down and then someone knows to get up and take the gifts to the priest. NOW you throw kneeling into it! A bell? Again? And everyone knows the damn words!

No wonder they feel like they stick out! They wouldn't believe you if you said that you wouldn't notice if they were a beat behind everyone else, or if they flipped back and forth through the missalette, which they can't figure out how to use.

I bet they feel like a million-watt light is on them, even in a crowded church in the back row, or even an empty, dim church in the back row.

Pray for these people. Pray that you be given the grace and the warmth to offer to go with them, or sidle up to them, or suavely catch up to them after Mass and introduce yourself.


Julie D. said...

You hit the nail on the head! I remember that my husband hadn't been to Mass for a loooong time and I hadn't been to a regular church more than a couple of times, much less a Catholic Mass. That's when you sit on the side in the back so you can follow along ... and gradually it all gets figured out. :-)

Therese Z said...

Elaborate, if you would, please -

Does it seem strange? Artificial? Stupid? Do people seem like robots, or comfortable? As a cradle Catholic (one who spent a number of years away, busy with the world) I never spent a moment NOT expecting to do these things. Maybe I didn't appreciate WHY we were doing them, but in the last couple of years I threw myself into learning it all again for the first time.

If you come back to this comments box, please tell us how you felt. I've never had a convert and the right moment together to ask that question of.

Rosalind said...

Therese, I think you've caught something important here. In my parish, we do a pretty good job of establishing a welcoming atmostphere where a visitor can feel comfortable provided that he or she is already Catholic. It's as if we assume that no one would ever make an exploratory visit without someone who can shepherd them through the liturgy. We should probably give some serious thought to providing a handout for non-Catholic visitors, especially if we take evangelization seriously.

Being "user friendly" to a visitor is be one of the big ways we should display charity, IMHO.

MTR said...

"non-Catholic Christian"

Thanks---so many Catholics I know refuse to admit that a non-Catholic can be a Christian.



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