It is sort of a long story but I attended Mass three different times at three different churches yesterday. Technically, it was two normal Masses and one Liturgy of the Word. It did get me thinking about perception and how different people view can things so… differently. One of the things I hear from many non-Catholics is that the Catholic Church is “boring”. For me, nothing could be further from the truth. I heard the same readings at all three churches yesterday. I can see how some might find that to be a bit boring. I, however, find great beauty and peace in knowing that Catholics everywhere are hearing the same things, participating in the same liturgy, and hearing the same unifying message. What could be cooler than that?
While the readings and the liturgy were all the same, the environmental experience of the churches were completely different. The first Mass I attended was in the gymnasium of a local semi-rural school. It is a small parish that is getting close to breaking ground on their new building. It has been over a decade in the making and really is something special. It is the closest church to my home and one I have been trying to attend more frequently. As one might imagine it is a fairly casual environment. The choir is accompanied by flute and guitar and everyone sits on folding chairs. Before the dismissal one of the deacons goes around the room calling out birthdays and anniversaries. I find it to be a very welcoming experience.
My second Mass of the day was held at my local diocesan Cathedral. It is always a very solemn experience. There are signs posted admonishing parishioners to be quiet. If children are being too loud during the service an usher or representative will actually come to you and ask you to leave. Well, that is not entirely true. They will come to you and politely ask, “Do you know that you can hear the service via speakers in the narthex?” I am not talking wailing children mind you. It is often what I would consider as pretty low-level fussy kid-in-church noise. I get it. It is the Cathedral and not a local family parish. Fine. The problem I have with it is the fact that as a whole the parishioners are quite old. In my opinion, the religious education classes are sparsely attended for it being the Cathedral. How do they expect younger people to want to attend Mass when they have such a distinctly non-family friendly vibe? They do not have a nursery or cry room either. Did I mention this is where I have my parish registration? At least for the time being it is.
My third Mass (technically Liturgy of the Word) for the Rite of Election was at one of the larger Catholic churches in town. For whatever reason it feels very protestant there. It is a church that does chairs rather than pews. As a rule, I have a weird discomfort when a church lacks pews. The building itself is large and very open. If you were to remove the large crucifix and replace it with a normal cross it would look and feel almost exactly like a large Baptist congregation (truth be told, I don’t think I have ever been to a Baptist church. If I had, I am quite sure it would look exactly like this.) There were children wailing there. Overall it was a fine experience. It is not where I would choose my home parish to be but that is probably more a function of my weirdness than a statement about the church.
Three Masses. Three different churches. Three completely different experiences. Yet, all three recited the same readings and experienced the same liturgy. There is great beauty in that.