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Sunday, November 13, 2005
Stranger in a VERY Strange Land
I got up early this morning, put on some nice clothes, ate a light breakfast, and ventured out into the chilly sunny morning to go to Mass. I could hear church bells ringing loudly all around me, I was in a good mood, and I knew that the church would be easy to find. Frau W. had told me it would only take about 10 minutes to walk there. I found the church right away.
Catholic churches are lovely in that they are predictable: every church is reading the same three scriptures, every church uses the same responses, the Creed is the same, etc. That's what I was looking forward to this morning -- some predictability. I knew that the Mass would be conducted in a foreign language, but that wouldn't be a major issue as long as I could follow the predictable, comfortable format I've been following every Sunday since I was a toddler.
I was early. I walked in to the modern building, staring at the high concrete walls and the floors that were composed of thousands of wooden blocks. Only a handful of people were there and it was already 9:55am -- five minutes before the beginning of the Mass. I dipped my fingers in the frigid Holy Water at the entrance, crossed myself, and found a seat in the middle of the Church, genuflecting first before sitting down. I knelt and prayed quietly. I was not surprised that the church was so empty -- Frau W. told me (and my own research backed her claims) that not very many people attended Mass (or any church services) anymore, and that I would probably be surrounded by a few older people. That seemed to be the case.
By 10:10am, however, the church really started to fill up. The Mass had not yet begun, but people were swarming the altar, setting things up. A few microphones. A pair of music stands. A large projection screen. A computer. Oh dear. Many men in sharp-looking suits.
By 10:30am, the place was packed to capacity, standing-room only. Soon a PowerPoint presentation flashed on the screen, lyrics to songs I had never heard, and certainly not traditional Catholic hymns. Two neatly-dressed people came up to the front and started singing, clapping their hands and swaying. The congregation joined in, some people raising their hands over their heads and shouting, "Amen! Hallelujah!" This was certainly not what I expected.
There was no traditional Mass. No prayers, really, not even a priest. No vestments, no responses, no Psalm or Proverb. No Gospel reading at all, in fact. Instead, a man in a nice suit and tie, the "Pastor," got up in front of the congregation and spoke about how he hadn't truly known God until his wife led him in prayer one night, and how they both began to speak in tongues. He told us about how several years ago his wife had been diagnosed with an incurable cancer and how she, through prayer, was healed. Many people in the congregation clapped and this and swooned. "Praise Jesus!" they cried. "Hallelujah!"
There was no Communion. There were a lot of announcements at the end, a collection, and another synthesized song. Then everyone went into the basement for coffee, soup, bread, and cake.
This was certainly no Catholic Mass! I have no idea what was going on here, actually. Outside the church it said very clearly, "St. XXXX Catholic Church." But, aside from me, no one genuflected or crossed themselves, and no one blessed themselves with Holy Water -- these are standard Catholic behaviors. The kneelers were never used. What the heck WAS this?
Now I know: whenever I see a PowerPoint presentation in a church, I should run. Very quickly. I should run to the nearest old, traditional Catholic Church I can find and sit with the gray-haired ladies with canes and the nuns. I'm a pretty open-minded person, I think, but there are some things in my life that I need to have untouched, and Mass is one of them. Needless to say, next week I'll be taking the subway to the Cathedral.