*For some reason, Gwen's last paragraph, summing up her thoughts, was missing when I first posted! So sorry!
A few posts back, one of our longtime Bubble family members, Miss Gwen, announced that she was going to be attending a Catholic mass. After receiving a steady (dare I say giddy?) stream of encouragement, direction and advice from the Catholics here, she set off. You have all been waiting patiently, and I am thrilled now to post Gwen's account of her recent attendance at a daily mass in Albuquerque. I will leave her words unedited, and we all can discuss and offer any clarity in the comment box.
Take it away, Miss Gwen!
On the heels of much intense debate and banter between orthodox Catholics and atheists, I decided to step back, reflect and visit the holy space where these faithful women share their deepest desires and insecurities with God on a regular basis.
Believe it or not (ha!), going to church was a big deal for me. I was raised by atheists and can count on my hand the number of times I’ve been to Church services on a holiday or Sunday (3x). That’s excluding the daily mass I attended for two years at Episcopal middle school (aged 12-14). Thus, it is a bit daunting at first to step into a sacred space without knowing the exact details of appropriate behavior. For instance, the parishioners with whom I attended Mass all entered the Church and before taking a seat, kneeled before the altar and crossed themselves.
The Church (San Felipe de Neri church in Old Town, Albuquerque, NM):
This church has quite a history! It was originally built in 1704 at the insistence of a Franciscan priest who arrived with 30 other Spanish settler families in this southwestern city in 1704-5. The church was named after the Viceroy of New Spain but later, at the request of the Spanish Duke who founded and lent his name to this particular city the Church was named after San Felipe de Neri in honor of King Phillip of Spain. Parts of the church have been destroyed or re-built. In the 1870s Jesuit priests founded a school for boys and in the 1880s the Sisters of Charity added a convent to the church grounds and operated a parish school up until the 1970s. A school still operates within this historic parish.
The Church is located in what is now a tourist hot spot of town. It faces a small plaza where there are annual events such as Santero markets*, Christmas shop and strolls with luminaria displays **, music and dancing, and the occasional wedding. Surrounding the plaza and Church are restaurants and stores that cater specifically to visitors in the southwest: chile spices, mugs, t-shirts, turquoise jewelry, cowboy boots, and so forth. A small store attached to the Church sells religious iconography that helps raise funds for the parish.
* Santero-artisans who carve figurines of saints usually working with wood
** Luminarias-paper bags filled with sand and candles, usually lined up along walkways and rooftops during Christmas (this tradition also has roots in the Catholic and Latino Protestant practice of Las Posadas which pays tribute to the journey of Joseph, Mary and Baby Jesus in utero)
I attended Wednesday Mass at 7am. There were about 20-30 people in attendance many of them (my guess) Hispanic, mostly female and between the ages of 40-70. I noticed one elementary aged schoolgirl in attendance with a male relative (dad?). Attending to the needs of the priest was a middle-aged man (of Asian heritage) wearing a polo shirt and khaki pants (no altar boys?). Mass began with a prayer followed by a short reading from one of the parishioners. Then the priest gave a brief interpretation of the reading; the gist of his interpretation focused on translation and the multiple possible meanings for the word “apostle” and exactly what Paul really meant when he spoke those words since there are 12 apostles and he isn’t one of them (?). The scene from the reading involved Paul talking to a slave who wasn’t really a slave just as Paul is not really an apostle. The Priest reminded us that none of us know the historical Jesus, just like Paul didn’t know the historical Jesus yet here he is calling himself an apostle -- why? According to the priest, this is because Paul is using a code word for follower -- he is a follower of Jesus and God, just like we all must be.
Then the man in khaki pants rang a bell, and helped the priest get the communion wafer and cup of wine ready. He raised the hosts over his head, uttered some Latin phrases and everyone in the congregation responded with some more Latin. People began singing a song in Spanish about “benedicion” and lined up to receive the hosts. When that was done, the bell was rung one more time and the priest finished up the leftover wine before wiping down the cup (glad to know there’s no wasting wine ; ) Another prayer was said then the apostle’s creed (which I actually remembered!) and we were done.
So, what do I think? I think sacred space provides an opportunity to reflect, to think deeply about one’s place in the world. I’m not particularly comfortable in a church setting since it’s not something I’m familiar with but I appreciate the sense of community that can be created and the opportunity to feel inspired and refreshed with a new outlook on the daily grind. Unfortunately, I disagree with much of the policy touted by the Catholic Church. My understanding at least from this blog, is that one must be conservative and politically aligned with the right (or right of center) in order to be Catholic and Christian. I’m not willing to give up my alliances with left of center political ideologies or my philosophy. So, while I can appreciate the ritual aspects of Mass and the time for self-reflection, I’ll continue to find solace in my own sacred spaces and rituals (i.e., sitting on the patio by the apricot tree drinking coffee spiced with cardamom!).
Thank you Leila, for allowing me the opportunity to share these thoughts with you.