Tuesday, September 27, 2011

An atheist's view: Miss Gwen goes to Mass! *UPDATED

*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!

Why I went:
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.

My background:
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 Scene:
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)

The Service:
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.




  1. Thank you, Miss Gwen! I will be the first to just throw in a comment or two. Usually there are no child altar servers for a daily mass, so an adult sacristan usually steps in.

    Also, one does not have to be a political conservative to be a Catholic. Traditionally Catholics have been aligned with the Democratic Party. This post illustrates why that is not so much the case anymore:


    I, for one, am very grateful and even touched that you took the time to attend a mass. Another one to attend would be a Sunday mass, which has a bit more to it than the daily mass.

  2. All I have to say is: thank you for taking this search for Truth seriously Miss Gwen. I do believe you may be onto something;)

  3. That's amazing that you are open enough to go to a mass. Kudos to you, really. I attended a Jewish synagogue once, during my RCIA days, and it was so incredibly interesting. I love seeing other religions (for the most part) and comparing and researching. It's neat to see someone open to our faith in that way.

    I agree with Leila, a Sunday mass would be much different.

  4. 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 (?)."

    I'm wondering if this could be addressed. I share Gwen's confusion only because I can understand how the disciples (12 of them) and apostles could be confusing. I know there were twelve disciples, but apostles I am not as to how many of them there were and the differences between the disciples and apostles. I confess I do not know my Bible well enough to even attempt to explain this to Gwen.

    Maybe this is a question better suited for one of you catechism posts, Leila, but what is the difference between the disciples and apostles?

  5. BTW, Gwen, I also have to throw in my happiness that you have done something so open that must have been maybe a little intimidating. I know that regardless of our differences in opinions, we all have a lot of respect for you in what you have done.

  6. What was your overall reaction Miss Gwen? What did you take away?

    Thanks for sharing!

  7. I've been a visitor to that church, but not for Mass. I've attended Mass at other churches in Albuquerque.

    Wow. Gwen, am impressed you went to Mass to check it out and that you went so very early in the morning.

    What caught my attention was that the you wrote that the Apostles' Creed was said after communion. It's usually said after the homily. Maybe I misunderstood what you meant.

    I don't know the difference between a disciple and an apostle.

  8. Miss Gwen,

    I grew up in Albuquerque, and am familiar with that church. I don't live there now (obviously, look at my name), but if you have any questions about other parishes, I am willing to talk to you. Just send me an email.

  9. Yeah, that's interesting about the creed being said after communion. I wonder why that was?

    I think it's great that you went Gwen! I agree that a Sunday mass would be interesting for you to observe as well.

    I, too, am interested in what you thought of the mass?

  10. Are there supposed to be comments under "So What do I think?" IF so, they aren't showing up for me...and of course, that'd be the best part of this post!

    Still, Gwen, glad you went. :)

  11. That is impressive that you chose to go by yourself to a Catholic Mass!! My maid-of-honor was not religious and I brought her to a Catholic Mass so she knew what would happen during our wedding ceremony. The Mass is so full of tradition and meaning that most Catholics don't understand every little thing from top to bottom - we just get most of it! Our priest offered a teaching mass a few years ago to help us understand it fully. I do recommend a Sunday hour-long Mass service as well. The daily Mass is shortened and some things happen so fast we almost miss them!!

    One thing I know is that when I brought my friend to Mass, it challenged me to be able to explain my faith out loud and I loved it! I'm betting a lot of us Catholics learn more about the meaning behind the Mass because YOU chose to go! And that's awesome.

    Also - I laughed out loud when you said "glad to know there's no wasting wine" :) Hilarious!!

  12. Oh my gosh, Complicated Life, thanks for pointing that out! A whole section (the conclusion) was missing!! I am so sorry!

    To further comment: I don't know why the Apostle's Creed was said at all during a daily mass, by the way. It's not part of daily mass, right?

    And, here is my simple way of explaining the difference between an Apostle and a disciple: A disciple is a follower of Jesus (I think the root is "student"). We Christians are all His disciples, learning from and following our master.

    An apostle is an authoritative leader of the Church. It started with the Twelve, and then of course Paul was privileged enough to have that title as well. The Bishops of our Church are the successors to the Apostles. Each one can trace back his office to the first Apostles, unbroken. The "Apostolic office" continues today. In fact, the hands laid on our bishops to consecrate him go back in an unbroken line to the time of Jesus. So thrilling to know that there is a physical connection to Jesus that way: He laid hands on the Apostles to consecrate them, then they laid hands on their successors, etc., all throughout history till the present day. I thought of that linear, physical truth when I shook my bishop's hand the other day. Powerful!

  13. Ah, I see the ending now! I appreciate your honesty Miss Gwen. I admire you for being dedicated to your values and beliefs.

    I will say that one does not have to be politically aligned at all to be Catholic. For me, I am Catholic first and foremost. Those are my beliefs, not the "right" or the "left" politically. I would say that I don't necessarily subscribe to either the right or left fully. But I do fully subscribe to the Church. My morals and faith shape my political ideologies, although they aren't fully supported by either side.

    Does that make sense?

  14. In other words, I'm not Catholic because I'm politically conservative. I'm conservative BECAUSE I'm Catholic. It shapes everything I think and say and do. But I CHOOSE it; I don't say and think and do those things because I'm Catholic, or because the Pope says so, or because I was brought up Catholic. It's truly what I believe. I'm making this more confusing, aren't I?! I'll stop now :)

  15. Yes, I didn't see the "take-away" portion either. Miss. Gwen, The Church is A-political, so if politics ARE your religion, then it's a bad fit of course.

  16. Awesome, Gwen!

    "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 ; )"

    This dates back all the way to the Jewish Passover. They had to eat the lamb and anything left over they had to burn (?) I believe. I'm not as knowledgable on this as I should be, but since the wine has been changed and has present the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus the priest must make sure nothing is left over or wasted. In John 6 of the New Testament, during the feeding of the 5000, Jesus says the following and this has great meaning for us in the mass:
    When they were filled, He said to His disciples, "Gather up the leftover fragments so that nothing will be lost." John 6:12

    The feeding of the 5000 was a prefigurement of the Eucharist, and then he goes into his infamous, Bread of Life discourse in which he instructs everyone that we must eat his body and drink his blood in order to have eternal life. :)

    Leila could do an entire post on this alone but that's the gist of why the priest doesn't waste any wine ;)

    (And I'm a big proponent of not wasting wine, btw)

  17. Glad to hear you attended Mass. Just a few comments:

    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 ; )

    That's sacred blood at that point, not wine. It must be consumed entirely. There is no pouring it down the sink.

    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'd rather eat glass than be aligned with any political party as they are now. I am not Conservative and I'm Catholic/Christian.

    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 Catholic Encyclopedia defines "apostle" as "one who is sent forth, dispatched—in other words, who is entrusted with a mission, rather, a foreign mission. It has, however, a stronger sense than the word messenger and means as much as a delegate."

    St. Paul was clearly sent forth by Jesus, entrusted with a mission. In our Lord’s own words, Paul became "a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel" (Acts 9:15).

    Paul refers to himself as an apostle many times in the New Testament, and he even defends his apostleship in his first epistle to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 9:1–2).

  18. Just to add to the point that the Precious Blood of Christ is never "wasted"…

    The priest makes sure that every single crumb of Christ's Body (the Host) is not dropped or lost (and either consumed or placed back in the Tabernacle), and as has been mentioned, every bit of the Precious Blood is consumed. So careful is the Church that even in the cleaning of the sacred vessels (chalice, ciborium), the water used to rinse them are not part of a regular sink, but rather the water is washed down a special sink (it has a name, don't know it) which has a direct line to the earth. Any residual of the Body or Blood, therefore, no matter how scant, is returned straight to the earth.

    If a Host is dropped during Communion, or Blood is spilled, there are specified ways of cleaning and restoring that situation. There used to be patens held under the chins of recipients, in order to protect against a dropped Host. And one must consume the Host right at the altar, not take it back to one's seat, etc. There have been horrible people (P.Z. Myers, etc.) who have illicitly done just that in order to desecrate the Sacred Host. Very evil.

    The only laymen who can take the Host away from the altar are those who are authorized take Communion to the homebound and hospitalized. They use a vessel called a pyx to transport the Hosts.

  19. Since we're talking about Paul, let me throw something out there for you, Gwen. What do you think about this guy? Have you thought about him much or read any of his writings? I was reading 1 and 2 Corinthians last night and all the sudden it struck me what a miracle it was, the words this guy was writing...his entire life completely transformed and dedicated to something he used to persecute and hate. How could this happen, if something miraculous hadn't first taken place? Before he wrote the letters that would later be compiled as part of the Word of God, before he was martyred for his faith, he persecuted Christians...he did not believe until the Road to Damascus, where he says Christ appeared. Then he ended up dying for preaching the gospel. (they all did, but St. Paul amazes me the most since it was such a remarkable transformation.)

    "Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain.
    For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also. For I am the least of the apostles, and not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed. 1 Corinthians 15:1-11

    That's just a tiny snippet of one of his many, many letters to the early Christians...but do you find anything significant in his transformation from Christian hater to Christian leader? These kind of transformations still happen today, all the time, of course, but still...Leila posted John C. Wright's conversion story the other day, which certainly has some similarities. Have you read that, Gwen? http://johncwright.livejournal.com/422830.html

  20. Yep, Leila, you're technically right. Thanks for explaining it more clearly. There is the sacrarium for left over wine. My comment/point was that it's not mere wine and therefore treated with utmost respect to be consumed, and if any is left over, it is properly disposed of.

  21. "I'd rather eat glass than be aligned with any political party as they are now. I am not Conservative and I'm Catholic/Christian."

    Agreed, Nubby. Catholics are, in a way, politically homeless. Abortion is a non-negotiable which, in the current two-party system, makes only one of the parties acceptable. But I'm not pleased with the Republican party's entire platform.

  22. Thanks for sharing your experience!

    I tend to not identify really with the left or the right politically - I am first and foremost Catholic, and then those beliefs and values affect my political ideologies - which are sometimes very liberal and sometimes very conservative. It's all relative, when it comes down to it, really.

    I hope you keep exploring, and maybe reflect some more in your sacred space! (By the way, we believe that God is everywhere, even on your patio! I love going on retreats where I can just sit out and take in the beauty of nature while reflecting on Truth.)

  23. Well put, Manda. Of course, personally, I do lean conservative but that has so many meanings nowadays, it's not clear for me to label myself as such.

    I guess I'll leave it at: I vote Catholic.

  24. Nubby, we are of one accord, and I totally got that! :)

    And I agree with you and the others that I am not a "happy" Republican. Especially as they are seeming to get a little lax on the social issues themselves. Obviously, how we treat illegal immigrants (and I am on a border state, believe me, I know the problems) is an important issue to me as a Catholic, as is the death penalty. But so long as I can vote for a candidate who does not violate the non-negotiables, I will continue to vote for the Republican, generally.

    There is a mythical creature known as the "pro-life Democrat" running for office. As of now, I am certain that person does not actually exist, although they might appear to exist in the election. But by the time voting comes around, that person disappears, or morphs. My husband has worked in politics for almost thirty years (beginning as a pro-choice Democrat). He has told me for years that all the "pro-life" Democrats don't actually vote that way, although they claim the label. I have noticed in the last few years that he is exactly right.

    So, I remain a registered Republican, and I vote pro-life, pro-marriage, anti-embryonic stem cell research, parents are primary educators of their children, etc. The non-negotiables.

  25. I vote pro-life, pro-marriage, anti-embryonic stem cell research, parents are primary educators of their children, etc. The non-negotiables.

    Ditto that, sister!

  26. If you're a pro-life democrat, how pro-life can you be?

  27. Whoa, there's a lot of comments to respond to here. I have to admit I typed this up after going to Mass so I could be wrong in my memory as to when exactly we said the apostle's creed (er, it goes "Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name..." right?).

    Thanks for the explanation regarding Paul as an apostle. I share the same name as Paul before his conversion so perhaps it was appropriate to hear a reading about him that day.

    Thanks also for the explanation of why/how the wine actually becomes sacred blood during Mass. And I did wonder what the "paten" was so nice to know that has a term.

    Those of you who know this area and want to suggest another church to visit, I'm open to suggestions. I don't forsee becoming Catholic anytime soon but it's certainly interesting to participate as an observer. It does remind me a little of the few times I've gone to synagogue and/or attended Jewish holiday celebration/observances.


  28. Gwen, mystery solved! That was the "Our Father" also know as the "Lord's Prayer".

  29. And, I like that you share Paul's pre-conversion name. ;)

  30. Gwen, I always highly recommend the Easter Vigil mass (the mass said on the Saturday evening prior to Easter Sunday). It's usually several hours long, especially if you go to a big church (e.g., a cathedral or basilica) but it's so gorgeous. It's what made me, as a Protestant, realize the beauty and dignity of the Mass.

  31. Nubby-I guess there's the rub: my morals are not aligned with the Church nor are my non-negotiables. Thus, I cannot in my own good conscience vote for a candidate who might share some of the Church's moral teachings but at the same time advocates for no taxes for the wealthy, privatized healthcare, no sex-ed in school or only abstinence programs, and no funding for scientific research on climate change.


  32. I share the same name as Paul before his conversion so perhaps it was appropriate to hear a reading about him that day.

    I like it. No, I love it. A believer might say that was a gentle nudge from the holy spirit as we don't believe in mere coincidence.

  33. For anyone, here is why the mass reminded Gwen a bit of the Jewish services:


  34. Gwen, thank you for this reflection and for your comments. I also really appreciate how you write about your thoughts, feelings, beliefs and opinions in a way that is civil and respectful. You never belittle, attack, or berate, I really respect you for that. I appreciate reading about the mass from your perspective!

  35. Yes, Leila, I guess there was a part missing to Gwen's post! I wondered why it ended so abruptly.

    I already said my little peice, but I must echo Hebrew 11:1--though you don't agree with the Church and have very different opinions, we appreciate how you didn't belittle or make fun of parts of the Mass that you may have not understood. So many people do this--including Catholics who are not "with" the Church! (Usually these are the Catholics who attend church only on Christmas and Easter.) It's so much easier to be open to each others point of views (even if we don't always agree) when we don't belittle and attack each other.

    Hope you will be able to attend another Mass again--you may find yourself learning a lot, even if you still don't want to be Catholic!

  36. As the liturgy coordinator at my parish, I am in love with these comments! Good for you, Miss Gwen, for going to a Catholic Mass and having that experience. That can be quite overwhelming for those not familiar with why Catholics do what they do at Mass! And good for those that knew what a sacrarium is, that the wine is actually Precious Blood, and that the ciboria/chalice/paten need to be purified because if it holds even the smallest particle visible then it holds all of Christ; Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity. This is why the priest takes such care in purifying the vessels!

    Might I recommend the book, "A Biblical Walk Through The Mass" by Edward Sri. It is a well written, and a quick read, to help understand what we say and do in the liturgy, and he explains the upcoming changes beginning in Advent. Why we make the sign of the cross, whey we stand/sit/kneel when we do, etc. etc.. Once we see and understand the biblical thread in the Mass, it makes it a lot easier to pay attention and be in full and active participation!

  37. My Heart Exults,

    You are so right. I was always soooo bored in mass and dreaded going growing up. My poor parents had to literally drag 8 kids to mass on Sundays, and I think I'm the only one who now attends regularly :(, But when I began to research the history of the Church, the Jewish roots, what different things mean, and why and when we say and do certain gestures/positions, the mass lit up for me. On the rare occasion I get to go without my small children, I usually end up moved to tears by everything happening around me. I am going to get that book, is it suitable for kids/tweens?

  38. Manda, to get back to you about Paul: no, I haven't read much about Paul. I'm more familiar with him through art history (i.e., "the conversion of Saint Paul" by Caravaggio). I was reminded of him though not too long ago by my dentist who I believe may be Catholic and decided to give me a condensed version of Paul and his conversion while giving me a filling (I was a captive audience to say the least).

    Perhaps I will get around to reading more on him one of these days.


  39. Manda - The book is very easy to read, but kids and tweens might still need some help. I loved it from the beginning in explaining making the sign of the cross. Invoking God's Holy Name, reminding us of Ezekiel and how certain people, those faithful to God, had a mysterious mark on their foreheads, the mark of the Hebrew letter tahv, which had the shape fo an X or cross, that set them apart from the rest of the corrupt culture. Oh, it is such a good book! Get it! Your kids will love it with your help :)

  40. Another REALLY good book on the Biblical roots of the Mass is "The Lamb's Supper" by Dr. Scott Hahn. Also, I've heard good things about "The Jewish Roots of the Eucharist" by Dr. Brant Pitre.

  41. Gwen, that is so funny about your dentist. Forced evangelization! And you couldn't even reply because your mouth was wide open. If I were a dentist, I would use that tactic on Protestants. ;)

  42. I was reminded of him though not too long ago by my dentist who I believe may be Catholic and decided to give me a condensed version of Paul and his conversion while giving me a filling (I was a captive audience to say the least).

    Actual graces are being poured out on you, gwen. I know you perhaps don't agree, or don't see it that way. But these gentle presentations of information are coming to you from the loving heart of Christ Jesus. Calling, inviting ... I encourage you to research St. Paul, as Manda has suggested.

  43. Gwen,

    As far as recommendations, I would recommend St. Thomas Aquinas in Rio Rancho. They are the most active parish in the entire Archdiocese. The two Sunday services I would recommend are:
    * High Mass (9 am I think)
    * Life Teen Mass (5 pm I think)

    The High Mass isn't, or at least wasn't when I was still living there, in Latin. But it will show you all the bells and smells that is the history of the Catholic Church Mass.

    The Life Teen Mass, on the other hand, is very lively and active ... but the sense of the sacred is still there.

    Should you choose to go, let me know. Sometimes these threads are too long, so email is best.

  44. Gwen, that's hilarious about your dentist! I love it! I wonder if you go to my dentist...

  45. Yup, the Jewish service I attended reminded me of mass too and I always thought that was powerful in seeing the way the church was formed.

  46. I'd like to throw out a little challenge to miss Gwen.

    I absolutely agree that we all need "individual" sacred places and rituals. Your delight "in sitting on the patio by the apricot tree drinking coffee spiced with cardamom" sounds wonderful. I feel close to God when I hike in the mountains or take my young kids fishing.

    However, there is something else human beings crave--community. Getting spiritual refreshment in a public sacred space is something else entirely. Hanging out with the babies crying, and the old folks blowing their noses--praying all together in our humble differences and our deep similarities, that is something other-worldly. That is belonging to the "human family." That is an experience you can never have in your own back-yard, no matter how "inclusive" you are in your party invite list!

    September 28, 2011 12:34 PM

  47. Abigail, I like that challenge!

    And just another thought: The Mass has both vertical and horizontal elements. We focus our mind and hearts vertically up to God and to the altar (where the living Sacrifice is taking place... another thing you cannot get out in your backyard), and also we are unified with those of our brother and sisters (from every walk of life, every class, every race) whom we come to worship alongside. Horizontal aspect.

    One of the greatest things about practicing Catholics, faithful to the Magisterium, is that you see friendships -- true, close, beautiful friendships -- between millionaires and those who are quite poor. I've seen it in my own "Bubble" of Catholic friends. There are the uber rich and there are the very poor, and I promise you, the bonds are tight and real. No class warfare, no envy, no condescension. We are all equal in God's eyes, all members of the Body of Christ, and it's a beautiful thing to witness. I wish the whole world were like that. But then again, if everyone lived in harmony, I guess we'd already be living in Heaven. :)

  48. Chris in Longmont, is the High Mass to which you are referring a Novus Ordo Mass said in Latin, or a Traditional Latin Mass?

    I am asking because it is likely that Gwen and some other readers might not know that there are two valid forms of Mass: 1) the Traditional Latin Mass (aka TLM, aka Tridentine, aka Latin Rite); and 2) Novus Ordo (aka the Roman Rite). The version Gwen attended was a Novus Ordo.

    As far as basic differences, the TLM is said only in Latin, and it was the form of Mass celebrated prior to 1969, when the Novus Ordo (translates to "New Order") became the primary form as a result of the Second Vatican Council. The Novus Ordo Mass is usually said in native tongues (English, Spanish, Italian, etc.), but is occasionally said in Latin. Also, if you were to attend a TLM Mass, you would notice that the style of dress is generally more conservative and modest, and women and girls normally wear a head covering - a veil, a hat or a scarf. Some women at Novus Order Masses wear a head covering, as a few do at my parish, but it's not the norm, whereas it is at a TLM parish. On a more substantive level, the rubrics are different between the two forms, although, again, they are both valid forms of the Mass.

    I agree somewhat with Abigail's comments above about the sense of community. Anyone joining a a religious community should enjoy the experience of a common bond of faith and I daresay most likely do. However, religious communities, be they Christian or not, are no different from other communities in such things as cliques, power plays, and other politics. I've seen it in the parish where I grew up (including recent, awful behavior - vicious, concerted attacks against a new pastor for doing some things that had to be done) and in my local parish, hundreds of miles away. Being part of a parish community isn't always "Kumbaya" and holding hands; you might well see human behvior that will make you question your faith. I stay on the fringes of involvement where people know me enough that I do feel like part of the community, but I'm not involved enough to get caught up in the politics.

    Thanks, Gwen, for your willingness to experience a Mass and for sharing your thoughts.

  49. Girl from New York, thank you for that! You are right, of course, about the parish politics and normal human behavior. It has gotten dicey many times in my parish, too. That's where God gives us the opportunity to practice detachment, prudence, silence, courage, forgiveness, mercy, humility, etc., ha ha! I've had to back away from things before, too, as well as apologize for my own blunderous ways!

    Great comment.

  50. I wish the whole world were like that. But then again, if everyone lived in harmony, I guess we'd already be living in Heaven. :)

    Hear, hear. Grandma used to say, "It takes all kinds to make a world."

    To the point about parish involvement: There are various kinds of ministries available at most parishes, some of the less intimidating for those of the shy persuasion are helping out on the hospitality ministry (bring a dish to funeral luncheons, drop it off, nothing else required) to a women's bible study (where even the quietest people will benefit, if not from the study itself, than just being in a circle of other women willing to learn and share more about their own faith walk, no matter how close or how far from God they believe themselves to be).

    I believe, and have experienced, that at the parish level, there is something for everyone where we can be a source of encouragement to others, and also be encouraged in the presence of others, no matter the parish politics or power grabbing. People are people, we can't expect perfection...yet.

  51. The Girl from New York

    When I was attending that parish (almost 4 years ago) the Mass was said in English ... but there were many parts said or sung in Latin. So, it would have been a Novus Ordo Mass.

    Side note ... shortly before I left, the parish was offering classes in Latin, so that they could begin to offer a fully Latin mass. Don't know if they are now doing the Traditional Latin Mass or a high version of the Novus Ordo ... but I am sure that they are doing wonderful work over there.

    Side note #2 ... I live outside Boulder, CO. The University of Colorado (Boulder) is offering a candle mass (no electricity) at 9 PM which is again the Novus Ordo but mostly in Latin ... and it is one of the most beautiful and holy experiences that my wife and I have experienced ... ever. My wife was almost in tears at how wonderful and beautiful it was. So, if anyone lives out here ... go check it out. But you might want to arrive early, as they quickly fill up.

  52. Good for you, Miss Gwen! I am very impressed that you paid such close attention to the homily! The priest would be thrilled - he must wonder sometimes if anyone is listening. :) Although weekday Mass goers tend to be a bit more focused than those on Sunday. Or maybe I should speak for myself.... I think Sunday Mass is longer so I tend to lose my focus, no matter how hard I try not to!

    Anyhow... maybe some day you'll go to Mass with the eyes of faith. It all looks a lot different that way. Thanks for sharing your experience!

  53. Kudos, Gwen! We look forward to sharing our faith with you! ;)

  54. Gwen - so great to read your feedback!! I am glad you had the opportunity to go. A couple thoughts that came to mind as I was reading:

    1. The average age of the crowd may have been higher due to it being a week day Mass. As a working woman, I often cannot get to daily Mass (or it's a rush). A lot depends on your weekly schedule, how close you live to your parish, etc. Then again, some parishes just really skew younger whereas others skew older. About 15 years ago, our parish consisted almost exclusively of elderly. Now, there are way more children than adults and the average age is quite young. The Sunday high Mass (like others said) would be an interesting experience.

    2. So neat they used Latin! Couldn't tell what form it was, but our Novus Ordo parish incorporates a lot of Latin and it's beautiful.

    3. I have to agree with previous posters that the community aspect is a double edged sword haha. It's one of the greatest blessings and also can be one of the biggest challenges. Sometimes, I totally get why some Saints were HERMITS! Lol. We're flawed, there is TONS of diversity (trust me! We may all sound similar here, but the Catholic faith encompasses - and allows for - a lot of diversity), and yeah, people can just make you crazy sometimes. :) We believe God uses relationships and community - pleasant or not - to help us grow in holiness.

    4. Speaking of diversity, I attended an Eastern Rite liturgy a few years ago (as in still Catholic - not split off - but Eastern Rite), and it was a veeery different experience than the Latin rite. I think it's easy in the West to forget that there's another half to the Church. Your re-telling reminded me of my that experience of experiencing a liturgy for the first time.

  55. The following is to Miss Gwen from Barbara, who cannot get the darn thing to post!

    Hi Gwen

    I meant to post a response to this to you yesterday but the wifi on the
    ferry decided not to work. Hopefully the baby will stay asleep long
    enough for me to write. It's funny but your experience reminded me of
    some of the different masses I went to in Latin America and in Los Angeles both before and during my conversion. When I was in Argentina I was staying a few blocks from the Plaza de Mayo in Rosario (a lot of cities in Argentina have a place called "Plaza de Mayo", not just Buenos Aires) And I was a few blocks from a beautiful Cathedral where I attended mass almost every day (this was very soon after my conversion) Latin American churches are suffused with artwork --gold, marble, wood, paintings, carvings, everything it's almost too much to absorb. Even though Argentina is much more secular than some other countries in the region, the churches are such reverent spaces, so beautiful to look at and to stand in. More modern churches just don't compare.

    You know, your comment about not wanting to give up your leftist ideals
    makes sense. I said that too, many times. My beliefs changed over time
    in stages. First I came to believe in the Who of the Church, than the
    what. I had some powerful experiences where I was touched by God's
    presence. Once I recognized, through personal experience, that Christ is
    exactly Who Catholicism says He is and that He is Present (both in the
    church and the Church) then I became willing to examine Catholic teachings without prejudice.

    The most important discovery I made was that the left didn't have a
    monopoly on compassion. They weren't, as I used to believe, the only ones who act out of love and good faith while those on the "other" side only acted out of interest, greed, corruption or a desire to control others or make people miserable. The more Church teaching I read, the more I could see that the Church was compassionate, that it recognized the same social and human problems that feminism, that socialism and that other leftist branches did, and that its moral code was designed to mitigate those problems. It's teaching on sexuality -- that always seems to be the stickler for lefties or at least it was for me--, was compassionate! It was trying to honor the new life that is created as a product of sexual intercourse, and trying to protect those men and women, who in that union, become incredibly vulnerable.

    The incredible thing was that the Church had the same ideals I did, but
    its perspective on them was different. It was taking the
    two-millenia-long view, I was taking the utilitarian one-generation view:
    What will make people happy now? what will ease their suffering now? what will allow them to live most freely now? What works now, however, is not going to work in the future. Most utilitarian solutions have short
    half-life. Birth control may seem all well and good for allowing people
    to regulate family size now and resolve some of the economic and emotional stress of too many children, but what is a society in which every woman of childbearing age is on hormonal birth-control going to look like in 30, 50, 100 years? How is it going to effect sexual relations in general, sexual ethics, the environment, population growth etc. The Church asks these questions, no one else will.

    Anyway that's just one example. I really now think that the Church is
    right on matters of sex. Catholicism has relatively few prohibitions.
    It's not puritan in any way. It doesn't tell you if you should drink or
    what type of clothing to wear, or how many kids to have, or whether to
    work. It leaves a lot of room for people to do what they're called to do.
    But, when a 2000 year old woman says "no" to something, I am willing to
    bet she has a very good reason.


  56. Chris in Longmont, thanks for the clarification and information! I'd love to attend the candle Mass, but I'm too far away.

  57. I want to add my voice to the chorus and say that I'm thrilled you went to Mass and shared the experience with us, Miss Gwen! It takes guts and trust to do something that you're pretty sure you won't entirely understand and might not like. Your openness to learning about the Catholic faith makes me really happy to read about.

    Also, Barbara's comment is totally on target for me. The church having a two-millenia perspective used to be very difficult for me to wrap my head around, but I appreciate it more and more all of the time.


  58. Color me very impressed with Gwen.

    I am a 48 year old father of four who entered the Church at 33. At the time I started investigating Catholicism, I had no preconceived notions and very little (like Gwen, I could count them on one hand) experience in churches.

    Unlike Gwen (I assume) I was *very* politically conservative. I was weaned on Bill Buckley's Firing Line and National Review. I had been a volunteer for Reagan, and every other conservative Republican candidate and office holder.

    When people leaned I was a convert, they often asked "Convert from what?" My answer: "I am a convert from my old faith, the Republican Party."

    I'm still conservative in most senses on most issues. But I've since learned that politics is only ephemeral -- the Good, the True and the Beautiful (Jesus Christ and His Church) are eternal. The Republican Party will one day cease to exist (please!) but He and His Church will last until the end of time.

    Since becoming Catholic, I've become devoted to the poor and the marginalized. I am a (very weak) follower of St. Francis of Assisi -- who was famous for his love of the poor and the sick. I have built my professional life on service to the poor (I am an attorney). I do all of this because I love Christ more than I love a political party.

    Just my thoughts and reactions which may be helpful for

  59. "Thus, I cannot in my own good conscience vote for a candidate who might share some of the Church's moral teachings but at the same time advocates for no taxes for the wealthy, privatized healthcare, no sex-ed in school or only abstinence programs, and no funding for scientific research on climate change."

    Except for the sexual education part, there is NO reason why a Catholic should not support taxing the wealthy, sharing the burden of healthcare, or funding for scientific research, To the contrary! I warmly recommend reading about the Church's actual social teaching, something ignored often by those who are Republicans (or Democrats) first, and only then Catholics.

    And the summarizing document - compendium - of what the Church actually teaches is here:

    Republican, Democrat - it just doesn't fit it.

  60. eln, thanks! I mean this only as a timesaver, but could you point me to the parts of the site which speak of the Catholic principle of subsidiarity? It's something I am very interested in and which doesn't get talked about much when discussing the issues of prudential judgment (as opposed to the non-negotiables). Thanks!

  61. Miss G if you are still following this, I would love to connect with you on Facebook. Send me an email if you are interested (maizeke@gmail.com)



PLEASE, when commenting, do not hit "reply" (which is the thread option). Instead, please put your comment at the bottom of the others.

To ensure that you don't miss any comments, click the "subscribe by email" link, above. If you do not subscribe and a post exceeds 200 comments, you must hit "load more" to get to the rest.