This is a paper I wrote over the summer describing my visit to a Catholic Mass for my MC500 class. Part of the assignment was to make observations and see ways that there are similarities and differences in the way we worship. It was a wonderful experience and eye opening for me as it was my first time visiting a Catholic Mass.
Ethnic Church Immersion Experience: Catholic Church Visit
Coming from a rather ethnic Asian church and having seen various churches on the Protestant side, I decided to go to a much more structured and traditional service by visiting the Catholic Church. In preparing for the Catholic church visit, I started by thinking back at some of the classes I took for church history, systematic theology, and talking to some of my Catholic friends. Some of them told me of their past experiences and jokingly suggested that Catholic Mass is an exercise of standing, sitting and kneeling. In reaching out to one of my Fuller Catholic classmates Kristen, I arranged to visit Catholic Mass the coming Sunday at the Holy Family Church.
I researched the Church website that I would be attending with Kristen and found it filled with information. As a web developer in the past and having seen many websites, I recognized the site being made managed and created using WordPress that is very flexible with media and blogs, which is very suitable for the vast amount of information that they have about their church and traditions. The site contains a significant amount of textual information about mass, the sacraments, and information is very well structured for the purposes of conveying the rich history of the Catholic Church.
Prior to the visit, I was quite nervous and anxious about visiting such a traditional and structured service. While I have been to many other churches, most of the churches were nondenominational or Protestant in general. I did not know what to expect in the service in terms of partaking in the Eucharist, liturgy, dipping in the water and the crossing. I spoke with Kristen and was reassured that there will be nothing out of the ordinary and that I will have a good understanding of the theology behind many of the things they do coming from a Protestant background.
When I arrived on Sunday morning, the church building and overall architecture reminded me of some of the other Cathedrals and Basilicas I visited in Paris that gave a sense of something well established and old. The stained glass and different statues and paintings around the room were all well thought out in why they were in certain places. There were sculptures of Jesus on the way to the cross along each side with the focus that told the story of cross that went towards the crucifix at the front of the room. This was reminiscent of the medieval and reformation church history class I took in that the overall architecture and environment felt something from another time and quite foreign.
As I looked around the room, the demographics of the congregation consists mixture of mostly white and Hispanic with a smaller representation of other races and spanned from small children all the way to the elderly. The emphasis on having the whole family present seems interesting as children sat right next to their parents, which provides insight to the importance of family and communal aspect of Church. The mixture of different races also speaks a lot to the far reaching impact of the Catholic Church and the unity in worship among the people that they have reached over the generations.
The overall worship set consisted mainly of songs from the hymnal book and the passages read included one part from the Old Testament, Psalms, and the New Testament. The reverence and respect for the word is impressive as people stood to their feet as they listened to the scripture. The homily portion of the service connected to the songs that we sang and the passages that were read and seemed contextualized for the people attending despite given by a visiting priest. The unity between the Catholic Church is displayed well here as all the churches goes over the same material every week from the hymnal. The homily is also impressive as it is only around fifteen minutes long and included comparisons and allusions to some of the Protestant reformers as well that speaks perhaps to the ecumenical movement that is being driven. Some of the strengths of the Protestants are pointed out about some of the sermons as well by the Catholic priest. The service leads to the Eucharist, in which the Catholic believers who have received the first Eucharist are allowed to partake. For those who are not a part of the Catholic tradition or are not ready, they can still go up and receive a blessing. While the inclusiveness aspect of communion is something that is nice in some Protestant traditions, the attention to the importance and remembrance of preparing the self for communion is something to consider. The reverence given to the physical communion with Christ and what He accomplishes on the cross that plays such an important role in our relationship with God is striking. The conclusion of the service that calls people to remember this as they go back into the world is definitely striking and encouraging.
This congregation has made tremendous movement since the medieval and reformation periods with the counter-reformation movement and Vatican II council. While there are some doctrines and aspects that I have some trouble with as a Protestant like the veneration of the saints because of my lack of the theological understanding of the concepts, the traditions and history of how unified the church is admirable in an age where there is so much splintering even among the same denominations. As I look at my own nondenominational church, I find it hard to bring all the different parts together in a concise and solid theology that makes sense from top to bottom because of the openness. The careful and well thought combination of liturgy, readings, and homily also contrasts the random and sporadic unity of what my church goes through on their Sunday worship service. After returning to my church following Mass, I found it disorienting with the lack of structure and wished that more respect was given to the rich history. As I reflected on these things, I found myself more appreciative and sympathetic towards the strengths that other high traditions have and the way it has been able to carry the traditions through all these centuries.