Not Quite Catholic. . .
I have never attended a Catholic Mass, and I was interested to see how it differs from an Anglican service. On Sunday, I persuaded my mother to come with me, and we set off for the 5pm Mass.
The church building was a nice little church, painted white, with no obvious front door to enter, but my mother, who knows these things, took me to a door at the side, and we walked in. There was a foyer, with glass doors into the main church, and we could see a smattering of people (about 8) who were seated, not in the pews, but in a semi-circle around the altar. They looked at us.
Mum gave me a couple of service sheets (I don’t know how she knew which ones we needed, but it turned out she was correct) and we walked, down the aisle, to the front. It was a very long aisle, and I had dressed smartly, in a skirt and boots, and the boots had heels which made a very loud noise on the wooden-floored aisle. We walked, noisily, to the front, while everyone sitting near the altar watched us. I expect my face was red.
There were some empty chairs, and we sat, and looked around. The other people were now looking down, in a prayerful posture, so I copied.
A bell rang, and the priest entered from a side door, dressed in robes, dark-skinned (everyone else was white) and with a friendly face. There was organ music playing, which he controlled from his phone. He faced a statue of Mary, and made the sign of the cross (which interested me, because I’ve always assumed people did that facing the crucifix in the front of the church, but he definitely turned to face the statue). He then leant down and kissed the white cloth on the altar, turned down the music, and the service began.
There was an order of service sheet, but they didn’t seem to follow it entirely, and it was quite difficult to keep up with the liturgy because they spoke very fast. I joined in where I could, but mostly just listened. It all seemed to be almost identical to the words spoken in Anglican churches. At one point, people ‘shared the peace,’ and went around shaking hands and saying: ‘The peace of God be with you.’ We joined in with that. There was a prayer to Mary, but it was very fast, and I couldn’t understand the words enough to hear whether it was something I would want to join in with or not. (I had decided that unless something felt actually ‘wrong’ to me, I would join in. A little like: I don’t think women need to cover their head when praying, but if that is what people in the church believed, I would do it, because covering your head is not ‘wrong’ it is just, in my view, unnecessary. If I want to connect with people, I might need to partake of some rituals that I feel are unnecessary, so that I don’t offend anyone, and so it is easier for them to accept me.)
There was a collection, but I was prepared, and had remembered to put some coins into my bag (how much should one put into the collection in a strange church? I give money regularly as a tithe, so that’s not the issue, the money put into a collection in a strange church is sort of for the other people, to show support—so it has to be more than pennies, but when you’ve already given your main tithe to God, you don’t really want to give notes! I don’t, anyway.) I’m pretty sure that one person didn’t put in anything, and just put a closed hand over the basket and then rattled the money in there to make it look as though they had added something! But I can’t be sure.
There was a short sermon/talk. During this, a young family arrived, and sat in the front pew. I then worried that perhaps only the leadership were sitting around the altar, and they were all wondering why we had joined them! The priest greeted the family, who he clearly knew, and spoke a few words directly to the children.
After the sermon was communion. The priest and another man, did various things—washing fingers in a glass pot of water, drying them on a laced cloth, going to a small locked cabinet and removing other items—and then people filed up, and received communion. Mum had told me that we shouldn’t take communion, as only Catholics are meant to, so we sat and watched. Some people stood with their arms folded across their chest, and they received a blessing rather than the elements, so maybe we could have done that—I don’t know.
I thought we were nearly finished, and although I had lots of questions, we seemed to have survived. . . and then there was another collection! This felt unfair, as if despite our best efforts at integration, we had fallen at the last hurdle. I didn’t have any more money, so we had to just shake our heads when the basket arrived, feeling that out Protestant ineptitude was shining out for all to see.
The service finished, the priest disappeared into the side room in a swirl of robes, and everyone sat down. People started to leave. I had lots of questions, and wanted to make contact with someone, so we sat for a while, trying to look smiley and approachable. No one approached, or looked at us. Perhaps chatting is not a thing in Catholic churches? Baptists are generally very chatty, but perhaps after Mass people leave in reverent silence? Or perhaps we had done something wrong, and they were politely declining to tell us—should we have done the making a sign of the cross thing to the statue of Mary, and was it offensive that we hadn’t? I don’t know, because no one was available to ask. We left, my heels clonking back up the aisle.
As a first experience, it probably left me with more questions than answers. I think I might try to email the priest before I go next time, just to check that nothing I do, or don’t do, is tactless. And I will definitely wear quieter shoes.
Thanks for reading. Have a good day, and take care.
Love, Anne x
A detailed account of local Catholic church