My First Visit to a Catholic Church
I got a great opportunity when my friend asked me if I would go with her to church. I already knew she was Catholic, so I figured this would be great to see how other churches work. So, I accepted and met with her on Sunday. Of course, the first thing I noticed was the building. Very different from the Baptist church I am used to. This Catholic Church is in an extremely modern, six-sided building. As one enters the building, their “holy water” fountain is a three-piece modernistic piece where the water flows from three squarish structures into one slightly rectangular pool – all made from granite, far as I could tell. There was a flat-screen TV on the wall in the lobby listing the names of church members who were sick and asking the church members to pray for these people. There were receptacles of “holy” water by the doors as one entered or exited – my Catholic friend used some of it to make the sign of the cross on herself, if I remember correctly. When one enters the main assembly area, one is supposed to maintain a respectful silence. The interior of the church maintained the six-sided setup, with all six sides sweeping upwards to a central point about 40+ feet over our heads; and the entire ceiling was paneled with wood. I think it was knotty pine, but whatever it was, it was beautiful. There were modernistic stained-glass windows on the far ends of the stage, upon which were placed a simple rectangular altar, a small square table behind the altar with an icon of Jesus upon it, and a wooden podium which was used later during the service for bible readings. There were two “special” chairs upon the stage, with one in particular specially decorated, in which the priest sat between his parts during the sermon/Mass. Then there were several cloth-and-wooden chairs set behind the altar and the icon of Jesus.
There was an overwhelming bronze sculpture of Jesus dying on the cross, on the wall central between the altar and the “orchestra” area, and two other sculptures which appeared to be plaster. Full-sized sculptures, one of Mary in a pose of benediction and another of Jesus shepherding a small child. Both were painted somewhat realistically, being predominantly white with lots of gilt paint on their robes. Towards the back of the seating areas, the wooden pews were set into the floor in a descending fashion, allowing everyone a clear view of the stage/altar – anyway, towards the back of the pews, there were chairs set up for the elderly and infirm, and several people in wheelchairs were seated in that area. Despite the request for respectful silence, there was a soft murmuring from the crowd until the mass/service started. About 5 minutes before it started, two “movie” screens descended discretely from the ceiling area, and a slide show made announcements regarding Lent, Stations of the Cross, a rummage sale or two, and donations for the Catholic relief effort going on in Japan.
At the beginning of the actual service/mass, a young man carried a golden pole with another icon of Jesus on the cross up to the stage and placed it into a golden base. Then an opening song was sung, and apparently it was so well known that everyone (except me) knew the words by heart. Then several children (who were dressed in their street clothes underneath; I saw several pairs of tennis/sports shoes, but none of the ones that flash or have rollers on them) carried candles up to the altar and sat down in the wooden chairs after depositing the candles on the altar. Then the priest led the church members in prayer. Then a scripture was read from the wooden podium. Then the priest spoke a bit more, though he didn’t attempt to make any interpretation or explanation of the scripture read, from Exodus, if I remember correctly, about Moses striking the rock with his rod and bringing forth water when the Israelites were complaining of thirst. Then we knelt – and I must say, I do appreciate that the pews had special “kneeling” pads attached to them. Much more comfortable than kneeling on the floor would have been. This pattern was repeated several times – prayers were said, we knelt, or stood, and scripture were read. Something from Romans which I can’t specifically remember right now, and something from the book of John about Jesus at the well and the Samaritan woman. The priest did use this scripture as the basis for a brief, but interesting sermon on the differences and origins of the Samaritans and how Jesus offered life-giving water to her, and how the people of her town responded to Jesus’ preaching.
Another difference I noticed was in the way that the infants and small children were treated. None were dragged outside for a spanking; no yowls of pain echoed through the church. The parents with noisy children – and the noises were generally of happy children, by the way – seemed to just pick them up and hold them or rock them, as far as I could tell, one couple with a small child were seated two rows in front of me, and their response to their child’s noises was different from those I’ve observed among Christians. There was no “guilt” because the child was making noise, no rush to stifle the child; the mother simply picked the child up and soothed it upon her shoulder. When time came to partake of “the Host,” the priest blessed the emblems, partook of the emblems, and then passed the emblems on to a middle-aged blonde woman. She, in turn, placed the wafers on the tongues of about 20 other people. Men, women, youths, and then the others took the emblems from her [there were several bowls of wafers and 20 or so goblets of wine] and passed them out to all other members of the church who wished to partake of them. When the people got up to partake of the emblems, just for fun I counted the number of teenagers in the group. There were over 30 teenagers in the crowd, of which I did a rough count and came up with around 300 people. All in all, it was a very interesting and enlightening experience.