December 17, 2007

mary After spending the last two Saturdays attending St. Anne Catholic Community, I can honestly say I’ve finally found a place where I can truly worship God with a sense of awe and purity I have not been able to experience for a long, long time. Being a Catholic church, it has a large number of people attending a large building for Mass, and, initially, I’ll admit to being intimidated by it all. But slowly, I’ve come to appreciate the “largeness” of the assembly, for it affords me the opportunity to simply “be present” and enjoy the anonymity of being just one Episcopalian in a sea of Roman Catholics, if you know what I mean.

Primarily, it means not having all the baggage and history of my various Episcopal church experiences encroaching on my thoughts and soul during the service and thus polluting the experience. I can, for once, attend church for the enjoyment of it and simply worship God as one of His wounded, hungry, and thirsty children, rather than as a communicant of a particular denomination in the midst of all sorts of chaos. The stability of it all is refreshing, and the difference feels striking.

While it is difficult, I suppose, to not be able to totally immerse one’s self and participate in the Mass by receiving the Lord’s Body and Blood at this point in my own spiritual journey, it seems far more important right now to have a place where my restless and battered soul can find a calm and soothing place for simply experiencing and feeling God’s love and healing grace and presence.

But that’s not the whole story. Being particularly attuned to liturgical practice and interested in the way various religious worship traditions are arranged, there are also a number of things that make attending St. Anne particularly enjoyable. For example:

* I like having the opportunity to bless one’s self with holy water upon entering the church. This creates a “separation” of one’s sinful self from the outside world and helps prepare you mentally for the holy ritual and tradition that will shortly take place.

* I like the tradition of having people greeting one another before Mass begins. It reinforces the feeling of community and creates a sense of intimacy in the midst of a large gathering.

* I like the amount of touching that takes place during Mass. You have everyone greeting one another before the service begins, the congregation holds hands during the Lord’s Prayer, then the greeting during the Peace prior to the Eucharist.

* I like the various invocations of the Saints throughout worship. One small example: yesterday a Cub Scout received some religious medal for his work in attaining his Cub Scout badge, and the congregation was reminded that St. George is the patron saint of Scouting (who knew?) by the prayer made to him during the rewarding of the medal to the young man. The saints have always been important to me theologically, and this feeds that part of me.

* I like the soft scent of incense pumped through the Church’s ventilator system at various points during the Mass. For one thing, it’s more practical (the church being far too large to accommodate a procession through the entire congregation), but it feeds one of the senses and gives the proceedings a more intimate and monastic feel.

* I like how well the music is done. Some of it can occasionally be a little too modern for my taste, but one cannot argue the fact that music performed and sung exceedingly well glorifies God, no matter what form it takes.

* I like having the opportunity to bless one’s self again with holy water upon leaving the church. This seems to me an especially important ministry of the RC church, for it enables someone who cannot receive the Eucharist as a Roman Catholic to still feel and experience a blessing prior to one re-entering the outside world.

* I like the fact that the weekly bulletin is handed out as people leave the church, not as they arrive. Not only does this provide people something to read when they return home (therefore taking something from the Mass home with them), but it also sets the appropriate tone prior to worship: people can mediate or just relax, allowing the soft Gregorian chant being played to wash over them. The emphasis, then, is totally on preparing the individual for worship. As it should be.

I’ve always felt that in attending church, the focus should always be on worshipping God, and worshipping God alone. It should NOT be a social gathering, it should NOT be a stage for the priest or pastor to impose their own views and need for command and control on the congregation, and, more than anything else, it should be done well. Does this mean this Ango-Catholic is ready to “cross the Tiber”? Not just yet. But I will say this – the St. Anne Catholic Community appears to do well on all counts, and why (at least for now) I consider it my “home away from home” parish.

Filed in: Religion & Culture by The Great White Shank at 01:28 | Comments Off on The Tiber Waters Calm
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