Agnostic Humanist In The South

In the name of the father…

I attended my first mass in four years this morning. My friend’s mom died on Sunday, and her funeral was this morning at a local Catholic Church. I actually thought I might be a little confused, it had been so long since I had attended a mass. Catholic masses are incredibly ritualistic. Sit, stand, kneel, pray, sing. Every catholic knows the script as the group all says the same thing and changes positions at the same time. For a novice, or for someone like me who hasn’t been in awhile, it’s easy to find yourself standing while the rest of the church is kneeling. Or you can find yourself moving your mouth to mimic saying the prayer the rest of the church knows by heart and recites in unison. It’s very hard to feel welcome at a Catholic mass unless you know the script. You feel very left out, while everyone around you dances a dance you have never seen before. I thought I would feel like a wallflower, watching the dance from the bleachers. Alone.

I sold myself short. As soon as I genuflected in front of the alter, it all came flooding back. I didn’t grab a hymnal when I came into the church, but when the opening hymn, Be Not Afraid started, I realized I didn’t need it. The hundreds of times I’ve sung the song before had ingrained the tune and words into my head enough that as soon as the opening chords played on the organ, I knew the words and music that would come next.

Be not afraid, I go before you always…

I knew every prayer and every motion like there had not been a break in my mass attendance at all. I knew the words to the Communion Hymn and the Closing Hymn like I had written them myself. I sang strong and loud. It felt as though I had been attending mass every Sunday since childhood. I recited the prayers with the congregation and knew when to sit, stand, and kneel like the church had been my home for years.

And it all felt so natural.

So much so that I even did the quiet motions, the sign of the cross before the gospel on my forehead, lips, and chest. I even said the quiet prayer, “May these words be in my mind, in my words, and in my heart.”

All I needed was a wool plaid jumper and a set of rosary beads and all would have been right in the world.

But then, it came time to receive Communion and I was jolted back to my current reality. I may have grown up in the church, may have been an active member of the church, I may have even served Communion as a Eucharistic Minister to hundreds, but this was not my home today. The Catholic Church teaches that Communion is actually the body and blood of Jesus Christ. Where you might be able to receive Communion at other churches, even if you aren’t part of that faith, it is not so at the Catholic Church. You are not encouraged to receive Communion unless you are a Catholic because if you are not, you probably do not believe that what you are receiving is more than a symbol. Catholics believe that during the blessings, the bread and wine become the flesh and blood of Jesus. It is not a symbol, it is the real deal.

So, obviously a non-believer like me would be insulting those around me to actually receive it. I may know the prayers, sing the songs, and hear the words – but it is nothing more to me than a part in a play I memorized as a child. The stage directions were taught and the script was learned, but I do not actually believe it anymore. I shook myself back to reality and sat back while the masses paraded around me, filing up to the alter to receive nourishment for their soul.

And honestly? I felt a little sad.

I have never regretted growing up in the church. I’m very glad my Dad raised me to go to mass on Sundays. I may not practice now, but I’m glad I did as a child. As a teen. I miss feeling such a part of something that truly felt so big and powerful and beyond me. I miss that feeling that receiving Communion erased the bad and opened up the good. I miss being a part of something so…so…holy.

I’m a jaded sinner now. I no longer want to be a part of it because when the songs end, the congregation clears, and the chalice is cleaned – I realize that to me – it was nothing more than a performance. There is no faith anymore. I don’t believe in their God, or their Savior, their Communion. I miss it, but I don’t long for it. I am satisfied with my life, my beliefs, my blessings.

But it did feel weird for that short time. To feel like I was living that life again. It’s strange that something so truly foreign to who I am today, felt so natural for a short while this morning. Felt so natural for such a huge part of my life before this morning. It wasn’t simply a part of my life, it was all of my life. And now? It is just part of my memories. Left behind like my infatuation for the Babysitter’s Club books, my leg warmers, and my love of Bon Jovi.

Okay, maybe my love of Bon Jovi still burns as strong as ever…but you know what I mean.

24 thoughts on “In the name of the father…”

  1. I was raised Catholic too, went to Catholic school … I still go to mass when visiting my parents because they pretty much insist. But yes, it doesn’t feel like home to me anymore. The plain fact of the matter is I don’t attend Catholic mass anymore because it is not welcoming and seems hollow to me.

    I have been going to another church on sundays with my family. And while I don’t always agree with their politics, I do enjoy the service, sermon, music, etc. And for the first time in MANY MANY years, I actually enjoy to go.

    But yeah, attending Catholic mass is like riding a bike. You never forget how, once you’ve learned. 😉

  2. I grew up Lutheran, but haven’t been a regular church-goer in a long time. I recently went with my dad while visiting him, and halfway through the service he looked over and whispered, “You don’t even need the hymnal, do you?” I didn’t–I knew every line, every nuance perfectly–but it was so meaningless, not at all like it was when I was younger.

    I hope for my son’s sake that I can find someplace I feel comfortable, a place where he can learn about religion without being taught how to judge people. I’m still looking.

  3. I too was brought up Catholic. I’ve also not been to Church in years. I’m also in the quandry as to what to do next – my husband is not religious at all… and we have a daughter. I’ve not taken her to church. She shows interest… it’s me who’s dragging my heels.

    I will always say I’m Catholic… just a non-practicing one. I don’t have any interest in not being Catholic. I just am not sure I can handle the whole going to Church… and feeling rather second class (as a woman…that always bugged me). But I don’t regret going to mass every Sunday. I really am glad I have that to fall back on… believeing that there is something more out there.

    I just have to suck it up and show her what’s there… and let her make a decision later down the road – as to where she wants to take it… or leave it.

  4. another Catholic here. and also non-practicing. although i didn’t go to Catholic school, i can totally relate to what you’re talking about. church was a big part of my life growing up and when i go back now (just the typical xmas/easter) it’s like i’ve never been gone. except for when communion comes around. i get a little offended at first (who are THEY to say i can’t take it? they’re so elitest!) but then i realize that i’m the one that’s made the choice. so i can’t really blame them for being “left out”. so… i totally know how you felt.

  5. Great post, girl! You singlehandedly re-ignited my longstanding Catholic Envy. Love the ritual, hate the pesky deity belief requirements. If I was making you a mix tape right now, I would be sure to add one of my also-lapsed husband’s favorite tunes, the Sonic Youth classic, “(I’ve Got a) Catholic Block.”

  6. Hmmm… it was the opposite for me. Didn’t grow up in Christianity, though. Never really “embraced” my religion until I was 30. It was having kids that changed my view.

    I realized I had to become very clear about what my views and faith were if I was ever to provide a spiritual basis for them. I had to be clear and consistent. So? I decided.

    And I ended up a lot more conservative than I ever thought I would.

  7. Caroline Goddard – Scottsdale, AZ – Caroline Goddard is a writer with a love of pretty things, celebrity gossip, cute animals and the Duchess of Cambridge. Follow her on Twitter @goddardcaroline.
    Caroline says:

    Bon Jovi is the one true lord forever and ever amen.

    Catholic rituals are beautiful and moving – and pretty much all based on ancient pagan rituals. I grew up Catholic and turned my back on the religion when I realized that the Church had turned its back on me and every other woman in the world centuries ago. I highly doubt that whatever guiding force in the universe is out there would be all too pleased about women, the actual GIVERS OF LIFE around here, being treated so shoddily.

  8. My mum, aunts and uncle all grew up Catholic and went to Catholic school. None of them are practicing though, which is both relieving and aggravating. I’m not Catholic- but I am Christian, and occasionally I have to listen to them talk about what’s “right”. It seems pretty hypocritical to me. Every time I bring Mum to church with me she tells me everything she disagrees with the pastor about. Grr…

  9. Awesome post. And another once-Catholic here… I actually had a visiting monsignor (sp?) refuse to perform mass at my church because I happened to be one of the altar servers. A girl! The NERVE!

    The last mass I went to was a few years ago, and while I remembered all the songs and the benedictions, I felt soooooo out of place. How can you feel God in that?

    That’s probably why I think Dogma is one of the best movies ever.

  10. I’ve only been to Catholic Church once,and I was sooooooo confused. I only go to church twice a year now, to an Anglican church and I feel awful ’cause I’ve done Communion before but apparently you’re meant to be baptised. Oh dear.

  11. I grew up Lutheran. My dad and brother are Lutheran pastors. I fell away from the faith my senior year of high school and did not come back to church until I was around 25 years old. I truly believe that my life is more sane, balanced, and full believing in Christ.

  12. Whew! For a minute there, I was worried the Church of Bon Jovi had lost a member. Glad to know you still “Keep the Faith.”

    As for Sunday church, I was raised Baptist, but haven’t been to church in a year or two. It’s not religion that matters anyway.

  13. Jesus meant his sacrifice for all. We should not put any sort of “worthiness” upon the gift of life represented by communion. The feeling you felt was truly from God, he is the filling for the void we all have in our lives. The resentments and hypocrisy you felt is how we humans with help from Satan have mucked up the most perfect gift ever given, the body and blood of Christ. Just think how awesome and great you felt with a song in your heart and then you remembered the people and the rules-that is not the plan of God but the flaws of man. Man deflates you and makes you feel not good enough. But God loves you so much….John 3:16 AND 17!!

    Don’t throw out the baby with the bath water. God is THE ONE TRUE HAPPINESS. People are imperfect and full of judgement and ridiculousness. Life is full of crap and tribulation. On our best day we aren’t cutting it. That is why Christ died-because we can’t cut it. The grace and love of his blood covers that. I am praying for you Zoot. God is wooing you back to him. If you can get past the people, church is awesome and God is alive and active in our lives every day.

  14. Remind me to post about my re-introduction to Catholicism one Midnight Mass a few years ago… at least at the church that I went to, it was COMPLETELY different than the hellfire and brimstone Catholic Church that I went to.

  15. Really great post, Zoot! It gave me something to reflect about. I have only been to church a handful of times and I sometimes wonder what it would be like to have a strong faith or be part of a religious community. Not that I really feel I’m missing out. It’s just interesting to learn about how people were raised, and how their beliefs have changed later in life.
    I know that religion is not the sole cause of all the violence going on at the moment, it’s just difficult to understand why people would kill eachother based on what they believe in.

  16. I was raised Episcopalian (you know, Catholic Lite?). As a kid, I guess I liked the ritual and feeling like I was part of something, but I never really understood WHAT it was. I feel organized religion has completely missed the boat ever since mankind started using it as a measuring stick. Just because someone chooses one religion over another, or chooses none at all (like me), should not be a free ticket for others to demean them.

    I DO think religion is the cause of all the horrific things going on today in the world. Think back and tell me just ONE war or conflict that wasn’t about religion at its core. THAT is why I think the Higher Power would be (and is) very pissed at the way we have misinterpreted the original message. I don’t know about you, but I didn’t ask ANYONE to die for me or my supposed sins. And I wasn’t born as anything but a pure and amazing spirit (as was my daughter). I belive that of EVERYONE, by the way. We all have responsibility for ourselves and our actions.

    As for Catholicism; they simply ripped off all their beliefs from Paganism and then condemned Pagans and proceeded to mutate Pagan beliefs to their own system of making women inferior and evil and choosing guilt and servitude over compassion and understanding. Personally, I don’t need a priest to tell me HIS version of what God says or thinks. I can communicate with my Higher Power myself, thank you. And I don’t need your rules or regulations to tell me what to believe.

    Ahem… sorry. Had to get that off my chest. (Just a little bit of a hot issue for me, as if you couldn’t tell. Hehehehe.)

  17. Good post. I was dealing with those issues while deciding whether or not to get confirmed. I’ve decided to, however… I get confirmed in December.

    I understand [to an extent] what you wrote of, though. Curiously, though, do you not believe in God at all?

  18. Ahhh Catholicism. I don’t not believe it, but I’m not into the extreme practicing of it either. I love how serene your post was though… it makes me want to go to church right here and now! i go before you always… come follow me and i will give you rest…

    I actually wanted to thank you for being so absolutely respectful of something you don’t believe yourself anymore. So many people fall away from their faith and end up speaking of it more like a terrible exboyfriend than something they just changed their minds about. I love that you don’t regret it.

    But I ask you this. If it was such a wonderful experience for you as a child and teenager, wouldn’t you want to share that experience with your kids? Even just for their sake and not your own?

  19. Yet another lapsed Catholic here. Just curious… have you blogged about the reasons why you left and what you believe (or don’t) now? I had a couple reflective posts about this topic when I first started my blog. It’s interesting to me to read about people from similar backgrounds to mine who reached similar conclusions. It just reinforces to me that I’m not alone in my spiritual journey toward enlightenment (or some crap). 😉

  20. First of all I want to say that I think that what you wrote was so incredibly heartfelt and honest.

    I grew up Jewish and had to deal with all the rituals that go along with it. I practiced them but I had no idea why I was doing any of it. I really felt like I kept going to temple because it was expected of me and that’s what my parent’s/grandparent’s did all their life and that’s what they wanted (and still want) for me.

    When I got into college I decided that I couldn’t keep up with Judaism – it was too demanding, too ritualistic, I felt like I was just performing something and I really never felt good enough. So I called it quits and didn’t think much about it. Then I got saved (which is an entirely different story). And my relationship with God totally changed. I actually had a relationship with God. I realized that it wasn’t about performing any kind of motions or singing the right songs in the right order. It was just about me and Jesus. And I just wanted to please Him.

    The thing to remember is that people can be stupid. This includes people in the church too (this has a lot to do with why Jonathan and I deal mainly with youth). We are not perfect and yes, some people are complete hypocrites (you know how imperfect I was when we were in college…). But it’s not about them.

    I hope that maybe someday we can talk about this more in-depth. I don’t know if that’s something you would even want. But for now, I am totally praying for you whether you want me to or not. I love you that much.

    And on a (somewhat) lighter note – I had no idea that women were degraded so much in the Catholic religion. It sounds like a lot of valuable people have turned aside because of that.

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