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.