Sorry it’s taken me so long to write this follow up post. With the start of school, things have been super hectic!
However, I’ve been absolutely itching for this entry, so I’m sneaking a few moments in so I can jot down my thoughts.
For the most part, Mass in the Nassau Cathedral of St. Francis Xavier was exactly what you’d expect to find in a Mass up in the States. There were a few marked differences, though, and I chuckle to myself as I recollect them. Some of you more conservative folks might turn your nose up, but please try to keep in mind that this is an entirely separate culture from what we’re used to.
One of the first things I noticed about the parishioners of this parish was their style of dress. I really felt like I was witnessing Southern Baptists on their way to Easter Sunday Mass. The men were in suits (or really nice slacks and shirts) and all the women wore colorful dresses or dress suits. More than a few had the big, colorful hats (which is probably why I was immediately reminded of Easter).
I, myself, was in a long maxi dress with a shawl, but I felt a bit underdressed given the beautiful outfits of everyone else!
Anyway, at the open of Mass, the cathedral was probably just over half full. People were sorta scattered all throughout the nave. However, as the Mass progressed, more and more people entered the church and found a spot in the pews. They continued coming in long past the homily. It wasn’t until the Sign of Peace that I think everyone had finally gotten to their seats.
It was strange, because I had started out towards the end of one pew and was slowly “pushed” inward as more and more people joined the pews.
The homily was given by the deacon and lasted a good 20+ minutes. I was very surprised by the length of his homily, and I began to wonder if that was why folks tended to push off coming into the church for such long periods of time. I didn’t mind his homily at all. He spoke on virtue and why it is important to know true virtue stems from humility. The way he explained things (and how repetitive he was) at first irritated me. Then I began to get a sense that he was really breaking things down as best he could because he wanted so much to educate everyone. Once I got the stick out of my butt, I softened up and didn’t mind the pains he took explaining the Gospel story.
The next surprising thing to happen was during the Sign of Peace. I kid you not, this particular experience legitimately swept me off my feet.
When the priest asked us to share Christ’s peace, it was as if the entire congregation sprang to life. It was CHAOS. People started swarming the aisles as they got out of their pews to greet parishioners from the other side of the church. Folks were coming downstairs from the 2nd floor (there is seating upstairs, too) to greet folks on the 1st floor. I saw a man make his way from one side of the church to the other to greet a choir member. In the wave of people moving in and out of the pews, I was sorta forced to “go with the flow” which landed me off my feet at one moment. Ha ha.
At first I was put off. I was half expecting a mini-coffee hour to be set up because I saw no end to the loud chatter and movement. Did these people not realize the Sign of Peace is not a time for saying “Hi” to everyone you know?
Then I realized I was witnessing a very Bahemian tradition. These folks obviously all knew one another intimately. I really did feel as though I had stumbled into a family gathering. When they hugged one another, kissed, or otherwise “gave the sign of peace” you could tell that a real light of love existed between them. Who am I to judge their signs of love? Who am I to judge their wishes for peace?
So I refrained and kept to myself beyond the customary handshake I’m familiar with (though a kiss on the cheek is customary for me if I am with family). I simply enjoyed watching this massive spiritual family erupt joy after joy as they blessed one another with a sign of Christian love.
Eventually (about three minutes or so later), the choir took up the Agnus Dei and by the end of the prayer, folks had settled back into their seats.
During the Eucharistic prayer, I noticed a gorgeous little boy of about 10 months waddling up the center aisle. It was obvious he’d just learned to walk, and I was smiling at his cubby little face. His parents saw him leave and did nothing to stop him. I kept my eyes trained on him in case he fell, not sure why his parents would just let him slip away like that.
Finally, the baby made his way back to my area of the cathedral. He sorta looked around, trying to decide who he wanted to go to. He waddled up to an usher and raised his hands, the universal plea for “Pick me up!”
The usher happily obliged without thought. He walked around with the baby for a few minutes, bouncing him and showing him the statues and windows. The baby, for his part, was happy to have such a nice man to play with. Finally, however, the usher brought the child back to his parents.
It made sense, then, why the parents didn’t mind that their son had wandered off like that. They really did see everyone in the parish as family. They trusted all of us implicitly. Given I grew up in Philly where you didn’t trust anyone with anything (parishioner or not), this concept was so different for me. It absolutely threw me, but I relished the idea that a Catholic community existed like this. It was such a “family vibe” that I just can’t put my feelings into words. I was readily accepted into this family because of my faith in Christ.
All Catholic communities are supposed to make you feel as welcome – as united. We’re all family in Christ, after all. But of all the parishes I’ve ever been to (and I’ve been to a lot, people), this one takes the cake.
That’s not saying that I feel unwelcome at other parishes. I loved my previous and current parishes. It’s hard to explain, I guess. This parish just had a very vibrant, living movement of the Spirit that unequivocally united everyone present. It was pretty incredible.
During the Intercessions, the priest had all the children present come up for a blessing. He and the deacon handed out marble copybooks (since their school year began the next day). As the children were coming up, the choir sang Whitney Houston’s Greatest Love song.
I seriously almost fell out of my seat.
I love the song. It’s a beautiful song! The cantor did a great job singing it. However, it’s NOT a song for Mass! Plus, the lyrics went directly against everything the readings and homily spoke of!
Ah well. I guess they figured the first few lines were worth the rest of the song negating the message of the deacon. *Sigh* At least the children had a nice blessing that also reaffirmed the importance they should place on education.
During the Eucharistic Procession, a super talented musician played Amazing Grace… on his SAXAPHONE. I could’ve sworn it was Kenny G playing until I spotted the musician breathing out the melody.
Musically, these folks were super, super talented. I just felt that some of it was a little out of place given the circumstances of, ya know… the Mass.
None of these are huge issues, though. Truth be told, their Kyrie was beautiful. I’d never heard one like it. Most of their music reminded me of the Spanish Masses I’d set up for when I worked as a sacristan.
Finally, at the very end of Mass, the pastor called forward those with birthdays or wedding anniversaries in September. I guess they celebrate these as a parish on the 1st Sunday of each month. They had roses to give away to the women which I thought was sweet.
At the end of Mass, many of the parishioners stayed long past the procession to sing or pray. Yes, I said sing or pray. Some folks continued singing after the choir had completed their musical services. Not everyone was singing the same thing, either. Some folks stayed in their pew to pray and others made the usual bee-line for the door. Everyone was talking excitedly, and at the main entrance / exit of the cathedral, there was a gentleman holding up a very large Catholic Charities Appeal sign. I almost snapped a photo to take back to my coworkers (who work on the CCA here in Philly), but thought better of it. Heh.
As I walked down the hill to get back to the bus stop, I saw the Greek Orthodox Church to my right. I couldn’t resist. Stay tuned for my first experience inside a Greek Orthodox Church!
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