Strange Little Church
So I missed my normal window for Confession today. As a result, I did a quick search of the surrounding parishes to see who had confession at a later time. Turns out there was a parish about ten minutes from me that offered it just before their vigil. I was surprised that their vigil was at 4pm (just seems early to me). However, I figured I'd give it a go since I like the option of checking out new churches when I have spare time.
So I found my way to the Church and am immediately struck by how modern it looks (even from the outside).
The rectory, for example, looks like the dorm buildings my friends lived in back at college. The Church was offset a bit and had no real visible entrance. Luckily, I saw an elderly gentlemen walking off around a corner somewhere, so I followed his lead and found myself in a tiny room attached to the church. In this tiny room was an elevator that apparently takes you into the church, itself.
That's a first. I've never been in a church with an elevator that takes you directly into the church.
Anyway, as I exited the elevator, I took a quick look around to figure out where I was. The entire set-up of the church was confusing - I think it has to do with the shape of the building itself. It's kinda like a hexagon. The pews were all angled - NONE ran parallel to the altar. There seemed to be several "cry rooms" flanking the various walls. The confessionals were closed off, and all the lights were out. There were three or four people in the pews praying, so I followed their lead and shimmied my way into a pew near what was as close to "center" as I could get. Even from my well-chosen vantage point, I had to crane my neck to view the tabernacle because the seating arrangements were so odd.
I wish I could explain it better, but wow. Jesus was "technically" in the center of the sanctuary, but because the seating around the sanctuary was so angled and confusing, you'd be hard-pressed to acknowledge that during a Mass.
Then the artwork... barring the statues (which were absolutely beautiful), there were these huge lines that ran the entire length of the church. In my mind, they looked like music note lines. Hanging on these metal lines were the various Stations of the Cross. You could see them easily enough, but again, due to the set-up of the pews, I wonder how one might actually walk them without weaving yourself dizzy. The stained glass windows, though colorful, were an assortment of random religious symbols. Nothing inherently Catholic about any of them which just reaffirmed my sense of being in a Pentecostal church. Otherwise, it was a blank white wall.
And that's really what it was like for me - a Pentecostal church. I really thought for a quick minute that maybe this parish had originally purchased it from an organization like that and had just made a few changes. It was just so strange.
So I took all of this in while waiting for the Confessional lights to blink on. No luck, so I asked a parishioner if there was Confession tonight. She directed me to the narthex (which is the lobby area of a church) and said I could find a Reconciliation room there.
In the NARTHEX?!?!?! Oookay...
Anyway, after checking the "Reconciliation Room" a few times , I finally walked in and surprised the priest who had snuck in between my checks. I poked my head around the wall and there he was, sitting in a chair, rosary in his hand, dressed in a full-on Jesuit cassock! And he was young, too! I darn near fell over!!!
Upon recollecting myself, I asked if he would please hear my confession. He welcomed me and off I went. He gave me very sweet advice, a proper penance and even wished me a happy Mother's Day. Considering how completely displaced I'd felt in the church, I was honestly surprised by the traditional, tidy confession I was blessed with.
I almost - ALMOST - decided to stay on for the vigil, but the "odd" feelings wouldn't leave me be. I couldn't even finish my penance there. I had to leave because everything about being in that church felt wrong. I couldn't even genuflect to Christ as I crossed aisles because of how the seating was arranged. It was unnerving. I couldn't imagine attempting to make it through a Mass with such a heavy feeling of "wrong, wrong, wrong" nagging at my heart.
In all the churches I've been to, I've never once had that reaction. I've been in plenty of modern churches, too (my own home parish is modern), but none were so off-putting as this.
Ah well - on the plus side, I was blessed with a wonderful confessor. If he was the one presiding at Mass, I have no doubt the congregation was blessed tonight, regardless of the church's set-up. I honestly couldn't stick around to find out. I waited the hour and a half and took Vince to the vigil at my own parish.
I'm glad it worked out that way. Just before the final blessing, Father Atlas gave flowers to all the mothers. Then, he extended his hands in a special blessing over us. How sweet was that? Our sweet deacon handed Vincent my flower and said, "Now give that to your Mommy!" Vincent happily did so, and after Mass, he happily gave it over again to the Blessed Mother (along with a few blown kisses for good measure).
5/12/2012 05:57:36 pm
Was it anything like that place we went to in college with the test tube vials of wine? That was wacky, too.
5/12/2012 06:23:31 pm
I should be in bed right now. LoL. Blarg.
5/14/2012 04:16:31 am
I had that reaction once about 20 years ago. I was in DC, and there was a newish looking church. I don't want to call it modern, but I guess that's what it is. I don't know. I just remember feeling very wrong being in there. The tabernacle was off to the side, and the chairs for the priest and servers were in front of the altar. There were no candles to speak of but they had these strange paintings that I guess served as stations of the cross up on the back wall (and they were at varying distances from each other). The pews were set up normally, and there were confessionals, but none seemed to be in use. I don't know why no one uses confessionals anymore! No veil on the tabernacle either. The whole set up just screamed "WEIRD" to me. I get what you're saying definitely.
5/14/2012 11:51:20 am
I have to say that growing up Catholic in Philadelphia, I think that we have been completely spoiled with regards to beautifully awesome churches. My mom used to make me go the the Immaculate Conception shrine in Cheltenham every monday for the Miraculous Medal novena, the St. John Neumann Shrine for confessions, and the Carmelite Monastery at 66th & Broad for their summer novena to Our Lady of Mount Carmel. In high school I started going to St. John the Evangelist (heart!), smack dab in center city, and got pretty well acquainted with the Basilica of Sts. Peter & Paul while shooting archival footage for Fr. Dan as well.
5/14/2012 12:12:26 pm
Ya know, that's probably exactly what it is now that you mention it. We really have been spoiled with all the beauty Philly churches have to offer. That actually makes me feel a LOT better.
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