Elizabeth, Melissa and I traveled down to my hometown of Springfield, Missouri last weekend to celebrate my parents’ 40th wedding anniversary with about 80 of their closest friends. Overall, it was a rather rushed but great weekend. The party on Saturday, in particular was a great deal of fun, particularly chatting with a number of people I hadn’t seen for a long while (in some cases it had been 20 years, which is just baffling to imagine.)
On Sunday, my parents were renewing their vows, so I did something I haven’t done in at least eighteen years – I went to Mass with them. I haven’t identified as a Catholic for more than half of my life at this point, but I still carry a certain affinity for the church that I grew up in. I expected the experience to be a strange combination of the familiar and the strange, and that expectation at least was certainly met. Some of the highlights of the day included:
- My parents’ church was remodeled about 15 years ago, and this was the first time I had spent more than 3 minutes inside the building since that happened (Mom and Dad had pretty significant roles in the fundraising for that project, so I got a nickel tour once it was finished, but I certainly hadn’t attended a service there). One neat thing is that the altar is now in the center of the church, with the rows of pews on opposite ends so the congregation is facing one another. I really liked that setup.
- Apparently, the Catholic church occasionally changes up the wording of the liturgy. Who knew? I was surprised at how much this threw me off, actually. Even some of the little changes took me by surprise, which…good grief. I didn’t realize just how ingrained the language was, but even after almost 20 years I remembered how it used to be.
- When I was younger, passing the collection plate (well, collection basket) was an essentially invisible part of the service to me. It happened at a particular point, and people were singing while it happened. It didn’t really make much of an impression on me then. On Sunday, though, it felt almost unseemly. Not because of the idea of soliciting donations, mind you – I am absolutely in favor of supporting one’s spiritual community in whatever form it takes. If I’m fed in some important way by a community, I should support it in whatever ways I am able. What I hadn’t really pieced together before, though, is what else is happening during this time. In a Catholic Mass, the collection is taken just before the consecration of the host, which immediately precedes the opportunity to take communion. During the collection, the priest is preparing for the consecration, preparing to offer communion to the parishioners. This is, for many (perhaps most) people, the whole point of going to Mass in the first place. It’s the part that, if you believe in this church’s teachings, that helps you get into freaking heaven. And just before that we’re going to ask for money? I just…wow. I do not like that message, at all.
Now, my discomfort with the way Mass is structured is basically immaterial. I’m not a Catholic, and by no means do I mean to suggest that this is inherently wrong, it just doesn’t work for me. To put it bluntly, my comfort is of essentially no importance whatsoever, because it’s not my church.
Having said that, when we were getting ready to leave I had a different experience that’s been weighing on me quite a bit this week.
Out in the vestibule of the church, there’s a large rack of pamphlets, most (or all) of which are distributed by the Knights of Columbus. While waiting to leave, Elizabeth and I flipped through a couple of them, wondering which we would find the most hilarious to read during the drive home. We picked out, “How to Be a Real Man of God” and started flipping through it once we hit the highway.
It was exactly the sort of drivel that one might expect. Today’s “politically correct” culture erodes masculinity. The greatest gift that a real man of god can give is to “share his love” with a woman. A real woman’s greatest gift is to “accept that love” (and yes, they make the connection that your inner 12 year old is already giggling at). Men and women have inherently different ways of communicating, loving and being loved, and deviating from that “norm” is bad.
Oh, and one of the greatest problems preventing males from being “real men of god” is the growing acceptance of homosexuality. Of course.
Now, look. None of crap this is unexpected. If I was hoping for an open-minded view of the world, the free literature rack at a Catholic church was not the right place to go looking. Even so, though, I spent the rest of the drive and much of the last few days just feeling…not angry, really, but sad. I had a conversation with a friend last night that helped me clarify why this has been bothering me so much.
The changes to the Mass (many of which seem pretty clearly intended to make the Church more conservative, which isn’t a huge surprise given the Pope’s philosophy) or even the newly-discovered awareness that the timing of the collection feels really squicky to me didn’t really bother me because they’re global changes. They’re decisions that come from Rome, and they’re fundamentally about the liturgy of a religion that I don’t identify with. So it’s easy for me to laugh those off or to at least to say, “Hey, it’s not my religion, and that’s part of why.” The “literature” at the front of the church, though, that’s not dictated. To the best of my knowledge, it’s the parish’s choice to have that kind of stuff at all, much less what’s actually presented there. So we have this community that I used to belong to, and their “Hey, this is who we are and what we’re all about” message includes that sort of narrow-mindedness and intolerance.
I’m glad to have at least figured out why this has been bothering me, I guess. And it’s not as though I’m going to be setting foot inside that building again for another 18 years, give or take, which is probably a good thing for everyone involved.