I drove past a sign announcing “Catholics Come Home” and into the church’s parking lot. My mother raised me to be a Catholic, but I wasn’t coming home. A line of cars trailed behind me, depositing parishioners at a side door. The architecture of the church reminded me of castles I had seen in Germany.
About fifty people were scattered throughout the large sanctuary, which I estimated could have held 1000 to 1500. Most were kneeling in prayer, a stark contrast to my usual experience on a Sunday morning. My usual experience is people talking, laughing, and making their way to the church café for coffee before the service began.
I had entered through the side door which deposited me near the platform and made my way through the sanctuary to the foyer in search of a bathroom. A “poor box” with a small opening for financial gifts adorned each side of the double doors that opened into the foyer. Apparently, the church had one bathroom used by all. The sign on the door said “Toilet.” The bathroom was clean except for a dead roach in front of the toilet in the “Toilet.”
Two men were handing out bulletins at the entrance. I had already picked up a bulletin on a table near the “Toilet,” so I by passed them to examine the rack of literature. I selected a few items of interest and then found a seat in the sanctuary now a quarter full.
I did not have time to peruse the material. A man stood behind one of two pulpits mumbling something undiscernible until a priest entered and pointed to the microphone attached to the pulpit. The man pulled the microphone closer to his face and continued reading the announcements.
Four confession booths, two on each side of the sanctuary, reminded me of my quest to live a sinless life. I’d confessed every sin or perceived sin my nine-year-old mind could call to remembrance. Recited the prescribed number of Our Father’s and Hail Mary’s and walked out of the church intent on never sinning again. The sun had not set before I needed to return to the confession booth.
The man concluded the announcements by leading the congregation in a prayer to a woman saint. Half way through the prayer I found the written copy glued to the back of the Hymnal, but did not participate. There are a lot of things I liked about the service that morning, but this is not one of them and one reason I will never “come home.”
The altar boys and girls led the procession to the platform. As they walked by I had an epiphany–the Catholics include children in performing the rites of the service. I am married to a man who has worked in children’s ministry for thirty years. Most of the time, trying to include children in the “adult” service required an act of God. The Catholics don’t have a separate service for children. Including them in performing the service is something I’ve rarely seen in the churches I have attended beyond an occasional song or skit before the children are sent to “their church”. The one exception was a Spanish church that allowed children to receive the offering, dance and sing.
A woman to my right caught my eye. She looked like she was wearing a Nun’s habit, but it was too colorful: a blue head covering, large white collar and green top, similar in color to the priest’s robes, over a white skirt. What happened to black and white? I debated whether or not she was a Nun while a woman with the voice of an opera singer led the congregation in song. I heard organ music, but didn’t see an organ.
Two priests that looked like twins took their seats on the platform. I heard a voice giving instructions and wondered if it was prerecorded. Nope. Upon closer examination, the priest on the right was speaking.
There were three readings from the Bible that morning, one from the Old Testament and one from the New Testament made by the same man. The final reading was made by the priest as his sermon text. The sermon lasted approximately ten minutes, but it stuck with me better than the forty-five-minute sermons I am accustomed to. He concluded his sermon with an evangelistic question. Everyone is invited to the banquet. Are we prepared to attend? A moment of silence followed. Then he then led us in a confession of faith.
The bulk of the service involved sanctifying the bread and wine for communion. The priest placed the small white wafer in the mouth or opened hand. Few people drank from the common cup.
Receiving the offering concluded the service. Again, the children led the procession out of the church. The priests were in the foyer greeting people as the congregation departed. A child had handed one of the priests his bulletin, who I think was autographing it like an author might autograph a book. I exited through the front of the church and saw a large cross and headstone dedicated to unborn aborted children. The site brought tears to my eyes.
Except for praying to a saint, deemed so by men, I enjoyed the service. There are times I walk out of a church feeling entertained. I walked out of this church feeling we had worshipped together.
Protestants and Catholics have their differences, but we read the same gospels and worship the same Jesus. When the disciples wanted to forbid a man casting out a devil because he “does not follow with us.” Jesus replied, “Forbid him not: for he that is not against us is for us” (Luke 9:50).