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My First Mass

This morning my family slept in pretty late. We have all been feeling under the weather for a week or so, and my wife and daughter especially have been feeling sick. The girls decided to stay home, and I was planning on staying home as well. Then at about 10:45am I suddenly had this urge to attend a Catholic Mass service. I have never in my life attended a liturgical service before. I have never been to a Catholic service before. There is a Catholic Church located about 3 minutes from our house, and the service started at 11:00am, so I decided to drive down and check it out.

As a music leader at my church, I occasionally go to other church services to try and learn ways to improve our church service. This morning was one of the most valuable learning experiences I have had so far. This is essentially my experience at my first mass.

I walked in the door and noticed a sign that read "No gum chewing, and no water. Thanks for the respect!" This is certainly different than the majority of the churches I have attended. I usually show up to my church with a coffee in hand. I'm usually asking someone on staff to borrow some gum before I go up on stage. (I like to sing with a minty mouth OK!) There was a very quiet mood to the parish. I walked in, shook someones hand, said hello (I was the only one from the people walking in that did say hello) and took my seat. Maybe because it was the beginning of Advent, but the church was very full. The first thing that I noticed, was that the makeup of the people was very multicultural. Something that I wish I would see in more of the churches I have attended.

Eventually, a man with a guitar, and a small choir started to sing "Days of Elijah". Naturally, I was a little confused to hear a song I knew so well. I thought Catholics would be singing songs that were very foreign to me. As the words came up on the screen, I started to sing. I am pretty sure, I was actually the only person singing the song. I looked around and could not see any single person singing the song. I am not sure if I was even suppose to be singing, or if I was breaking some liturgical protocol - so I sort of stopped singing. Maybe the song was new to the people, but the words were on the screen, so I was a little confused. Then the deacon, and the priest, and some kids walked in and the room started to smell like incense. There was a lot of standing, and sitting, and singing. A lady stood up and said who would be participating in the service reading and such. (I know that I could have read the order of the service before going, but since it was last minute, I didn't have the chance. Right now, I am simply writing this from my memory, and going from my impression.)

There were some songs that the congregation sang very loud, so I'm assuming they were classic catholic songs, because I didn't know them. While standing, the priest, who was talking quite quickly, would say something and then everyone would say Amen, or something else, or cross themselves - and I was just standing there, 6'3" of me, not knowing what the heck I was doing. Sometimes, as a music leader I get discouraged if the congregation doesn't express their emotions as much as I think they can. This experience taught me just how different, even our reserved Baptist denomination, is from the strict liturgical experience. I know I shouldn't paint the entire Catholic church with the same brush, but again, this is my impression.

For the most part, the prayers, and the songs were beautiful proclamations of Jesus Christ - that is, until the deacon spoke his homily.

Speaking on the advent, the deacon spoke about how it is important to be ready for the second coming of Jesus, more so than his first. He spoke of loving God, loving your neighbour, and making sure that you are forgiving others, and obeying the great commandment. All wonderful truth. He then went on to talk about ways in which you can get ready for Jesus' second coming.

Now I know the theological differences between Catholicism and the Reformation. I have read a lot of books, some of the catechism, and had discussions with catholics, but there was something about hearing it from the mouth of the deacon that made it very real. In his homily, he spoke of the need for forgiveness, and he said, and I quote:

The priests are the only ones who can absolve your sin before God. There are those who say you can go directly to God, but they are wrong. God will hear you, and help you, but only a priest can give you the gift of the sacrement of reconciliation. 
I know they believe this - but for some reason, hearing it spoke to a large group of hundreds of people broke my heart so deeply. I wanted to just stand up and say, Christ is your high priest! At that moment, I was so thankful to my father, my church, my entire religion that speaks the truth of Christ's holy priesthood, and the priesthood of all who are believers. For in the book of Hebrews I read: "Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need."

Then came time for the Eucharist, and as a non-Catholic, I respectively abstained - that much I did know about a catholic service. This part of the service however, I did learn a lot from. Far too often, the evangelical church does not give the Lord's Supper the respect and honour it deserves. And while my understanding and belief surrounding the Lord's Supper are constantly being shaped and challenged, and I don't obviously believe in transubstantiation, there is something unique happening when we take the Lord's Supper that requires reverence.   

We then said the Lord's Prayer, and the Apostles Creed, and the mass was concluded. The choir started to sing one of my favourite worship song, Mighty to Save, and I left. 

I am not the final authority on what is true and what is not. I have learned so much from catholic writers and theologians, and I am not ignorant of the fact that our church fathers are the same men as theirs. There is much to be learned from one another. That being said, I am glad the reformation started, and am hopeful that one day it will finally be completed. 


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