What This Protestant Learned at Catholic Mass
A postmodern Protestant's peek into the 'beautifully foreign' world of the Catholic liturgy.
BY: Micah McCarty
My first visit to a Catholic church happened under grim circumstances.
The father of one of the students in my youth ministry passed away after a brief battle with lung cancer. Being the well-indoctrinated Protestant that I am, I had no clue of what to expect at my first visit to a Catholic mass.
Going alone was my first mistake.
As I entered the doors of the foreign sanctuary, my eyes were immediately drawn to the giant mosaic Jesus at the front of the room. Artwork like this would never be found in my own "seeker sensitive, purpose-driven" cube that my church calls an auditorium because "sanctuary" sounds too churchy and-God forbid!-might offend someone. As I continued to look around I saw a plethora of symbols that richly adorned the dimly lit room: crosses, beautiful paintings, candles, incense, kneeling benches on every pew. I felt like Dorothy when she arrived at Oz. She was alone too.
I followed two older ladies from the doors of the sanctuary to our seats. They knew the routine. They wore the standard crucifix and knew exactly what to do at just the right time. I hoped to mimic them. At our arrival to the pew, each lady knelt low to the ground, made the sign of the cross, and then went to her respective seat. Hoping no one would notice, I made my way to the seat and sat down, wondering if everyone behind me had already tagged me as a pagan, or even worse, a Protestant.
The priest soon entered and began to lead us through the mass. I wanted desperately to know what was going on because it seemed as if everyone around me knew perfectly well. In all my years as a professional church attendee, I have never seen a congregation so involved and responsive. Many times I heard a unified "amen" or "glory be to God" but always felt as if I had missed my cue. For one who is familiar with any form of promptings happening via jumbo screens and expensive projectors, this seemed like an entirely new concept. It was so beautifully foreign to me that everyone in this community of faith seemed to know what was going on through tradition or subtle clues from the priest.