My Catholic Good Friday
|Happy Easter everyone.|
I went last night with a Catholic friend of mine to a Good Friday service at his parish church in Baltimore. I was looking for somewhere to experience some kind of formal Good Friday worship, and as my Ward wasn't providing anything, I asked if I could join him. It was a good choice.
Mormons have a strange relationship with Catholicism. As an example of a centralising, sacrament-oriented church, Roman Catholicism is not radically different to Mormonism. We have, however, inherited the Protestant suspicion of papacy, Marian-"worship", and the cultural eccentricities of the Roman Church. There is also the popular (and incorrect) notion among Mormons that the Catholic Church is the "Great and Abominable Church" spoken of in the Book of Mormon, and thus Apostasy Incarnate. Fortunately, because all of the practicing Catholics I have ever met have been wonderful human beings, much of this negativity has been diffused for me (and I hope that they can say the same about Mormonism).
Anyway, the service: it was traditional yet contemporary (Negro spirituals, guitars), with a nice balance of singing, prayers, readings and communion. Funnily enough, the whole "Liturgy of the Lord's Passion" (as it is called) lasted 70 minutes, the same as our sacrament meetings. No cushions on their pews, though. The procession of the Cross at the end was particularly impressive. The lights were turned out and a family carried the cross from the back of the church. Members of the Congregation then went up to "venerate" the cross before departing in silence. Readers of UB will know that I am not impressed by Mormon Cross-aversion. What I saw yesterday was not the "apostate" worship of an idol, but the sincere expression of love for Jesus centered around a simple symbol of His Passion.
A few other things of note:
- Despite the use of a Negro spiritual ("Were you there"), there were no blacks in the congregation. This is not because they are not welcome, but reflects instead the ethnic separation of Christian worship in America. This is something my Ward has tried to avoid, deliberately extending its boundaries to encompass both white and black Baltimore.
- There were only two families with kids in attendance, and the solemnity of the service ensured they couldn't roll around on the floor playing with Star Wars figures as my kids do on Sunday. My friend assures me that "normal" Sunday mass includes a kids' meeting.
- The Church was a beautiful European-style church. How ironic that Mormon churches in Europe are (not so beautiful) American-style buildings. Cultural imperialism works both ways it seems!
- There was a lot of involvement by lay-members. From leading the songs, to bearing the Cross and administering the Eucharist, the service proceeded without much direction from the Priest. This particular church seems to have struck a good balance: clearly the RC Church is not about to ordain women to the priesthood, but they were still deeply involved in the Mass, including in the Eucharist.
- The involvement of the lay-members was strictly scripted, however. This ensured that the plebs couldn't say anything crazy (a la LDS testimony meetings).
- Prayers were given for various people and organisations, in this order: the RC Church, the members of the congregation, the Jews, other Christians, all people of faith, good people of no-faith, national and world-leaders. It appears that Protestants, Jews, and all Theists are doing OK in the eyes of the Catholic Church; only atheists need to make a change (by coming to know God, in whatever guise).
In short, I was very impressed. This was the first proper Catholic service I have attended. It was reverent, sacred and beautiful. Many congratulations to the Corpus Christi Catholic Church in Baltimore, MD.
[One final, unrelated Catholic anecdote which I found interesting: my friend told me of an instruction that went out from Rome that Priests had to wear their collars at all times in public. He told me that a teacher of his who hated wearing the collar knew of the instruction but hadn't officially heard it from his immediate superior, and therefore "hadn't officially heard it"! This reminded me of the Church Handbook, which contains all kinds of instructions for Mormons, but because its use is restricted, one could feign ignorance!]
For further reading on Catholicism in America I have been recommended A People Adrift: The Crisis of the Roman Catholic Church in America by Peter Steinfels.