Thursday, October 8, 2009

My Happy Clappy Church

Recently, my mother-in-law and I got into a deep discussion about worship and religion in general. My mother-in-law, let's just call her MIL for short, grew up during the great transitional period of pre-Vatican II to Vatican II. This happened to her while going through her teen years, which as she put it was a very confusing time for her already.

During her discussions with me and from remembering my own experiences with the Catholic faith, I learned a great deal of things. Many Catholics don't know about the many ways that other Catholics worship. We're never really taught about novenas, chaplets, statues, ect. I mean we see them and we might know that they exist, but why isn't the purpose of these religious aids not discussed? Also we don't discuss the different types of worship services that exist. For the Roman catholic, I mean the High Latin Mass or the most common Mass in the vernacular. There is also the different styles of worship.

When I was growing up, I went to Mass in the Bible Belt. So the construction of our church was very different. We didn't have statues or stain glass. Our building could just as easily be one suited to a Protestant congregation as a Catholic one. We had two Sunday Masses. The early morning one had very little music. Mostly we recited the words of the ordinary of the mass. The other Mass had more music but it was songs and hymns that were popular during the seventies when Vatican II allowed for different music.

When I was in college, I went to a more colder church. It was still in the same state but a different part. The church was constructed more like a traditional Catholic church. The music director, however, was not Catholic. He didn't know anything about the Catholic style of worship so many of the hymns were Protestant hymns. He never knew Mass parts (or the ordinary of the Mass) so for special occasions, he would say to "sing what we know." We also wore robes, which is something that I've rarely seen Catholic churches do. Needless to say, I was dismayed and stopped going to Mass. I wanted to worship more Catholic.

When I went to grad school, I moved to a completely different state where there are churches everywhere. A friend had gotten a job as an organist at one towards the northern part of the city so I went along to that church for a while. Many of the people who attended Mass are older. The church looks interesting since it was built in the 60s. I've described it as a space ship because it's a rounded triangle. But all the construction has Catholic elements to it. Many of the Catholics worship like normal. They sing songs that are popular Catholic songs from back in the day and more currently. Sometimes there is clapping. Mostly it is a more somber and reflective Mass with an air of comfort. I live in a place that is considerably warmer so people dress casual. I don't mean like a nice sun dress; I mean like jeans and a t-shirt for winter or shorts, flip flops, and a t-shirt for summer. At this church, they've tried to encourage people to cover more skin, but it hasn't worked. That's the nature of the culture, and for the older people they feel it's too hot.

Well, I got married and moved across the city. I still went to the above church for a while but the gas prices went through the roof and the economy nose dived. To try to save some money, I decided to go to the church that I was zoned for. I actually tried another church that was close as well, and they reminded me of my old church. This church I go to now, I call "my happy clappy church." I decided to go to it because it is so different. Every Mass (and I mean every Mass not just the teen one) has Christian rock music. Yep, the stuff I hear on the radio gets blasted at MHCC (my happy clappy church). The priest encourages people to clap. That's right visitors are in for it because he will tell them that at this church we participate. I've seen several young adults hold their hands up the heavens and wave their arms to the music. The acolytes (altar servers) do not wear robes. The altar is positioned in the center and below the line of pews. The congregation sits on the sides. We have a projector for the music. There are no cute missalettes in the pews so you either have to buy your own set of liturgical readings or listen. People still dress casual, but it's a different type. It bothers me that so many people wear dresses with bare shoulders (they look designed for the club) and tank tops. I've even stared at a woman's cross tattoo on her back. But the priest doesn't seem to be too upset. And neither are the older people there. Yes, MHCC has a lot of the young but of grandma and grandpa too. Also it's always packed at every Mass and there are four on Sundays. So MHCC must be doing something right. People are so happy there.

This leads me back to the discussions with my MIL. She has told me that she doesn't feel comfortable with the worship practices of her church where she lives. She doesn't want to offend people so she, against her better judgement, has gone along with it. Now my MIL has lived in the same area since birth. She hasn't been able to attend as many different Catholic churches as I have. So I told her about MHCC. I think it helped her feel better. She felt somehow that she was the only Catholic out there who didn't believe in following a strict way to worship. And I'm inclined to think that she isn't the only person out there who enjoys being Catholic but wants a different style of worship. That's probably why MHCC has such a huge crowd. Now I understand that there is a trend to have different styles of Masses at the same church, but it doesn't seem to be universal. People on the Eastern side of the US tend to go with the same old standard which is why so many young people appear bored at Mass or stop going. To me this is a shame, we use the same liturgy but what's wrong with using it in a different way? If the Pope approves of using the High Latin Mass, why can't we make the common Mass more "trendy" or accessible for all Catholics. We shouldn't alienate our brethren. It's my prayer that the Catholic Mass will evolve so that many different styles of worship are accommodated especially as my son gets older and has to choose one for himself.

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