Thursday, December 12, 2013
My Journey as a Catholic So Far, Pt. 8: Church-Hopping
Though I was annoyed that the parish nearest to my house (a mere 10-15 minutes or so away) was one of those parishes where one would be forgiven for thinking they had accidentally walked in to a non-denominational fellowship centre, I was still happy that my home parish in the city was a fairly traditional, beautiful church that boasted an amazing priest, and where the Ordinary Form of the Mass was celebrated with reverence.
But with the typical excitement and zeal of a convert, I wanted to "see" everything else that was around, to really immerse myself in my new spiritual home, as it were. So I proceeded to check out other parishes. Obviously, I avoided the ones that had been ruined in the wake of the chaos that occurred after Vatican II, but this was a rather hard thing to do - most had been so stripped down that aside from a statue of the Virgin Mary and a Tabernacle shoved off to the side somewhere, many seemed almost semi-protestant in look. Nothing was like how I imagined Catholic parishes to look, but this was part-and-parcel with the "learning in a bubble" conversion years. I knew that modernism and liberalism, for lack of better terms perhaps, had taken over in many places - but this much? Why did very few Catholic parishes actually look Catholic?
Soon enough, I found myself craving the Latin Mass, otherwise called the "Extraordinary Form"; incidentally, I have never liked either term for the Mass - Ordinary or Extraordinary, that is - as it says to me that one is just "ho-hum Sunday", and the other is pushed to the side and just there to appease people who don't like the Ordinary Form. So I went to the Latin Mass, and expected the greatest thing this side of heaven.
What I got was a mixed bag. A Franciscan friar was there, whom I overheard saying that it was also his "first Latin Mass" that he had ever been to, which I found so odd. Certainly the Franciscans did not have to put up with all the strangeness that was often present at the normal Mass, right? Regardless, the experience was interesting, but a bit of a letdown. Unlike the high Latin Masses one sees in pictures and videos on Youtube, this one felt awkward. The priest at the time preached about the state of decay and modernism in the Church, which I nodded to a lot during the homily, as if I were some kind of seasoned Catholic who had suffered through years of crises in the Church. There were many young Catholics there, no altar-girls or "extraordinary ministers", the communion rail was still there, the music was straight out of what one might expect in the early 20th-century. Holy Communion was received reverently, kneeling and on the tongue, as I understand it is still supposed to be. Most startling was the line to the confessional before Mass, which was relatively lengthy!
The problem for me was that, despite all the rejection of the goofiness that I saw in so many parishes, it felt like being stuck in a time-capsule, as though I was suddenly living and praying in 1952. I say this not as a criticism of the Latin Mass, which is assuredly beautiful (especially in its "high" form), but more a criticism of the "atmosphere" and "feel" - it simply felt not timeless, but stuck. Again, this is NOT a criticism of the Latin Mass itself.
But, aside from my normal parish where the Ordinary Form was celebrated in a reverent manner (aside from the odd "Gather Us In" hymn and "Sisters and brothers, let us stand and begin", which annoyed me only because it seemed so overwhelmingly petty), I didn't know where else to go. The parish nearest me was beyond ruined - the Tabernacle was hidden off in a side-room, the Mass was constantly delayed or interrupted by introductions, clapping, barely valid Consecrations and ad-libs, armies of extraordinary ministers despite it being a small parish, and all the rest. From what I have gathered over the years, it's not uncommon.
However, I remember my priest at my home parish mentioning something about taking catechumens to a Ukrainian Gree Catholic parish in town, and so I decided to go there. I knew next-to-nothing about Eastern Catholicism, barely even knowing of their existence or history or anything else. In fact, for most of my conversion years, the West was Roman Catholic, and the East was Eastern Orthodox, with the Protestants sort of all over the place.
I arrived early at the Liturgy, so early that not even the priest was there yet. I didn't even know how to greet him, and was a bumbling mess. The inside of the church itself was much better than it looked on the outside - instead of any statues, there were icons adorning the walls and front, where a beautiful iconostasis stood. The priest wore vestments that didn't appear to be handmade with crayons and scissors, but actual vestments. The Liturgy was sung, and I felt very excited to be there - could it really be possible to dive into the Eastern spirituality, prayer, practice, and everything else that I had begun to love so much back in 2011?
I could embrace the Orthodox spirituality I loved while still being Catholic - this was what enthralled me the most. I was glad to see a parish that had not succumbed to liturgical gutting, that had confession before every Liturgy, and was for me, a brand new experience.
The world of Eastern Catholicism began to open up to me. The problem was, however, that things were darkening - I was beginning to develop a worse twin to my intellectual arrogance during RCIA: what I call Over-Zealous Convert Syndrome.