Tuesday, November 14, 2006

visiting a different church, part 2

This is the final paper that I turned in about my experience visiting the Holy Cross Roman Catholic Church... enjoy...

Roman Catholic Church
Holy Cross Catholic Church
November 11, 2006, 4:15 pm Mass
Pat Haviland, High School Youth Minister
My wife and I decided to visit Holy Cross Roman Catholic Church in Batavia. This church is near Fox Valley Christian Church so I drive past this church regularly. We arrived early, to a mostly empty parking lot. As we came into the building, no one greeted us. There were plenty of pictures and icons of religious figures on the wall. The church was very quiet.
While waiting for the Mass to begin two ideas stuck out to me. The first observation was the number of icons around the sanctuary of the church. Later while talking with Pat, I learned Holy Cross has more icons than most. Aside from the very central and prominent crucifix in the center of the stage, there were also very prominent icons of Mary, the mother of Jesus and Joseph. In addition to these, the fifteen stages of the cross were present around the room as with many other pictures, statues and icons that were unrecognizable to me. This is very different from the single cross that exists in the worship center of my church.
The second observation I had was the silence before the service. When we walked in, everyone was very quietly waiting for the service to begin. There was a reverence in the air. The silence reminded me more of a funeral than the typical chatter that fills the air in my church on a Sunday morning before the worship service.
As the Mass began I felt uncomfortable, a feeling that lasted through the entire service. The people around us knew when to stand, when to sit, when to kneel, what to recite and how to respond. At different points in the Mass, the entire congregation recited the Nicean Creed and the Lord’s Prayer. As one who has never participated in this type of a service before, it was somewhat unsettling and uncomfortable to be unaware of what was coming next. My wife and I felt like intruders in a foreign land.
Several aspects of the Mass were remarkably different from the church I attend. One very intriguing difference was the Eucharist. Having never been to a Roman Catholic Church before, I was somewhat unprepared for witnessing the way they do the Lord’s Supper.
The priest meticulously organized his cups, towels, plates and other items. Everyone, including me, was glued to every move Reverend Barr made as he poured the juice, placed the towels, and read from the Scriptures. As the reverend would approach a part of the preparation that was important, a bell would ring either one time or three times. This act, as I found out later by talking with Pat, was to call attention to a very special part of the preparations. This practice was revived from the past when the services were done in Latin. Since people could not understand the Latin, they would ring the bell to draw attention to what was occurring. After the preparations, the whole congregation was invited to come up and participate in the remembrance. Again, I felt awkward as my wife and I stayed seated as others got up, quietly walked to the end of their pew, got into line down the center aisle of the sanctuary and patiently waited for their chance to participate in “the body and blood of the Lord.” The serving of the Lord’s Supper, from start to finish, must have lasted at least twenty-five minutes.
It was refreshing and energizing to see the kind of focus that was given to something so central to our faith as the Lord’s Supper. Often in Protestant churches, communion feels like a race rather than an intimate time of focus on our Lord and his sacrifice on the cross. Communion is prepared in another room of the church, usually the night before the worship service, and then placed in a refrigerator until it is needed in the service. Never is it prepared in full view of the congregation. Following a meditation that cannot last longer than five minutes, it is served as rapidly as possible so we can move onto the next element of the service. Our Communion seems rushed and pressured compared to the slow and intentional method of Holy Cross.
A second difference of Mass was a lack of a multimedia in the service and the absence of a projection screen or other discernable multimedia tools. In most churches, the most obvious thing in the sanctuary is the projection screen. In the sanctuary at Holy Cross, the most central and obvious thing in the room was the approximate 20-foot crucifix on the wall behind the stage. In thinking about the lack of a multimedia tools, I wondered how a church could interact with it’s culture without these seemingly indispensable tools.
A third difference was in the choice or tradition of music. The congregation sang to simply a piano. The songs that we sang were songs that Jackie and I were not even familiar with from our church tradition. In fact, as we walked into the building, we could hear the sound of organ music. One of the attendees commented to us as to who was playing the organ as though they didn’t use it very often. But being a member of a congregation that makes use of a full range of musical instruments, including guitars, drums and keyboards, and technological devices, like iPods and computers, it seemed very plain with only the piano.
Finally, the homily was very different from what we experience in a Protestant church. Reverend Barr, one of the two Parochial Vicars at Holy Cross, did not look to impress with lengthy illustrations or “preacher jokes.” The message revolved completely around two passages of Scripture, I Kings 17:10-16 and Mark 12:38-44, read from the Lectionary readings read earlier in the Mass. As someone who is accustomed to a typical sermon, the homily seemed to conclude before it had really begun.
As mentioned, I have never attended Mass before. Thinking about going to church, naturally I brought my Bible. Before the homily as the readers were reading from the Lectionary, no one seemed to reach for a Bible. There were no Bibles in the back of the row in front of me. During the homily, no one reached for a Bible in order to look up the verses that Father Barr was referencing. As I looked around, I realized that no one had even brought a Bible to Mass. I felt suddenly out of place again as I considered opening my Bible to read along with him. Although some elements were the same, they were done in a very different manner.
Following the Mass, Jackie and I sat down and had a conversation with Pat Haviland, Holy Cross’ High School Youth Minister. Sitting down with Pat was a great chance not only to have some questions answered but also to network with another local youth worker. My questions for Pat revolved around two areas.
The first area of questions arose directly from the Mass itself. Having never been to Mass, some of their practices were very unfamiliar to me. For instance, Reverend Barr was wearing a green robe. Reverend Deutsch, the “Senior” priest, came up during the Eucharist to assist Reverend Barr. Reverend Deutsch was wearing a green sash. Also the cloths that contained certain elements of the Eucharist were green. Following the Mass, I questioned Pat about the significance of green. He was surprised by the question but explained that green is just the color of “ordinary time” in which the Roman Catholic Church finds itself.
The second area of questions that I had for Pat were questions about the church, it’s leadership and staff relationships, and especially the youth ministry at Holy Cross. As I found out, the student ministries of Holy Cross and Fox Valley Christian Church are not as different as one would assume. Obviously there are some major differences in theology and beliefs, yet some of the weekly habits and traditions of our student ministries are very similar.
Hopefully, this experience was just an initial visit and this conversation with Pat will spawn some more conversations as we can learn from one another. I would like to build on this connection in order to learn from each other as we both serve the community of Batavia.



  1. Obviously when I turned it in... it looked much better than it does here. Blogger isn't exactly set up for good text formating.

  2. Your comment about "most churches" having some sort of projector took me aback; I've only attended (regularly) one congregation that did have one. But I tend towards small town churches, so that might have something to do with it. :)