Friday, December 04, 2009

The Little Differences

One of the many things I enjoy about traveling is the opportunity to attend Mass in various locales. There's a certain comfort in the way that different people in different places gather to celebrate the Eucharist of the Lord in a common manner. Whether in Minneapolis, Manila, Mexico, or Miami it's one Church of believers joined together in communion.

Of course there are also many differences to observe. The language, the music, the particular customs and the traditions, and the church buildings themselves vary from place to place.

My experience attending Mass in Miami last week provided another example of this. The one thing that really stood out was how light the attendance was. When the Mass began, I doubt if more than 10% of the pews were occupied. By the time the Gospel was read, the house was maybe 20% full. It almost felt like I was at a Marlins game not a Mass, a feeling reinforced by the turquoise pew coverings.

Judging by the size and age of the church itself I would think it a decent sized parish. Perhaps the sheer number of Masses offered--two on Saturday (one English, one Spanish), four on Sunday morning, and one on Sunday night--meant that attendance was spread out among them. But I was at the 10am Sunday service, which I thought would have been the prime time showcase.

And those that did show up tended to arrive late and leave early (what is this, a Dodgers game?). By the time the last note on the closing hymn was sounded, the pews were almost entirely empty. Seriously, there were probably eight other people beside me still inside the church at the close. The rest apparently had places to go and people to see.

The standard of dress and conduct was also different. Not too often that you see people wearing fashion sunglasses throughout a Mass in Minnesota. Or talking on cell phones literally right up to the point when Mass began. And on a day when temps were in the mid-seventies (very mild for Miami), shorts were ubiquitous. Sisyphus would have felt right at home in his standard summer outfit of shorts, sandals, and a Hawaiian shirt as the two gentlemen who were seated in front of me obviously did.

Other minor differences were that there were no altar boys. Just the priest and deacon assisting him. And no wine at communion which always bugs me. It's the body and blood of Christ, isn't it? One might have chalked that up to overblown H1N1 fears, but since we engaged in JB's favorite "introduce yourself to your neighbors and shake hands" pre-Mass ritual I doubt that's the explanation.

Lest you think me too negative on the experience, I should add that the music was quite good. The choir was small but powerful and the cantor really belted it out. The priest also delivered a solid homily on the how to resist the secular temptations of the Christmas season and maintain focus on what truly matters.

Attending Mass in other places is always different. But it's also always good.

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