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Easter Mass, or The Roundup of all lost Catholics

Post by Brian O'Neill on April 25, 2011 at 5:53 pm with 6 Comments »
May 1, 2011 10:24 pm

On Easter I walked to church through drizzling rain. The bright parade of people, young and old, walked in ever-tightening lines into the church, all wearing their Sunday best, of course. As the minutes prior to the start of the Catholic Mass crept by, standing room inside gave way to standing in the rain.

My father made sure we showed up early because, “Every one shows up on Easter Sunday, even guys who don’t go to church anymore, like you.”

Ouch, but very true. As a lapsed Catholic, I don’t miss the Sunday services that became so routine over a childhood spent in catholic parochial school, as an altar boy, and later as a student at a Jesuit high school. But Easter somehow has a way of quadrupling the eternal Catholic guilt until even a guy like me has to show up.In the pews my family sat squished against eachother. Though we were happy to have a seat, we soon started the ritual standing, sitting and kneeling that accompany the Mass. Squirm, fidget, squirm. Just like old times. After about three nanoseconds of canned response to the prayers (I had memorized most of the service by the fourth grade), my eyes wandered over the crowd.

Three rows up were the cutest little sisters, each cradled in a parent’s arms, making adorable faces at two cute little old ladies in the row behind. One row up was a gentleman who was giving an interesting interpretation on the musical choices for the day. His singing was strong and surprisingly melodious, but he would abruptly stop singing when he forgot the words and start just as abruptly when they came back to him. He also didn’t seem to worry that he wasn’t keeping pace with the rest of us. I found myself hoping that his wife’s hearing aid was shut off. Standing in the aisle next to us was an older fellow with an absolutely stellar suit, a three-piece vested affair with a twist: from the top of his collar to the bottom of his pant cuffs it was navy blue and green plaid. Couldn’t help but think he ordered a kilt and instead got that suit.

The mass droned on enthusiastically, drowning out the creaks and pops of limbs of the poor saps in the back after excessive standing and twitching. Babies did their best to drown out the priest during his sermon, and the altar girls (that’s changed since I was a kid) rang the eucharist bell with reckless abandon.

I looked around at the end of the service and saw a lot of tired people, their shoulders and their fine clothes all seeming to sag. Tired kids were now sound asleep on shoulders, older folks sat back against the pews and young people started looking towards the door. As we filed out you could almost hear the relief.

Outside on the steps of the church, however, it was different. The mood was energized in a way that I must have missed as a young man. There was a level of peace and community that had been injected into the individuals who had squeezed into the beautiful but small box of a church an hour prior. The time we had spent (or endured) together had filled up a spiritual reservoir drained during the work week for so many of the followers.

Celebrating Easter with my family, and the community of faithful, reminded me of the importance of faith, family and ritual in our everyday lives. Whether the community is a Jewish synagogue holding Passover, a Catholic church celebrating Easter or the Grand Mosque in Mecca where a million Muslims drop to their knees in worship, the strength and beauty in these shared rituals shows how much we all strive, together, to reach our ideal selves.

All in all, it was good to be back in church.



Leave a comment Comments → 6
  1. Very nice. I think the torch of Andrew Greeley is being passed. (smile)

  2. BigPaulie says:

    Till they hang pedophile priests I am NOT a catholic! In the mean time enjoy that Nazi Pope.

  3. This story has inspired me to write a post on my website about this. It seems conflicting: the author is saying how bored the mass attendees are, that he attended due to quadrupled “Catholic Guilt” and that you could hear the relief when the service was over. The only bright spot was afterward when it was over and then he states that they had filled a “spiritual reservoir” and that totally conflicts with the experience of the actual time spent in the pews. Which of course completely negates the final paragraph of “faith, family and ritual.” It seemed like a forced “happy ending” to a problem that exists for many lapsed Catholics: that spiritual void is simply not being met in the Catholid church. But the guilt is still there which is why Easter and Christmas are the 2 times per year most Catholics attend, then they skip the rest of the times.

  4. Brian O'Neill says:

    Former Catholic,

    We probably have a lot in common, so it seems rather unfortunate that you failed to grasp my point. This column was not written as an analysis of catholicism vs. other organized religions, rather it was a reflection on how the shared spiritual experience, despite the repetition and boredom, seemed to uplift the community. If you choose to let this piece fit into your anti-Catholic viewpoint, however, I’ll leave you to it.

  5. Brian,

    I didn’t mean to imply that it was an analysis of Catholicism versus other religions (I myself have chosen no other religion, in fact). And, I agree that we likely have a lot in common.

    The only point I differ with you on is where you stated that: “The time we had spent (or endured) together had filled up a spiritual reservoir drained during the work week for so many of the followers.” And actually, of that, I merely feel that the boring, ritualistic service was but a means to an end, that people go out of guilt, and not only at Easter, rather than because they feel spiritually fulfilled there. The community aspect at the end, when the ritual had ended, was the part that was valuable; you do cover that well, and I totally agree!

    But maybe it was the communal atmosphere, the families being together, and not the ritual, that helped everyone to fill a spiritual void. To say that all in all it was good to be back in church just seemed to conflict with the fact that everyone wanted out of that crowded and monotonous atmosphere, you know? It seemed rather that it was good be back in church OUTSIDE the church :) after the service.

    I haven’t yet finished the post I plan to write about Easter-only Catholics, but my main point of it is that I have personally found it to be more spiritually fulfilling to attend a random daily mass where there are perhaps 10 people–when people go not due to an obligation but b/c they truly want to. And, it’s not so darn crowded to boot. I actually believe spirituality can be found in the cc, but usually only when it’s not done solely out of guilt but out of desire.

    That said, part of my unfinished post states that although I did not feel guilty for not attending Easter mass, I felt guilty for not feeling guilty! :) How’s that for the embedded guilt all Catholics share?

    Brian, I meant no offense. I just chafe against the monotony of the mass, it was the hardest part of being Catholic to me. I would certainly welcome your comments on my website, and especially a guest post from you! I think you have something valuable to say.


  6. Brian O'Neill says:

    Thanks for the comments. I think that you do have a point, and I’ll have to check out your posts.


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