A Protestant visiting a Catholic church for the first time is surprising particularly when finding out the manner in which it is different from the usual church and, in particular, the church building, furnishings, and arrangement. The Catholics seem to their express their belief through statues, stained glass windows, and paintings that are spread throughout then church building. Attending a mass at a Catholic church seems different from attending prayer in a normal Protestant setting. The Mass is fundamental to the worship life of a Catholic, and the rites and traditions have been followed for centuries, and traditions of the local Catholic Church is reminiscent of the traditions of ancient Latin practices. This paper explores personal experiences of a Protestant Christian attending a Catholic Mass for the first time.
Architecture of the Catholic Building
The Catholic Church building is different from the other Christian church buildings, and the other buildings that surround the Saint Andrews building. The Catholic Church much like other churches it is a meeting place for a large congregation of people, and with its deep and rich traditions that stretch several centuries. The holy water at the entrance of the church added to the intrigue of the church and the awe that first-time visitors accord the place its spiritual and artful place (White and Mitchell, 2003). The church is obviously built in the Gothic style, reminiscent of several Catholic Church buildings all over the country. The Gothic architectural style heavily borrowed from European architecture during the twelfth century.
However, the Gothic style seems to have been mixed with Classic, the European and Romanesque style that has made the church building seem aesthetically pleasing to the eye. The Bible declares the church to be the dwelling place of God amongst men, and this implies it is the House of God and the Gate of Heaven, and through its construction, the Catholic Church subscribes to these declarations.
In a Catholic church, the priest occupies the central position of leadership that is evident from the procession in the aisle to the time he gives the homily at the altar.
The auditorium in the Catholic Church is typical with the altar table placed at the center of the stage and the pulpit on the left from the point of view of the congregation (King, 1957). Behind the altar table, one is likely to see the crucifix strategically affixed on the wall while chandeliers hang from the ceiling. On the walls, there is a sculpture depicting the different stages that Jesus Christ encountered on his way to the cross that straddle from the left side of the church to the extreme right. In addition, the pews were constructed in such a way that they have folded out kneeling rails that allow worshipers conveniently and comfortably kneel whenever necessary during the worship. In visiting a Catholic Church, one is likely to observe statues of Jesus, Mary, and other saints that honor and preserve their memories.
During a Mass in the church, people stand, kneel and sit during different sections of the service. It was a puzzle, at the service, the congregation prayed aloud during certain times when worshipping God, chanting words from their lips. Then the congregation stood up, when the reading sections of the Second Testament. Kneeling was translated by an adherent to mean revering before the mightiness of God. Finally, the congregation sat, and which was translated to mean gaining a respectful attention when listening to the word of God (White and Mitchell, 2003). The Mass can be defined as the main act of partaking worship in the life a person deemed Catholic. Attending a Mass has a great spiritual context, as the Catholic learns to spend time with his maker and developing an inner knowledge in the traditions and practices of the Church.
The term Mass, which is derived from Latin, which implies ‘sending out’, probably about the time Jesus sent his disciples, at the end in the book of Mathews, to the world. The Catholic Mass is fragmented into four different rites; introductory rite, the liturgy of the word, the liturgy of the Eucharist, and finally, the concluding rite.
During the Introductory Rite, there is a procession led by the altar boys who assists the priest, who in the procession is stationed last (King, 1957). During the procession, the congregation is involved in the singing of a hymn, until, the priest reaches the part of the Church where the altar table is positioned, and then he begins the Mass by chanting the Holy Trinity while making a sign of the cross.
The Liturgy of the Word becomes the second part of the Mass and has been historical been linked to the ancient Greek language, and means the official work. It was noticeable that during this section of the Mass, the congregation became attentive, listening to a story from the Bible and it was from the Old Testament, and it was linked to an activity that Jesus did in the New Testament (King, 1957). In addition, the congregation sang from the Boob of Psalms, obviously being lead by the priest. Then a reading from the Epistles of Paul, and this point the congregation stood up to listen to the story of Christ. It was funny how the readings tried to link the Old Testament of the Bible and Jesus Christ of the New Testament. After the readings, the next phase was the sermon by the priest, which later, this writer came to realize its other word, which is the homily. The congregation then recited the Creed, perhaps signifying the completion of this phase of the Mass.
The third section of the mass, which is the liturgy of the Eucharist, and the Eucharist, implies giving of thanks, and it begins by an offertory, and this signals to the faithful to offer themselves to God, signified by taking of bread and wine that represents the blood and body of the Christ. During this part, the congregation knelt in prayer, when praying in the name of the Christ, who the faithful assumed was in their midst in the image of the wine and bread, and in particular when the priest chanted the term, consecration. As a non-Catholic, this writer could not receive the Holy Communion, was instead invited to receive a blessing, the Catholic call it the spiritual communion.
The concluding rite is the final part of the Mass, which implies having a reflection on the Eucharist, as the congregation stands up and the priest chants a final prayer, albeit short, in which he beseeches God, to grace those who have received the Communion (King, 1957). The priest then blesses the congregation and the entire population in the name of the Holy Trinity, a manifestation of worshipping God the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit. The priest declares the end of the Mass and instructs the congregation to go in the peace of Jesus and to continue serving the Lord, and to which the congregation reply with thanks to God.
Attending a Catholic Church and Mass was an inspiring personal experience, and in particular, as a Protestant Christian. The buildings, and its statues, stained glass windows and paintings provided new information that had been fathomed in the past. The statues were those of Jesus Christ and the Holy Mary, and they seem to provide pictorial information to the adherents and other followers of the faith alike. The Church is steeped in traditions that stretch centuries, and it was reverberating reliving the traditions in the church, and, in particular, the Eucharist, in which as a non-Catholic, this writer could not partake of the Holy Communion, rather, the writer was allowed to go through an alternative spiritual communion.
The Mass was certainly different from a normal service in a Protestant church, as it began at the entrance of the Church when the faithful dipped their hands in a bowl that contained the holy water, and then chanted the Holy Trinity. However, it is said that the official Mass commences with the procession of the priest and the altar servers. Then it is followed by the liturgy of the word where there are readings of the Bible, in which the Old Testament is linked to the work of Christ in the New Testament. After that, the priest performs the liturgy of the Eucharist, and in this section, the priest oversees the taking of the Holy Communion, and finally, the priest informs the congregation to disperse.
King, A. A. (1957). Liturgy of the Roman Church (Vol. 1). Longmans, Green and Company.
White, J. F., & Mitchell, N. D. (2003). Roman Catholic worship: Trent to today. Liturgical Press.