Mass Tourism III
(see Mass Tourism for an explanation of this series)
A few weekends back my wife and I were retreating at White Lotus near Standardsville, a very interesting AirBNB she discovered for a few nights’ getaway. The options of Roman Catholic churches in the Shenandoah Valley are few but there was one Shepherd of the Hill a few miles away in Quinque (L. Five) with a Sunday Mass at 8:30 AM. So I arose and left around 8 AM.
On the road there, I was hailed down by a late 20’s early 30’s African American male. Normally I’d not want to pick up hitchhikers but this is a hard one to avoid when one is going to Church; the parable of the Good Samaritan comes to mind. I rolled down my window and asked what he needed—a ride toward Charlottesville. I told him I wasn’t going very far but he could come along for the one mile I had left. He hopped in, glued to a smartphone talking with a woman (I think it was his wife) using an earbud to listen so that I only heard his side of the conversation. He seemed lost and maybe a little disoriented. Although he did not seem soused I did smell an odor distinctly “Eau de all night bender”.
Before I blinked, the Church appeared and I rolled into the parking lot—not a lot of mileage for the man on his way to Charlottesville. I looked at the time, about 8:10, and another verse of Scripture from the Beatitudes—something about going the extra mile for a Roman soldier—came to mind. I said I would take him as far as I could go in 10 minutes toward Route 29, providing just enough time to return for Mass. So I got him to Route 29 at the Exxon, got gas for myself and made it to Mass with a minute to spare. And, yeah, I wasn’t murdered after all!
Now the fun part.
The Church was sort of the sparse architecture of a modern church a la IKEA with a skylight down the center aisle and a “rainbow” color arrangement of banners hanging down. My orthodoxy sensor is not exactly registering in the “safe zone” at this point but I ignored the reading. There was no red lamp burning nor anything that looked like a tabernacle—not even one of an IKEA make and model. Looking around I saw a side room, probably the Eucharistic chapel where some churches like to cordon that sort of thing off—not a good policy in my opinion but no wonder either.
I sat on the right wing (no pun intended) toward the top to be as isolated as possible but it was no good. A middle age couple, the man hooked up to a portable ventilator, sat in front of me.
The first thing I noticed that I found discouraging was the total lack of kneelers—one of the few remaining distinctions of the Catholic Church. Now my orthodoxy meter is jittering unsteadily. The service started with a “turn and greet your neighbor” ice-breaker which caught me flat-footed. I gave “meaningful glances” to those around me feeling like the odd man out trying to shed his attitude. Things went more or less according to liturgy with no art to the conduct. The prayer of the faithful was supplemented by random callouts for prayers related to people in the community—not a bad thing but would never happen at St. Catherine’s. No way.
Sure enough, during the Eucharistic prayer everyone stayed standing. No one knelt. I did not kneel either even though I thought we should, but I was a visitor. Besides, much of the popular response are left open to “local custom” and maybe this was one of those areas—mental note.
Before any ite missa est, announcements were made and so-and-so’s birthday was that day and… (please no, No, NO!) “we all” sang Happy Birthday to “Bob”, “Hank” or whoever it was.
I sorted of bolted out of the Church through a side door following another guy who wanted to beat the social congestion too. I love going to Mass but I am not a fan of the modernized approach which aids in the destruction of the relevance of Catholicism in history and her cultural distinction. Still, I understand that out there the community is a little tighter, the distances longer and the Church is a bit of the town square for exchanges—so I’ll take it in stride.