Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Church Visits - part 2

It isn't fair of me to only speak about one of the churches we visited, so here's my piece on Visitation Catholic church - our second church visit for Worship class. Comparing it to C.O.R. isn't really fair - they have completely different feels and are targeting completely different groups of people. Where COR was trying to reach the unchurched or those who are "nominally" Christian, Visitation is very proud of its connection to the Catholic faith. As such, there were many more Christian, specifically Catholic, symbols all around the church. The narthex is large room, including a fireplace, comfy chairs and a large painting of the Bible story for which the church is named - Mary, mother of Jesus, visiting her pregnant friend Elizabeth. I also noticed a large basket for collecting food, an obvious act of charity that I don't remember noticing at COR. The other big thing that struck me right away was the color of the walls - a very warm cream color, almost gold with the light coming in through yellow glass windows. It felt very inviting and comfortable to me.

When we walked into the sanctuary I was awed and somehow physically affected. It's hard to explain, but it was beautiful and welcoming. The whole congregation faces the altar, which is very much central to the set up. In the ceiling above the altar table is a large opening, kind of like a skylight but the windows go around the sides of the dome rather than being at the very top. Instead, the very top was a beautiful painting of a dove in the blue sky, respresenting the Holy Spirit coming down on the activity on that altar. It was breathtaking to see, and yet most of the congregation never sees it since it's above the altar and not really visible ftom the pews. The other big thing about Visitation is the baptismal font, a larger sixe than I've generally seen. It's big enough for an adult to kneel in (although not deep enough for complete immersion) and is placed in the main sanctuary but kind of off to one corner. It was a compromise on the location, as some people wanted it immediately in the center of the entrance and others wanted it more out of the way. Where it sits is very visible, but not impeding traffic flow through the main doors. It's also in straight sight line to the altar, as is the chapel where the Eucharist is kept for those that are sick or homebound. Everything comes back to the altar.

I had the opportunity to go back to Visitation for mass on Saturday - part of the class requirments to experience different types of worship services but also getting me in touch with my Roman Catholic roots. I have to write a paper on it for class, so I don't want to say too much here, but there were several things that struck me about the mass. (1) There were two baptisms at that particular mass, so I was excited about getting to see the font in use, but it turned out that I really couldn't see much of anything. The families and people from the congregation all crowd around the font to see, blocking sight and the feel of participation from the rest of us who stayed in the pews. (2) As is custom in my experience of Catholic mass, the congregation doesn't get involved. There were hymns listed in the order of worship, but nobody sang along with the cantor or even turned to the page in their hymnals! While the priest didn't seem to really be setting himself apart from the congregation, there was a definite feel of the priest being the actor and everyone else there to just watch. (3) Right after communion, people leave. This is something I also remember from growing up - the deed is done, they got what they came for and they're on their way. It feels very fracturing to have such a large part of the community walk out before the final blessing, and I don't really understand where this comes from, but I think it speaks to the mindset of the congregants more than the worship service itself. Any Catholics out there want to enlighten me?? It amazes me when I look back and realize how much I don't know about the tradition I was raised in. I'm definitely more Methodist than Catholic now, but will never be separate from those roots. I think that's why it's hard for me to separate my feelings about Visitation from my past - in a sense I felt like I was going home.

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