Last night, before Mass, James and I were sitting in the pew at St. Patrick’s. The stained glass windows were black, and the warm glow of candles from the altar created a calm atmosphere. The choir was practicing a chant of Ave Maria. I felt as people must have felt for the last 2000 years. In walks the young priest, wearing that dress. Sure it’s not a dress, it’s the old pre-Vatican II non-pants priest daily wear. Seeing priests in it always makes me feel as though I have been transported through time, or that time is still completely. I am seeing what people saw in 1980, in 1880, in 1780, in 80. (Ok maybe they didn’t wear that back in 80 AD but you get the point.)
Once the priest is done suiting up in the sacristy, the procession begins: altar boys holding candles, the lectors, the priest in his white chasuble. The songs are ones that have been used for generations. There’s something about being at Mass at night. It’s timeless.
James and I were at church last night because yesterday was the feast of the Immaculate Conception. Basically that means that on December 8, we celebrate the belief that God allowed Mary to be born without the stain of original sin in order for her to later be the mother of Jesus. Born Catholic, I have always gone to church. Even during times of my life when I felt far from God, and confused about what I believed in, I still went to church. Blame it on my Catholic school upbringing. I think the reason I have never quit church, no matter how dismal I felt about my life or about God, was that to me, the church is home. The traditions, the prayers, the vestments, and the songs from 200 or 500 years ago all make me feel that I am part of something that is way more important than any other something I have ever been a part of.
I have taken many theology classes in my life. I have studied the history of the prayers and the songs, the saints and the creed, the schisms and the councils. Studying, though, can only get you so far. Sometimes, people study so much that they lose sight of what really matters, that God became Man to teach us how to love one another. They care more about the letter of the law than the spirit of the law. No matter how doubtful I ever feel about God, about people, about where my life is headed, coming back to Mass reminds me why I keep going. The Church is our mother, the home we come back to when all else fails. That is the way I felt last night.