Tuesday, February 17, 2015

St. Eugene's Catholic Cathedral, Santa Rosa

A certain challenge comes with this project of visiting churches with the expressed intent of writing about them: it can be difficult to be in the service, to worship. This week, as we attended Latin Mass at St. Eugene's in Santa Rosa, I struggled with this more than I ever have before.

During the last two weeks of attending services conducted in other languages (Spanish and Korean), I was usually able to stay involved because the congregation was lively and attentive. This week, along with long stretches spoken in a language I didn't understand, there were also long stretches of silence, such as during the ablutions when the priest was cleaning the utensils used for communion.

During that time I was thinking about what I'd write this week, considering, "I could write, 'A certain challenge comes with this project of visiting churches with the expressed intent of writing...'" In fact, I even thought about how I could use this repetition. I really should stop before I get us into a temporal loop from which we can't escape.

The purpose of services in a variety of languages is usually quite clear. There were attendees in the Spanish service we attended two weeks ago that only understand Spanish, just as there were attendees in last week's Korean service that only understand that language.

But I'm certain that there was no one in Sunday's service who understands only Latin, certainly not the priest conducting the service. When he read Scripture and made a few remarks in English, he had a southern, perhaps Texan or Oklahoman, accent and sounded rather like a radio preacher (stretching out words like "in-eq-ui-teeeee").
Another reason to conduct worship in a language other than the one dominant in the community at large is the idea of "worship languages" (mentioned here). People often prefer to worship in the way they worshiped when they were young or when they first came to faith. So just as someone might prefer the hymns of their youth, they may enjoy worshiping in the language they used when they were young.

But considering the fact that the Catholic Church moved to vernacular services after Vatican Two, over fifty years ago, and a number of the participants were younger than that, something else must be at work.  

There are a number of  Catholics who believe the traditional Latin mass is somehow better than a mass in their native language, but I had a hard time in quick research discerning why they would believe this. There are some who simply argue that the Latin is more beautiful.

And there certainly was beauty in some of the Latin chants and songs in the service. The priest would chant and there would be a response from a small group of nuns in the balcony (they were right behind my back, and at the beginning of the service I thought the choir was a recording). There certainly was an ethereal quality to their singing.

But most languages can sound beautiful, at least to their native speakers, so why pick Latin?
It is tradition in the Latin Mass for the Scripture readings and the homily to be done in the vernacular. In this service the Scripture (I Corinthians 13 and Luke 18) was read in Latin and English. There was no homily as the priest gave a special appeal for giving to the Diocese. (The appeal, "This Latin Mass would not be possible without the work of the Diocese" sounded rather like a public radio pledge drive.)

The priest did causally refer to the value of the Latin mass because the words on the cross were written in Latin. But according to Luke 23: 38, the inscription "This is the King of the Jews" was written in Latin, Greek and Hebrew. So why is the service in only one of those languages? There is a bit of Greek in the service, "Kyrie Eleison" (for you Mister Mister fans) but no Hebrew that I noticed.

A book was provided with English or Spanish translation for the Latin which one could use to follow along with the service. But I often lost track in the book as I was trying to figure out when to stand, sit or kneel. The use of the Latin to my untutored sensibilities seemed to have a distancing effect rather than adding an enhancing element to worship (which was the opinion of Martin Luther and other reforming ancestors).

I was also put off a little by all the pomp and circumstance surrounding the Lord's Table. Philistine that I am, I kept thinking of the scene in "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" where Indy chooses the correct cup as the Holy Grail, because it is the most simple one, one that might have been used by a carpenter's son. All the vestments and procedures used to get to the bread and the cup to the faithful make your average Rube Goldberg device seem straightforward.

There were a number of other elements of the High Mass that I had never experienced. There was the Asperges, the sprinkling of Holy Water on the altar, the clergy and the congregation. This is a representation of the cleansing of sin (Psalm 51 is often used in this part of the service) and I appreciated this part of the service (as a Christian and -- more sadly -- as a fan of vampire lore).

There was also use of incense. As a protestant, I'm sometimes a little bothered by the fact that our tradition ignores Scriptural passages such as Psalm 141:2: "May my prayer be set before you like incense" (that symbolism is lost on us non-papists, but not on Catholics).

During the service, up until the time of communion, I noticed people going in and out of the confessionals. And most (but not all) of the women and girls in the service wore head coverings (as did Mindy, who didn't want to go all Michelle Obama in Saudi Arabia on the service). Lace for head covering was available in the same basket that held the Latin-English and Latin-Spanish booklets.

We appreciated, during the Diocese Pledge Drive, a testimonial from a seminarian about his training. He spoke of the four pillars of their 6 - 7 years of training, the Intellectual, the Spiritual, the Pastoral and the Human (learning about their individual strengths and weaknesses). He seemed like a good guy and the Church is blessed to have men and women willing to devote their lives to the service of the Kingdom.

It was certainly an interesting experience and I'm sure Latin will be one of the many languages used to worship God in Heaven...but I'm good with experiencing it just once on this side of heaven.

Service Length:  1 hour 30 minutes
Sermon Length:  no sermon, as the priest announced, but the Diocese Pledge break was about ten minutes
Visitor Treatment: no acknowledgement of visitors
Our Rough Count:  70
Probable Ushers' Count:  95
Snacks:  none
Songs:  Before Mass began, the nuns in the balcony sang "Praise to the Lord, the Almighty" (in English). Much of the Mass was sung or chanted (in Latin), but we didn't note which songs they were.
Miles to place: 7 miles
Total California Miles: 4561 miles
-- Dean