Wednesday, October 4, 2017

We go to Mass in Las Vegas

Guardian Angel Cathedral, Las Vegas, Nevada
Guardian Angel Cathedral, Las Vegas, Nevada
There are a lot of ways Las Vegas is different from other big cities in the United States -- not just because of what it has (the casinos and strip clubs), but also because of what it doesn’t have. When you drive down the major streets of most cities, you see churches. Sometimes they're old or even dead churches, but they’re there.


When you drive down the best known street in Las Vegas, the portion of South Las Vegas Boulevard known as “The Strip,” you don’t see churches. Sure, there are wedding chapels -- but anyone who works in one will make it quite clear those chapels are not churches. Many people who visit Las Vegas see only their hotel, some casinos, restaurants, and night clubs. When we visited Las Vegas this time, though, we found a church in the shadow of casinos.


Guardian Angel Cathedral, a Roman Catholic Church, is just off South Las Vegas Blvd. You walk out the front door and look straight out at Trump Tower. Like other buildings in the neighborhood, the architecture of Guardian Angel isn’t subtle. The A frame is large, but the cross-topped tower is even taller, with a statue of the Holy Family beneath it. Inside the cathedral, the stained glass windows are elaborate and quite beautiful.


Catholics definitely have an advantage over Protestants when they go to church in a new place. They can go anywhere in the world, and most of the worship service will be what they’re used to. The rituals of the liturgical year will be the same. For those of us who aren’t Catholics, we’re confused. We have to watch other people to know when to sit, when to kneel, when to stand, and what page to turn to in that little paperback book on the back of the pew. By now, Mindy and I have visited enough Catholic churches to get some of it right, but I always wonder what it’s like for visitors with no prior church experience.  


Even among Catholic churches, though, there are differences. A couple hundred people showed up for the 8:00 am Mass at Guardian Angel (You see lots of people on the streets in the afternoon, evening and even 2:00 am Sunday morning, but not so much at breakfast time. Apart from worship services, it’s a rather quiet time around town). This service had a fair deal of singing and the woman leading the singing (the cantor) had a very nice voice.


A part of worship in the Roman Catholic church that can throw some Protestants off is the two offering thing. The first offering goes to who knows what, but then the priest or a deacon up front says, “This morning’s second offering goes to …” some very cool ministry, perhaps to homeless in the neighborhood or hurricane victims or starving people in Africa. As an unprepared visitor, you already put the money you brought into the first offering. It’s frustrating.


The Gospel reading at Guardian Angel that morning (as at Catholic churches throughout the world) was from Matthew 21: 28 - 32, the story of the two brothers. In the story, the father asks the sons to do some work. One says he won’t, but then goes and does the work. The other brother says he will do the work, but then he doesn’t. The priest pointed out that God cares more about what we do than what we say.


Another strange thing is noticing who doesn’t go forward for communion. I don’t go, because I know that in the Catholic Church, the Eucharist is for Catholics who are in good standing. So I stay seated. But I observed people near me who knew when to sit and when to stand and when to kneel and to kick up the kneelers (which makes quite the simultaneous clunking sound), remain in their place rather than going forward. I know why I shouldn’t go, but I always wonder why that person doesn’t go forward.


There are moments during Mass when I feel like an outsider, but when Scripture is read, songs are sung, and even when people are shaking hands around me, I feel like I’m in the catholic Church, Christ’s Church encompassing all who believe in Him.


I hope that particularly this week, when so many in Las Vegas are suffering, grieving, questioning, and seeking, they can find hope in this church.


Statistics
Service Length: 52 minutes
Sermon Length: 7 minutes
Visitor Treatment: Near the end of the service, the priest welcomed visitors and invited them to return next time they were in Las Vegas
Followup by Tuesday Morning: none
Our Rough Count: 220
Snacks: none
Musicians: organ (woman)
Vocals (cantor, woman)
Songs: “Crown Him with Many Crowns”
“Glory to God in the Highest”
“Remember Your Mercies, O Lord”
“Lord, This Time, Change our Hearts”
“Here I am, Lord”
“Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God, Almighty”
“Save us, Save us, Savior of the World”
“Amen, Amen, Amen”
“Lamb of God”
“Teach us, O God, to Follow Your Ways”
“Amazing Grace”
“They’ll Know we are Christians by our Love”
Distance to Church: 3 miles
Open WiFi: no
Tie/Suit Count: at least 3 (all the ushers wore suits)
Church Website: gaclv.org