Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Further Adventures of a Liturgical Tourist.

For a while I’ve been planning a round-robin post discussing some of the churches I’ve visited in my time out here in California; being busy with work and having more timely things to post on, I’ve been putting this off – just as I keep putting off a long-promised post on Nineteenth Annotation retreats (which, by the way, I still plan to produce, hopefully in the near future). Anyhow, here’s a recap on some of my recent liturgical adventures – better late than never, I figure.When a pope dies, the Jesuits’ Manual of Juridical Practice prescribes that each Jesuit church or public chapel should remember the late pontiff with “a suitable liturgical celebration . . . with the participation of externs.” (You may be unfamiliar with the term “externs,” which is an old Jesuit term for non-Jesuits.) I couldn’t make it to the memorial Mass for John Paul II at Mission Santa Clara because it took place at noon on a day I was at work. However, I did make it to a papal memorial Mass celebrated by the local Chinese Catholic community. Having never attended a Chinese-language liturgy before (and not knowing a word of Chinese), I was eager to see what it would be like. As expected, I didn’t understand a word other than imported terms like “Alleluia.” Even if the language was unfamiliar, in all its externals the Mass was indistinguishable from any other American parish liturgy; even the assigned hymns were set to American tunes. The only noteworthy sign of liturgical inculturation came at the Sign of Peace, when the priest and congregation bowed to each other before a general exchange of handshakes. Considering the 300-year saga of the Chinese Rites controversy and its resolution in favor of local adaptation, I had expected that Chinese Catholics would bring more elements of their culture into their worship. On reflection, however, I wonder whether the presence of much more pressing concerns have stalled progress in this area. Considering the deep divisions between the official and underground churches in mainland China and between Catholics in mainland China and in the diaspora, I suppose liturgical inculturation is fairly low on the priority list for Chinese Catholics.

In my last post I discussed my experience of the Paschal liturgy at Our Lady of Fatima Byzantine Catholic Church in San Francisco. Our Lady of Fatima is one of three Eastern Rite Catholic churches I’ve visited during my time in the Bay Area. My interest in Eastern Christianity began in earnest during a pilgrimage I made to the Holy Land five years ago, when I had vivid and memorable encounters with Armenian, Coptic and Melkite Christians in Jerusalem and the Galilee. Since then my experiences as a liturgical tourist have taken me to a variety of different Eastern Christian churches, though I retain a particular fondness for those with Middle Eastern roots. St. Elias the Prophet Melkite-Greek Catholic Church in San Jose certainly fits this bill; much of the congregation at St. Elias hails from Lebanon, Palestine and Syria, and much of the liturgy is in Arabic. St. Basil the Great Byzantine Catholic Church in Los Gatos reflects the somewhat different Ruthenian tradition of Eastern Europe but offers a very similar liturgical experience and an equally close-knit community feel. Our Lady of Fatima, by contrast, is strikingly sui generis, combining a Russian-flavored Divine Liturgy with distinctively Ignatian preaching. The congregation is very diverse; members who grew up in the Latin Rite and became drawn to the Eastern tradition later on seem to outnumber those who were raised in the Byzantine Rite. All three parishes offer a deeply moving and enriching worship experience, and I commend all of them to readers who find themselves in the vicinity and want to explore the riches of Eastern Christianity.

Rounding out this report, I should say a few words about student liturgies here at Santa Clara. At Georgetown and Notre Dame I developed a love for late-night campus Masses. On the Hilltop I attended Father Tom King’s celebrated 11:15 pm Mass five and sometimes six nights a week, an experience that had a critical impact on my vocation. Notre Dame lives out its liturgical life in a uniquely decentralized manner; each residence hall has its own chapel, and most offer Sunday and daily Mass in the evening. As a law student I eventually got into the habit of attending the 10 pm daily Mass at Alumni Hall most weeknights, and while the Mass at Alumni could never match the exceptional appeal of the 11:15 I nonetheless found that there’s something special about having Mass in the midst of the eclectic and frenzied signs of life that characterize a college dorm in the late evening. As for Santa Clara, I regret to report that they don’t offer daily Mass in the evenings – instead, I go to the daily Jesuit community liturgy, which I like very much – but they do have a 10 pm student Mass in the Mission on Sunday nights. The 10 pm here is a lively, well-executed liturgy with great music, outstanding homilies and an energetic sense of community. On the down side, the student Mass here can also run a bit long – eighty minutes would seem to be an average time – mainly because the planners seem to have done everything possible to draw the thing out. It isn’t the meaty homilies or the lingering handshakes and hugs at the Sign of Peace that make the 10 pm so long; the musical interludes, five-verse hymns and elaborate choreography are what do it. As a result, I often feel exhausted and ready for bed long before the Mass is over, but fatigue is a small trade-off given the overall quality of the experience. I’ve yet to find a Sunday liturgy in Detroit that matches what I’ve found at Santa Clara, so 10 pm Mass at the Mission is definitely something I’ll miss when this Experiment is over. AMDG.


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