What’s it like for a non-Catholic?
One answer, from a man who visited a Benedictine abbey, comes from the Huffington Post:
Contemplation is assumed. The basilica is capacious, but so is the liturgy; room to think, room to pray, room to simply be. Every cough, sneeze or rattle reverberates throughout this place. Sounds live longer lives in a room like this, fading slowly. We sit and await the next moment, awaiting our Lord, awaiting ourselves. Our posture is one of hands open, receiving this mass not generating it. A restless person would find this off-putting, but nobody here checks their watch. The priest breaks the silence for the prayers of the people.
As we move toward the Eucharist, we begin with rites of community. We recite the Lord’s Prayer and pass the peace and I’m reminded that one cannot receive the sacrament unless they first receive their neighbor. I walk the ten or twelve feet to close the gap between me and my fellow congregants. It must be done with intentionality and purpose. The monks who are ordained as priests join the celebrant on the altar and offer this Eucharist together. They raise their hands in concert, like reverent choreography.
It is at this point in the mass that always I feel the most like an outsider, an eavesdropper. As a Protestant I am not permitted to receive the sacrament. I think of the injury which separates us and feel only sadness for the schism that keeps me kneeling in my place. Five-hundred years of Protestants blaming Catholics while we ourselves split into a million denominations; enough inhospitality to go around I guess. Us, them, we, sing a song and watch the priest prepare the altar. He washes his hands, not just for himself but for all of us. We pray together over the gifts. The climax of the mass is here.