A reader who uses the handle bo_leggsmade a comment on Webster’s post Wednesday that hit home with me. The post was about churches that close down in the summer months. bo_leggswrote: “One of the big differences between Catholics and Protestants is that a Catholic belongs to every Catholic Church in the world. Protestants belong only to their local church.” This is one aspect of the faith lifelong Catholics such as myself might take for granted. But as Frank wrote last year, going to Mass on vacation is easy.
I visited Toronto for a few days last month, tagging along with my husband, Greg, as he attended a conference at the University of Toronto. While he attended his conference, I walked for miles, exploring Kensington Market, Koreatown and the Art Gallery of Ontario. One morning, I felt called to attend Mass. It happened to be the Feast of St. Mary Magdalen, but I wasn’t thinking about that. I just wanted a corner of contemplation amid the bustling big city.
A few blocks from the Holiday Inn where we were staying is The Newman Centre Roman Catholic Student Centre and Parish at the University of Toronto. I arrived early for the 12:15 p.m. Mass at St. Thomas Aquinas Church, which sits beside the center. The church, built in 1926, was small and simple, with lovely stained glass windows and contemporary artwork. (Pictured above)The choir stall sat behind the altar and there were no kneelers. In some ways, the building reminded me of an Anglican church.
About 20 of us gathered to worship; most folks came alone and I discovered Canadians, or these Canadians at least, bow and do not shake hands at the sign of peace. We stood and bowed instead of kneeling during the consecration. Otherwise, the liturgy was what I have experienced my entire life. The Dominican priest celebrating the Mass, Fr. Marcos Ramos, OP, spoke about St. Mary Magdalen and the important role that she and other women of the early Church played in telling the Good News of the Resurrection. And he reminded us to remember to look for Christ in the people we encounter.
When Mass was finished, I asked some parishioners in the foyer for directions to the building where my husband’s conference was being held. A young man offered to walk me a few blocks to the building. “I’m heading in that direction.” We chatted as we walked and I learned he was a native of Ontario and preparing to attend law school at the University of Alberta. This encounter felt ordinary but in truth it was extraordinary because we had nothing in common except the faith we share.
Because the Church offers the fullness of God’s truth, it is a universal church. It exists in all over this earth and in the heavenly realm as well. Perhaps those other worshipers attend Mass at this church on the University of Toronto campus every day. I was passing through. Those differences didn’t matter. I felt a deep sense of belonging because we all were sharing in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. As the Newman Centre’s website states: “Each time we receive Jesus in the Eucharist, it is our most intimate union with the Lord. In Communion we share in the life and work of Christ. This meal unites us with every other believer around the table. Each of us, as we absorb the body and blood of Christ, is empowered to bring some share of his life to all we meet.”