Because Hundreds of Miles from Home, I Still Belong

A reader who uses the handle bo_leggs made 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_leggs wrote: “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.”

  • Shannon

    Allison, thank you for the thoughtful reflection. You'll find, as you travel, that standing for the Eucharistic prayer is not unusual. In fact, it is the practice of the wider Church. Americans asked for the exception to the rule. Go figure.

  • Allison

    Interesting. This was my first time attending Mass in Canada. And I haven't attended Mass in Europe for decades. Some folks did choose to kneel on the floor but the rest of us stood.

  • cathyf

    The whole kneeling/standing controversy dates back to the First Council of Nicea. Back then the crowd that was pushing kneeling was part of a group that believed humans were hopelessly depraved, and that Christ's death and resurrection really didn't save us. The Council decreed a couple of things. One was that Catholics don't fast on Sunday at any time of the year, and don't fast on any day between Easter and Pentecost. Another was that Catholics were not supposed to kneel during the Eucharistic Prayer — but they also said that it was more important that everyone do the same thing, so if the bishop said kneel then everyone in that diocese should kneel.One of the things that is kind of interesting is that not fasting on Sunday was explicitly pointed out by the Council as being a particularly effective evangelical practice — non-Christians would see that and it would tell them something important about our faith and our inherent dignity as people redeemed by Christ.During Lent I do my Lenten prayer and almsgiving all 46 days from Ash Wednesday to Holy Saturday. But the fasting — what I give up for Lent — I make a point to eat chocolate (or whatever) on Sunday. Because Lent is very edifying, but never lose sight that Christ is risen already!

  • Hypatia

    Whenever we travel abroad and explore a city's churches, I make a point of telling my children that, by being Catholic, they truly belong wherever there is a Catholic church. It is one of the church's greatest blessings that we belong to a world-wide fellowship that welcomes us however far we journey.btw – this blog is wonderful: when I visit I feel my heart renewed in its love of the church

  • Allison

    @Hypatia: What a great way to explain the faith to children – or to anyone for that matter. Thanks for stopping by. Also, I am curious, do British Catholics kneel during consecration?

  • Hypatia

    Allison – we kneel, and we shake hands at the sign of peace.

  • Terry Fenwick

    We love worshiping during Mass in the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption in San Francisco and seeing behind us – when we share the "Peace of the Lord" – someone from Paris or London or a far off distant shore. They often have their own Magnificat in their own language – same cover. Thousands of miles later – going to Rome or Paris – taking our English Magnificat – having others knowing we are from America. Again, same cover of the Magnificat. The small world gets smaller and smaller, and yet, the Lord never gets smaller. All of the world is His. Though He changes us, He never changes.

  • Anna

    I also feel at home wherever I enter a Catholic Church.Does anyone else get the feeling of a meeting hall in some of the churches where the people do their serious visiting before Mass? Also, and I should be grateful for the choir,(which I am) but is it a little distracting when they practice before Mass and they are located to the side of the main altar?

  • Allison

    @Anna: Sometimes, I am one of those chatty ones. I am working on it! My church choir stops singing 10 minutes before Mass begins, to give folks time to pray and meditate. Sometimes, we sing a reverent prelude.Peace to you.