You’ve no doubt seen Saturday Night Live’s chillingly (hilariously) accurate tour of what you can expect at Mass this Christmas, but you might still be thinking, Hmmn. Is it really a good idea for someone like me to go to place like that? With Jesus in it and stuff?
The answer is yes. Here are my top ten reasons why:
10. It really is the Church for anybody at all. There might be other religions where you’re expected to have your act together from day one. Catholics, on the other hand, have not just one but three sacraments ordered towards the fact that we’re all total screw ups, and four others that certainly hint hard in that direction.
9. Those in the know will be grateful and appreciative if you just do the respectful-visitor thing. If you’re just visiting, no problem. Come in, find a seat where you can see, and participate as much or as little as you like. (Don’t go up for communion; if you need to let others out of the pew, just step out of the pew, wait for them to pass, then sit back down.)
8. It’s safer than going to the grocery store. People who are sick should stay home. Friends don’t let friends kill each other at Mass.
7. If you’re out sick for Christmas, there’s an endless supply of make-up days. Even through the holidays, there will be a Mass nearly every day of the week. Jan 1 is a feast day, so look for services both New Year’s Eve and New Year’s day. You can check Masstimes.org for contact info, but phone and listen to the recording to find out the Mass schedule through the holidays.
6. You’ll be reminded that no one’s doing this for entertainment. Okay, so there’s a chance that you’ll show up someplace that’s got movingly beautiful music and an amazing sermon to boot. More likely you’ll end up at one of the bazillions of parishes run by people who must really love God, because they sure aren’t there for the show. Wherever the parish you attend falls on the spectrum, it’s a good way to spend an hour of your life.
5. If you have to read along with the prayer card in the pews, it’ll make you look like a pro. A few years ago the English translation of the Roman Catholic Mass was updated. What this means is that all the old-timers, the ones who go to Mass whenever they possibly can and have been doing so for decades, still don’t know the new words. So you’ll see all these people pick up their cheat sheets when it’s time for this or that prayer. You can too, and you’ll blend right in.
4. Real live Catholics goof up the Mass too. Some people worry that when they visit a Catholic Church they’ll look funny, because they don’t know when to sit-stand-kneel-shake-rollover. The truth is that many regular Mass-goers still don’t have it all down straight, to the point that some priests give hand signals to the congregation with such clarity and firmness it impresses the Dog Whisperer. And then there’s a whole contingent that get so lost in prayer, or something, that the autopilot picks up the wrong cues. Plus there’s the people with bad knees who couldn’t do the up-down-over routine even if they wanted to. Sit in the second row or beyond, follow along as best you can, and don’t sweat it.
3. God will be happy you came, and no one else’s opinion matters that much, does it? Just come. When you can and how you are. People who have a problem with that can take it up with the Almighty.
2. You’ll be helping the pastor conduct a massive experiment on his congregation. All year long, the people who attend Mass every Sunday do this routine where they pass themselves off as holy, pious people. And then, twice a year, the Church runs a test. All these visitors show up, and the regulars lose their regular parking space and their favorite pew, and they have to see these people they don’t even know! And then the pastor looks out and sees who remains smiling and prayerful, and who is maybe not so holy after all. Since repeatable results are the gold standard of scientific proof, you’ll want to inflict your presence on the regulars as often as you can.
1. You’ve got a God-given right to come check it out. The Catholic Church isn’t just for people like you, it’s for you. Come to Mass.
Pieter Brueghel the Elder (1526/1530–1569) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons