I recently attended a Catholic memorial mass for a friend. He was a Lutheran, but his wife was Catholic. I thought it odd that priest would perform a memorial mass for a man from a religious sect that was formed in protest of the Catholic church. I don’t understand how that works.
I sat in the back, wearing a suit and my dark sun glasses, while the service played out. I did not want to engage with others, although I was joined by a fellow malcontent just before the service started. My friend was loved by many and most came. It was touching.
I was not comforted by the mass. Others were. I could see that by the reactions on the faces and bodies of those around me. I was asked to alternately stand, sit or kneel throughout the service. I kept wondering how any of this made sense. Stand and repeat the following words. Sit or stand and listen to a sad song. Kneel and pray. Stand and pray. Shake a bunch of hands. Eat a wafer. Get a blessing. I was not raised Catholic, so the rituals are a mystery to me, but even Protestant rituals baffle me, I find the them troubling in that they only mean something if you invest the time to learn them.
The priest spoke like he knew my friend would be with God in heaven. If I understand things correctly, the priest would have absolutely zero confidence that a non-Catholic could make it to heaven. Yet he spoke like it was all good. He spoke lies though. Every word was a lie.
A friend from the true church (or so he says), a Coptic Christian from the Orthodox Church of Alexandria, sat across the isle from me. He seemed as baffled by the service as me. I noticed that he did not go up to receive a blessing. We both watched as almost everyone else did though. Why would an atheist take a blessing? What purpose would that serve?
I sat among strangers, friends and political enemies. We shook hands at one point as it was part of the ritual. People muttered platitudes while offering a hand. I shook a man’s hand that I would just as soon punch in the nose, all with a tight-lipped smile. It’s a week or so later as I write this. I’d still rather punch him in the nose.
The service took an hour, half of which was dedicated to getting ready for and performing the Eucharist. It was a performance. Let’s call it religious theater. First you wash the dishes, then you set the table, then you pray, then you eat, then you feed the masses, then you clean, then you put pretty things away, and then you pray. The service continues on after this though; on and on with more praying and more songs.
The priest told us only that good Catholics could take the sacrament. He seemed pretty damn serious. One must be a Catholic in good standing and have gone to confession, otherwise it was a sin to take the wafer. Like I said… serious and oddly out of context given the nature of the service.
I don’t mean to sound sacrilegious or trite, but I just don’t get it. I know the service means something for others, but it was meaningless for me. I hugged my friend’s wife and told her to reach out if she needs help. She only speaks Spanish, so I’m sure my gesture was lost on her. I’ll follow up though because I meant what I said. There are no prayers in me, but if she needs a lift to get the car fixed or a hand around the house, I’ll be there for her.
I shook a few hands and slapped a few backs after the service. It was good to see a few old friends. All too soon I felt the normal social awkwardness creep back into my mind as people pressed in around me and starting asking questions, so looked for an excuse to leave and took it. I snuck out a few minutes later and had lunch with a friend.