During my time at Xavier, I attended both Episcopal and Catholic services multiple times. I grew up Catholic (as Dcn Scott likes to remind me) and still know the misalette well enough to participate easily in mass. Jon and the kids, however, are not familiar with that style of worship at all. For instance, when we visited the Episcopal church as a family, the younger kids had never taken communion "up front" before and when wine passed their lips, they sprayed it at the priest reflexively, totally unprepared for its alcoholic flavor.
I have numerous friends who've converted to Catholicism, who attend Episcopal (Anglican) services, who have "gone Eastern Orthodox." They love the sense of history, the worldwide community of faith, the style of service, the "bells and smells," the ritual prayers, the kneelers, the quiet, the reverential spaces. I respect them. In the times I've attended with and without them, I'm able to appreciate how and why these aspects of liturgy mediate spirituality, peace and connection to God.
Liturgical services don't, however, do that for me. I've wished they would. I remember attending the Catholic church down the road from us by myself (thinking that being alone would help me over the hurdle since I'm keenly aware of how much my family dislikes any hint of medieval display). I love the space in this local church - theater in the round style, big stained glass windows, modern tile floors, pews (which I enjoy more than chairs, actually). There's a fountain and hardy growing green plants in the foyer.
Families, singles, couples filtered in after genuflecting and crossing themselves with holy water. A steady shuffle of feet was all that could be heard since Catholics are naturally quiet in sacred spaces. The service began. I could never quite get into the music in the Catholic church. I was told that the songs were deliberately discordant so that they would not linger in the mind and become a substitute for genuine worship of God (ironic since the Vineyard's whole goal is to get songs stuck in your head so that you will be filled with worshipful song all day).
The processional included banners and incense. The vestments: circa 1500, the priest: male, the calls and responses: familiar and predictable. I felt like I had double vision; as I watched and participated, I could understand exactly why each of the practices were valued and loved by my friends while at the same exact moment, in my own seat, in my own person, I felt nothing... just a nagging sense of disappointment that this is what church had evolved to, that this was the "best" we could do, that these medieval practices had held on for no clear reason and had nothing to do with the Jesus I read in the Gospels. To me, this style of worship feels like religion, not spirituality, feels like a deliberate religious creation post-Christ, not the natural expression of following Jesus. I guess it's just not how I roll.
I've often wondered what was wrong with me. Why don't I experience liturgy as "waves washing over me" the way my friends do? Why don't I enjoy the classical music? Why can't I find my center and a feeling of transcendence through the quiet and prayers? Why am I not moved by the corporate communion? Why doesn't the depth of history in the church draw me, fulfill me? I have a history degree, for heaven's sake. You'd think that I'd at least find the historical dimension of the church compelling.
In my next post, I'll explore why I think it's difficult for me (and perhaps others like me) to join "ancient church cultures." (I'm particularly speaking of Episcopal/Anglican, Catholic and Eastern Orthodox.)