Last Sunday I showered and put on my garments. Next came the slacks, button-up shirt, tie, sweater, and finished off with my brown wing-tipped shoes. Sounds like an ordinary Sunday for a Mormon man. But it wasn’t.
About two months ago I asked my Catholic friend, Paul, how his new church building was coming along. He let me know that it was almost finished and that they would be having a church dedication around the middle of October. He invited me and my family and I accepted. Last Sunday was the dedication. So, my two daughters and I headed over to the new Catholic Church in Central Point, Oregon, right after our Sacrament meeting. The week before the dedication I checked with Paul to see what time we should show up. He warned me that the Rite of Dedication for the new building could be long. I jokingly told him, “Dude, we are Mormon. We go to church for three hours.”
I’v arranged the rest of this post into three parts:
1)My daughters’ impressions about the Catholic service.
2)The questions and conversations I had with my daughters during the service.
My Daughters’ Impressions
Serena (age 7)
“I liked the smoke that they used. I thought the building was pretty. I liked how they lit the candles. I liked the music because it was happy. It wasn’t all (imagine her singing a slow song in a minor key). But dang!! It was frickin’ long!!!”
Milayna (age 11)
“I liked when the priest poured oil on the alter where they do the Sacrament. I liked the music. They had lots of instruments including guitars and drums. The music was happier than what we have at church. I liked how there were women on the stand. At our church women are only on the stand if they are giving a talk, conducting the music, or playing the organ. At the Catholic Church there were women up there helping to prepare The Sacrament.”
The Conversations with My Daughters During the Service
Serena: “Why are those men carrying swords and why do they have those funny hats?”
Me: “Those men are part of the Knights of Columbus. The swords are just part of what they wear.”
Serena: “Dad why does that one man carry a cross and the other one carries a cane?”
Me: “Well the cross helps remind us of Jesus who died for us. The cane is in the shape of a shepherd’s crook to remind us that Jesus is the Good Shepherd.”
Serena: “Dad this church is beautiful. It looks different than our church. I thought all church’s looked the same. I like the wood.”
Me: “Nope, not all church’s look the same. Different churches will be made to look differently depending on who goes to church there. It is a pretty building though, I agree.”
Serena and Milayna: “Dad, that water touched my face. Why is he doing that?”
Me: “He is blessing the church and has blessed us with that special water.”
Serena: “What are those pictures of on the wall?
Me: “Those are called the Stations of the Cross. They represent different parts of Jesus’ journey as he went to be crucified for us.”
Serena: “What does that mean? Represent?”
Me: “You know how the bread we take during The Sacrament represents the body of Jesus? It isn’t really his body, but helps us to remember him. That’s what represent means.”
Serena: “What is he pouring on the table?”
Me: “He is pouring oil that has been blessed on the table where they bless The Sacrament.”
Me: “Well, you know how when you are sick, we use special oil and put it on your head when giving you a blessing? Well, that oil has been blessed to make you better. So ,when the priest pours oil on the table, he is blessing it.”
Serena and Milayna: “What is the smoke for?”
Me: “It represents our prayers that go up to heaven.”
Serena: “You know what Dad? See how the smoke looks in the light coming form the window? It reminds me of a Tom & Jerry when Tom got killed and his spirit left him and went up.”
Me: “Ya, that’s is funny.”
Serena: “What is that for (pointing down at the kneelers)?”
Me: “That flips down so we can kneel if we want to pray.”
Serena: “Oh, I thought it was to put our feet on in case our feet get tired.”
Serena and Milayna: “What is the basket for?”
Me: “That is to put money into. It’s to help the Catholic Church here and to help the poor.”
Serena: “Should we put money into it?”
Me: “Well, I don’t have money and we give our money to our church. But we could put money into the basket if we wanted.”
Serena: “What is that cage-thingy up there?” (She was pointing to a cylinder-shaped lock-box with a dome on top.)
Me: “I think that might be where they keep the bread and maybe the wine for The Sacrament. Maybe they keep the goblets in there.”
I asked my friend Paul about that just the other day. He said it is called the tabernacle and houses the eucharist (the wafer), which Catholics believe is the body of Christ (transubstantiation). So, the tabernacle is called such because it is believed it is where Christ dwells in the Eucharist.
Serena and Milayna: “What are they pouring?”
Me: “That is the wine for The Sacrament. You see they pour it into a bunch of different pretty cups. Aren’t those cups pretty? Those cups will be shared with all the people that take The Sacrament. For the bread, they use a kind of cracker. You’ll see.”
Serena: “Wine? Like alcohol? I thought alcohol makes you crazy.”
Me: “No. You have to drink a lot of it for it to make you silly. The people will only drink a small sip and then that part of the cup gets wiped off with a napkin.”
Serena: “What? Only with a napkin? That doesn’t kill any germs. They should use a Clorox Wipe.”
Me: “Well, I think if you have a cold, you aren’t supposed to drink from the cup.”
Serena: “Do we get to take The Sacrament?”
Me: “Because we are Mormon. We weren’t baptized into the Catholic Church and we haven’t had our First Communion.”
Serena: “Well that’s not fair.” (frowning in a jokingly manner)
Serena: “Can we drink wine?”
Me: “No. We are Mormon. Mormons use to drink wine, but we don’t anymore.”
Serena: “Why don’t we drink wine anymore?”
Me: “Well, it’s a long complicated story, but it was just decided that if you are Mormon, you don’t drink wine.”
Serena: “Could I just take a little sip?”
Me: “Well, you are Mormon, so you are not supposed to.”
Serena: “Have you ever had wine?”
Me: “Um, I don’t think I have.” (Just for the record, I’m not saying that to be self-righteous. I just never had the urge to experiment as a youth.)
I’m not sure how long ago it entered my consciousness, but it has had a profound impact on my religious thinking. As the story goes (it might be apocryphal), in 1985 the LDS Church was building a temple in Stockholm, Sweden. There was opposition to its construction and in response to that opposition, Krister Stendahl gave his Three Rules of Religious Understanding. At the time Stendahl was the Bishop of the Diocese of Stockholm (Church of Sweden):
- When trying to understand another religion, you should ask the adherents of that religion and not its enemies.
- Don’t compare your best to their worst.
- Leave room for “holy envy.”
It’s the latter that has greatly affected me. What is “holy envy”? Stendahl meant that you should be willing to recognize elements in another religious tradition or faith, elements you admire and wish might find greater scope in your own religious tradition or faith.
This past Easter, we were staying in Bend, Oregon on our way home from Utah. Easter morning I woke up before the rest of the family did and went to the Catholic Church for Easter Mass. I loved it. Holy envy.
This past Sunday, I wanted my daughters to see how other Christians worship. I wanted them to appreciate what other traditions have done to feel oneness with God. In Mormonism, we think we are being ecumenical when we say to other Christians, “Bring whatever you have and see if we can add to it.” This to me seems very religiocentric (I made up the word). Much rather, I want my daughters to see what other traditions can bring to their Mormon religious experience.
Outside the church doors, a representative handed over a symbol of the church to the Archbishop Sample (he came down from Portland, Oregon). As we entered, a hymn was sung:
“…Call to us now, and we shall awaken, we shall arise at the sound of our name…”
Later during the service, The Archbishop Sample, blessed some water and then passed through the main body of the church sprinkling the people as a reminder of their Baptism. Some of the water touched my daughters and me. They were delighted. He then went on to sprinkle the walls and altar. As the sprinkling occurred, another hymn was sung:
“…Deep as the heavens and wide as the sea, your mercy and love have no ending…”
As the Rite of Dedication progressed, the Archbishop then anointed the four corners of the altar where the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper is blessed. Afterwards he anointed the four corners of the new church building.
One of the things that struck my cold dark heart was the music and the Liturgy. Yes, what was said touched my soul, but something else did too. Something unexpected. As we were being ushered to our seats, the female usher spoke to me in Spanish. Because of my brown skin, it was assumed that I preferred speaking in Spanish. It’s been a long time since that has happened; I liked it. Many times, the congregation would alter between singing a verse in Spanish and then singing the same verse in English. The same occurred with the Liturgy and the homily of the Archbishop. Sometimes what was said was in English and then re-stated in Spanish. Sometimes it was said in Spanish first or only in Spanish. There was a concerted effort for all to feel welcome and to worship. Holy Envy. How often do we do this in our congregations? Usually English is the language of default. How awesome would it be in our mixed-language congregations to sing a verse first in Spanish and then sing the same verse in English?
A few times I tried to sing in Spanish, but something happened. Spanish to me has become a sacred language because it is the language in which I taught the Gospel on my mission. Whenever I hear a Gospel message in Spanish, I get quite emotional. It was no different for me that day. Then, me trying to sing in Spanish? Forget about it. I’m am not saying this was necessarily the Spirit of God touching my heart, but I’m not saying it wasn’t either. I smiled when one of the ushers spoke to me in Spanish, seeing my brown skin and assuming that was my language of preference. I gladly answered her back in Spanish – my sacred language.
I was curious what my daughters would do when the parishioners kneeled to pray. When it came time, they kneeled, and in very Mormon-fashion, folded their arms. I think they actually liked doing that. Praying with those around you. Holy envy.
At some point during the service, the Archbishop went through a long list of Saints. I was familiar with the one’s from the first century and some other ones I was also familiar with: St. John the Baptist, Saint Andrew, Saint Augustine, St. Irenaeus, St. Athanasius. I appreciated how the Catholics today remember those of the past. I think we do the same with our ancestors in Mormonism. Although we don’t ask those that have passed on before us to pray for us, like Catholics do with their saints. Our history is full of theological important stories of resurrected beings appearing to mortals to endow them with power. When the listing of saints during the service occurred, I noticed that for some reason, there was no mention of St. Arius. That is a joke for all you geeks of early Christian history.
Right before The Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, the congregants shook hands with each other and said, “Peace be with you.” My daughters seemed to enjoy this. I did also, as I felt, at times, conspicuous being that we didn’t always know what to do and when. Just this simple gesture and simple words, made me feel closer to those around me. Holy envy.
In a Catholic Mass, everything builds towards the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. It is not only rhetorically the climax and center of Catholic worship, it really is. It comes at the end of Mass. Holy Envy.
As we were leaving, my daughters wanted to see the small pool where the Holy Water is. Serena and Milayna asked if they could touch it and Milayna noticed that the stoup was in the shape of a cross. I told them they should not put their fingers in the water. They asked why. I explained that for Catholics that water is holy and special and when they touch it they then make the sign of the cross to help remember Jesus, Heavenly Father, and the Holy Ghost. Serena still didn’t seem to understand. I told her, “There are certain things that some churches believe are special and so we should honor their belief. And since we are Mormon and not Catholic, we should respect what they believe is sacred and special.” She understood.
The first readying of the Liturgy of the Word came from Nehemiah 8:2-4a, 5-6, 8-10
In part it said, “He said further: “Go, eat rich foods…”
So what did Serena, Milayna, and I do? After celebrating this new church with our fellow brothers and sisters, we took the prophet Ezra up on his word. We went out for Umpqua ice cream.