Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas Eve Mass, 2008

A few days ago, I composed a post about how I dreaded attending Mass on Christmas Eve, when 75% of my immediate family consists of lapsed Catholics.

I would like to take all of the negative things I said in that post back.

I still have my issues with the Catholic church, but last night's Christmas Eve service was one of the loveliest I've ever attended.

Going to Mass, especially for a lapsed Catholic, is like riding a bicycle. I hadn't been to a Catholic church since last Christmas Eve, and upon entering the church, my right hand automatically reached for the holy water and crossed myself. I also genuflected when we got to our pew, put down the kneeler, crossed myself again, and prayed.

The scriptures were all comfortingly familiar. Luke's Gospel, in particular, was very nice. Maybe it's just the way that the priest reads it. Maybe it's like wrapping a security blanket around you. It just felt really good to hear that Biblical passage last night, moreso than ever.

And the homily...oh, the homily! My parents' priest is extremely clever when it comes to homilies, especially at this time of year. One year he brought out a ukelele and told a story about a little rabbit looking for a home on Christmas. Another year his sermon was an anti war lament. He preached as the choir softly hummed "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day" in the background. Last year he pondered the meaning of Christmas, and took out a tape recorder, and played "And So This is Christmas." He took a microphone, and started to sing, encouraging the rest of the congregation to join him in the chorus. Sister Kitten and I did just that, waving our hands and singing "war is over" over and over again.

This year, he told a story about his little grand-nephew, who, at Thanksgiving, asked him if Santa Claus existed. Our priest told the story of the history of Saint Nicholas, that he really was a saint, a bishop who wore red. He recounted to his little grand-nephew the different versions of St. Nick all around the world, such as Pere Noel in France.

At one point, another grand-nephew joined the conversation and told him that he once wrote a letter to Santa, and Santa wrote back!

This was when the priest paused during the homily. He took out a pen and paper, had his lector move a music stand in front of the pulpit, and announced that he was composing a letter to Santa Claus. With a recording of "Jolly Old Saint Nicholas" playing in the background, he read his letter aloud as he wrote. He recounted his wishes for the First Communion kids, that they always hold the joy of that First Communion in their hearts. He wished that the Confirmation kids would grow and blossom in their relationship with the church. I don't remember what he wished for the adults, but I was so touched by this gesture.

He signed the letter, put it in an envelope, and gave it to his lector, with the instructions to deliver it to the post office, which was right down the road, ASAP.

And with that, the homily was over, and I recited the Nicene Creed by heart. Again, Mass is like riding a bicycle.

I couldn't go up for Communion, however. I hadn't been to a Catholic church in so long, I couldn't justify it for myself.

However, in spite of this, something special happened last night.

I started to make peace with Catholicism.

I still have some disagreements with the church that I have to iron out, but I guess you could say that I'm on the road to recovery. I left church feeling really, really good. I guess you could use the word serene. I decided that I should attend Mass more often.

Don't get me wrong, I still love my little UU church and cherish its community. It will always be my spiritual home. But Catholicism is a huge part of my past; it gave me a spiritual foundation.

And it played such a great role in my life, I really can't cut off ties completely.

It has nothing to do with Catholic guilt. It once did, but it doesn't anymore.

Can I balance the UU church with Catholicism? We shall see.

But for now, I'll just take pride in the fact that I am a child of God, and to remember the real reason we celebrate Christmas.

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