Catholic Transcript Magazine of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford Connecticut

Sunday, February 18, 2018

cram_halfA few months ago, I was traveling through the spectacular Blue Ridge Mountains of western Virginia on a Sunday morning. It’s not Catholic territory, so I was pleased to locate a Catholic church as I began my journey back to Connecticut.

It was 8:55 a.m. when I pulled into the church parking lot. Mass didn’t begin until 9:30, so I parked in a far corner to rest my eyes. Almost immediately, however, I began to wonder if I was wrong about the Mass time, as cars were streaming into the parking lot.

I wasn’t wrong. Mass didn’t start for another half an hour. In this parish, people arrive early.

There was ample parking for handicapped parishioners, and easy access to the building. Folks talked amiably with one another as they strolled to the church. Once inside the front doors, I was struck by the enormity of the gathering space – the vestibule – which allows room for people to linger without disturbing those who wish to pray. And there was a coat room, a rarity in Catholic churches.

Stepping into the body of the church, the nave, I felt as if I’d been transported back in time to my years in nondenominational churches. Missing were the stained glass windows and wooden pews that are so familiar to New England Catholics. This looked more like an auditorium.

I found a seat and watched as a 13-member music group assembled, including guitarists, flutists, keyboard players, drummers and a child on piano. I don’t mean an adolescent. I mean a child. He couldn’t have been more than 9 years old. An elderly woman played electronic keyboard, a man in a wheelchair was on electric bass and several teens were on guitar or vocals. All appeared to be thoroughly enjoying their ministry.

A few minutes before Mass, the lector invited us to introduce ourselves to folks in nearby seats. It turned out to be a great experience. In my circle of neighbors, I met a nun, two teens who were nervous about starting college and a woman who grew up in a small town near my kids’ university. Suddenly I was not a stranger, but a friend.

Mass proceeded in an unhurried manner. Nearly everyone had arrived at least 10 or 15 minutes early, and no one left before the conclusion of Mass. During the petitions, we prayed for the sick by name – all of them. The list was long so it took time to complete, but when people are a family, what’s the hurry?

I was particularly delighted at people’s participation in the music. They really sang, including hymns and responses, harmonies, descants. I was also pleased to see so many teens in attendance. They participated as well.

A sizable group of catechumens in an RCIA program sat together, and, after the homily, they departed for further instruction in a nearby classroom. As they stood to leave, the congregation sang the blessing, "May God’s Word be a lamp unto your feet and a light unto your path." It was powerful.

At the conclusion of Mass, people lingered. There was animated discussion in one area, small groups of people huddled in prayer elsewhere, and the echo of friends’ laughter. It was one of the warmest parishes I have encountered in my 12 years as a Catholic.

There were two things I disliked. First, since there was auditorium seating, there were no kneelers, It’s a personal preference, but I like the option of kneeling before the Almighty.

More important, I was disturbed that the tabernacle was down the hall and around the corner in a small chapel, inaccessible from the main church. We know that Jesus is present in the tabernacle, so it felt like we’d stuffed Jesus into the closet. The absence of a nearby tabernacle made the church seem more like an auditorium than the house of God.

These observations are just that, observations, with my personal biases and preferences. It was wonderful to worship with the Body of Christ in the Blue Ridge Mountains, and I returned home with a greater sense that God is far larger than my little corner of the universe.

May the Word of God be a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path.

Regina Cram lives in Glastonbury and is a freelance writer.