Butch en Mass
_I'm currently in the middle of Nowheresville, New England visiting my DGF's parents, who live in a retirement home. For health reasons, her mom is rarely able to leave the home. And her father is legally blind, which prevents him from going anywhere on his own.
All of this is to explain the following unlikely circumstance in which I found myself on Sunday morning: in a Catholic church, helping escort my DGF's father to Mass.
I've only been to Mass once before, and that was a funeral Mass (or, as I incorrectly called it yesterday, a "death mass"), so this was a new experience for me. I was instructed ahead of time not to take communion, because I'm not Catholic. (I was baptized Christian, but this is, I learned, unsatisfactory in the eyes of the Catholic church.) My DGF is not practicing, but was baptized Catholic, so according to her father, she was allowed to take Communion if she promised to go to confession within the next 30 days (which she was unwilling to promise). That's right--not 31 days. Not 35. 30. (Later, we looked for this rule online and it seems that you actually have to have been to confession in the 30 days before receiving Communion, but we still aren't totally sure.)
Mass was short. Like, way short. Like under an hour short. We went to the 11 am Mass and made it to breakfast by noon. Perhaps because of the service's length, almost no one bothered to remove their coats. My most recent churchgoing experience before that was an evangelical-type Baptist church, where the service always lasted over two hours, plus socializing afterward. I kind of admired the Catholic efficiency.
There were maybe 250 people attending mass, only five of whom were non-white. Don't get me wrong--I'm fine with white people (some of my best friends are white people), but there was something disconcerting about being in a nearly all-white room. (Yeah, I'm white, too. But still.) Interestingly, one of the five non-white people happened to be the priest, who I think was Latino, and spoke with a heavy accent. It was kind of heartening that all these white people, the great majority of whom looked to be 60 or older, had someone of color as their religious leader--a trend that I've since learned is not uncommon in the Catholic church, since many young priests these days come from non-English-speaking countries, particularly Third World countries.
The church program (which was printed in color, something I'm not sure Protestants would allow) didn't say what was happening when in the service, so I just tried to stand, kneel, and sit when I was supposed to. There was a great deal of ceremony involved. Continuing to survey the attendees, I began getting a distinct sense that this particular church was more the Santorum variety of Catholic than the Kennedy variety--an impression reinforced by the advertisement of a Planned Parenthood vigil later in the week.
When it came time to take Communion, I was pretty sure that lots of people wouldn't go, given the rules about 30 days and being baptized Catholic. But as it turned out, my DGF and I were the only people who did not take Communion. As the people in our row quietly filed to the front of the church, we quietly did not follow them. This was met with disapproving glances from the other parishioners--glances which lingered for an awkwardly long time, shifting from me to my DGF and back again, and I suspect that around this time, it began occurring to said parishioners that we might be not be the nice young men we had originally appeared to be, but rather homosexual women. (My DGF, who tends not to notice these things, insists that "no one really looked at us." I assure you she is wrong.)
Since Lent is approaching, the sermon was largely about giving things up. I guess one rationale for Lent is that giving something up for 40 days kind of purifies you. I was not raised Catholic (decades ago, my grandmother was excommunicated for getting divorced, which soured our family on Catholicism long before I was born). Nonetheless, I emerged from childhood with a near-preternatural susceptibility to guilt, and the whole idea of Lent appeals greatly to this susceptibility. I mentally counted how many days I'd already gone without ice cream (three) and wondered if I could get retroactive credit.
At our post-Mass brunch, I asked my DGF's father about my retroactive credit idea, but he said it didn't count. He also squelched my idea to give something up that I don't feel a need to have anyway, such as cilantro or penises. I asked my DGF's dad what he was giving up, and it turns out that people over 59 don't have to give anything up at all. Immediately it became clear why the church had been packed with senior citizens--they were clamoring to take advantage of the loophole.
Personally, I'm no atheist. My own philosophy is closer to "All steeples point to heaven" (something my excommunicated grandmother used to say). Well, maybe not all steeples, but you get the idea. But the whole experience of Mass made me think about how different my life might have been if I was raised in a church like this one. So many different religions and people and subcultures trying to do what they think is right, but simultaneously certain they've cornered the market on God.
2/21/2012 12:14:11 pm
I'm Catholic (and bi! woo!), born, raised, brainwashed, Catholic-schooled for 12 years, etc, etc, and I've never heard the "going to confession 30 days before you take Communion" rule. If that's true, then my dad and everyone I know, including my very Catholic mother, is in violation of it!
2/21/2012 02:33:13 pm
Thank you. I laughed out loud at ice cream and penises.
Hey there, i second that first comment, as a 'raised' catholic (who turned buddhist) i have also never heard of the 30 day confession rule.
2/21/2012 02:51:47 pm
I was raised Catholic and am gay and this is seriously the dumbest interpretation of Mass and Catholicism I have ever heard. I don't even believe you went to Mass. You're just making weird shit up.
2/22/2012 02:30:08 am
Hm. Well, I'm not trying to "interpret" Catholicism, especially since I know very little about it. But I'm not making anything up. My credibility means a lot to me, and I'd never do that to my readers. As my regular readers know, I tell it like I see it: good, bad, or indifferent.
2/21/2012 02:56:20 pm
I am a femme lesbian & I was raised Catholic in a very traditional, conservative way, and in a predominantly Catholic country (Philippines). I stopped practicing a long time ago. My aunt (who raised me after my mom died) was strict with our Catholic upringing. My mom was a femme lesbian who shacked up with a butch (but according to Filipino thinking, lesbians are those that look butch only...go figure.) & she was ostracized by my aunt & didnt talk to her (my mom) until she died.
2/21/2012 03:05:24 pm
Also, my aunt would not cooked any meat on Fridays during the Lenten season, just fish... why? I have no idea! Hah! And we are not aloud to do anything "fun" or anything considered as having fun (including laughing or playing) during Holy Week because we are supposed to feel sad for Jesus' suffering.
My parents go to a Roman Catholic church in Minnesota. At their church, for the past few weeks, every mass has taken 5 minutes (if not the whole sermon) to discuss traditional marriage (and, mostly, why same sex marriage is WRONG WRONG WRONG). The Catholic church in Minnesota is fighting hard to get an amendment to our state constitution (where same sex marriage is already not legal) to state that gay marriage is really, really illegal (define marriage as between one man and one woman). It breaks my heart. That money could go to so much good so many other places.
2/22/2012 03:09:31 am
2/22/2012 05:59:47 am
I married into a Catholic family, coming from a fairly non religious upbringing. This made me laugh. I enjoyed reading it.
2/22/2012 10:15:51 am
I was raised a Catholic and seriously love Mass and community worship. Presently, I don't attend any church, although my dw and I did go to an MCC for about 6-8 months.
Okay, the 30-day thing is a technicality. In theory, you are supposed to be in "a state of perfect grace" to take communion so it should have been the day before that you went to confession. I guess the theory being you can't screw up too badly overnight. However, I've never known a Catholic to adhere to that, really.
2/23/2012 01:20:18 am
Thanks for sharing your experience. This is good stuff.
2/23/2012 11:15:41 am
My father is catholic, I am nondenominational. This drive him nuts. My dad is also an alcoholic who is a bit........um how should we put this.....overzealous? Yes let's stick with that, because crazy drunken bastard is disrespectful. He once screamed at me all the way home from school when I was sixteen because I wouldn't take his churches calendar and because I wasn't catholic he decided that made me an idiot and told me as such. So I jumped out of the car while it was still moving and walked home. Apparently I'm a devil worshipping creatin because I'm not catholic even though I'm a fairly religious person. Oddly enough when I came out to him he was cool with it. Obvously my relationship with catholicsm isn't that great. Just about as great as my relationship with my father. I've just met so many catholics that were so judgemental. Granted not everyone is the same or thinks the same way but damn. Thus why I choose to stay nondenominational.
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