Spoiled Catholic


One thing I do miss about living in the Washington D.C. area is the Arlington Diocese. When I first moved there I’d tell people that it felt like I converted to a new religion; from some new-age interpretation of Catholicism to ‘real’ Catholicism.

The orthodox Catholicism of the Arlington Diocese was like nothing I’d ever experienced growing up in California. I was amazed at how alive the faith was. Something you wouldn’t expect to find inside the beltway.

When I say ‘orthodox’, I mean it in its simplest form as conforming to established and correct doctrine. Stated differently, being faithful to the teaching authority of the Church. In other words, Catholic.

I was intrigued by this ‘new’ Catholic Church, which wasn’t new at all; rather it was old school. But in our upside-down world, orthodoxy is now counter-cultural. Along with the orthodox adherence and application of Church doctrine, Arlington provided substance to the faith which fed the soul.

Availability of the Sacraments is key to spiritual growth and Arlington understood this. In my parish alone, confession was offered four times a week. Regardless of the time or day, there was always a line, and that’s with two to four priest hearing confessions. Confession was not some extra ordinary event, it became woven into your life.

Various parishes in the Diocese were always having a lecture series or prayer service of some kind, especially during Lent. You could even get individual spiritual guidance from a priest. All you had to do was call the rectory and make an appointment. This is unheard of in every other Diocese I’ve ever lived in.

In Arlington, I wasn’t forced to hold hands during the Our Father. To this day, Arlington doesn’t use girl altar boys (I meant to say that) because they have plenty of boys. Arlington also has one of the highest ordination rates in the United States. Every parish I attended had 3 to 4 priests. Arlington couldn’t build new churches and schools fast enough.

Then, I moved out West.

When I was visiting my parents, who live in a Southwestern state, I went to confession. First, the priest wasn’t there. He was outside doing yard work during scheduled confession time. Second, at the end of the confession, he didn’t ask me to say an Act of Contrition.

Me: Shouldn’t I say an Act of Contrition?

Priest: If you want to.

If I want to!

Both my parent’s church and my new church in the Northwest engage in the annoying practice of “introduce yourself to your neighbors” before Mass. Sometimes the priest will tell you what question to ask. At Christmas Mass, the priest instructed the congregation to ask / tell each other what we wanted for Christmas. I told everyone I wanted a pony.

I shouldn’t dread going to Mass because of artificial, forced ‘community’. The only thing that’s accomplished is making everyone feel really awkward. I’ve lived girl altar boy free for 20 years. I know it’s legit, but it still makes me wince, and I hold hands during the Our Father, but I’m not happy about it.

I realize these are not doctrinal issues, but they still annoy the snot out of me. But there is one practice that some Dioceses have adopted that just breaks my heart; and that would be NOT kneeling after the Lamb of God, right before communion.

I first encountered this a few years ago when I was in Los Angeles. But that’s L.A., deviations from the norm are to be expected. The first time I attended Mass in my new Northwestern location, as soon as we finished the Lamb of God, I knelt down, like always. When I looked up, I saw that I was the only person kneeling, so I stood up to respect the practices of the church I was attending.

While standing, instead of kneeling, the congregation says, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.” How can we NOT kneel during such a profound part of the Mass! Why show reverence, it’s not like we’re about to receive the body and blood of Christ . . . oh wait.

And then there’s communion. Most of the extraordinary ministers distributing communion aren’t dressed appropriately for Mass, let alone as ministers. I don’t expect them to be in Gucci, but cut-off jeans and flip-flops!? Seriously! Not only are they inappropriately dressed, but they haven’t been adequately trained either. I take communion on the tongue, not in the hand. This presents a problem for the extraordinary ministers. They either punch me in the face or barely put it on my tongue. The Eucharist has fallen more than once, luckily I was able to catch it before it hit the ground.

If I still lived in the Arlington Diocese I would be able to practice my faith without being forced to participate in contrived ‘community’. I would be allowed to show the proper reverence due Christ and kneel after the Lamb of God, and receive the body of Christ without having to worry about our Savior hitting the floor. The Arlington Diocese spoiled me.

Where there is orthodoxy the faith grows. The Arlington Diocese is bursting with faith; the West, not so much. But hey, we do hold hands.

by: Ana Henry – 24 May 2014


2 thoughts on “Spoiled Catholic

  1. Mixed reactions/opinions on this one, Ms Henry. I agree confession in the West is a total farce. When the Priest acts as if your sins are no big deal, it makes confession seem like ‘no big deal’, which is probably why people aren’t lining up for it.
    I also agree about respectful dress in church. I’m baffled why no one has ever pointed out: you’d dress up to see the President, or the Pope, or even to eat a nice meal, so why don’t you dress up for your Lord God and the most precious meal of your life??
    Greeting those around you before mass is part of building a community. We are not at Mass in isolation, but gathered to worship TOGETHER. It is a social custom that we introduce people in a gathering: You begin a meeting with introductions, you gather for Thanksgiving dinner there are introductions if the group has newcomers in it, it makes sense to have introductions before the most precious meal of all. We are gathered for something amazing. Nice to know who we are sharing that experience with!
    Likewise, the OUR Father is a communal prayer. The holding of hands symbolizes our joining as a community to pray together. It is a special time, really. You can pray the Our Father alone any time you want. To join with that many other people really is quite powerful! (I’ll admit the raising up of hands is a bit meaningless to me, but I’m sure there is something in the Bible about ‘raise your hearts, hands and voices in praise of the Lord’)
    So, I don’t think it is ‘watered down’ Catholicism, I think it is a more relaxed and less formal atmosphere (people wear shorts and Polo shirts to the opera, serve dinner on paper plates, have pot-luck wedding receptions.) You’ve commented before on how friendly people are in the West, yet in church we are supposed to stifle that and remain isolated? Not gonna happen. Kumbaya, and Namaste Ms. Henry!

    • Remember, I’m from the west and I’ve spent just as much time in parishes on the west coast as I have in Arlington.

      Your point about how no one has ever mentioned how we get dressed up for everything but God proves my point. I’ve heard it mentioned in the Arlington Diocese on more than one occasion, but never West of the Mississippi.

      “Greeting” your neighbor before Mass is a joke. It does not build a sense of community in any way, shape, or form. This is true in every place I’ve been that engages in this practice. Does anyone even remember the name of their neighbor? Do we socialize outside of Church with them, which is where community is truly built? No.

      As for the “Our Father” being a communal prayer which necessitates the holding of hands; that could be said for the entire Mass. I think the Profession of Faith is much more communal, but we don’t hold hands during that. Holding hands during the Our Father is a Protestant contrivance.

      At Mass individuals come together in community to celebrate the sacrifice of the Mass. That’s what unites us. That’s what makes us a community. Why some feel that a sense of community can only be achieved by holding hands, is a very limited view of community.

      I don’t need to hold hands to feel a sense of community. I feel a deep connection with those around me, because I know we’ve come together for the same reason. Sometimes I think about Catholics all over the world who heard the same readings and said the same prayers that Sunday. Now that’s a profound sense of community.

      Again, I don’t understand how holing hands or a forced greeting alleviates isolation. To think this is rather simplistic, “All we have to do is say hello and hold hands and everyone will get the warm fuzzies.” I’ve never felt isolated in the Arlington Diocese, just because we didn’t hold hands. And I wouldn’t say it was more formal, rather more reverent.

      People out West are friendly. In fact the atheists in Seattle are the friendliest people I’ve ever met. It’s not being friendly when you’re TOLD to say hello to your neighbor. It’s not friendly when you have your hands folded in prayer and someone grabs your hand because you MUST hold hands during the Our Father. It’s not friendly to prohibit kneeling before receiving communion. Forced friendliness is no friendliness at all.

      The Mass is not the opera or a potluck, it is the Mass. It’s only one hour a week, for a very specific purpose. Building a community is done outside of Mass. Join a club. That’s when you can wear your shorts and eat off of paper plates.

      The fact that confession is considered a joke speaks of a Church with no substance or foundation to stand on, which makes the “communal” activities during Mass all the more meaningless. Arlington has a nice normal Mass, yet there is still a feeling of community. Converts and Reverts abound in Arlington. And the parishes offer a plethora of activities that promote the spiritual life as well as community.

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