Christmas Eve we attended a Solemn Midnight Mass at Prince of Peace Catholic Church. Linda wanted to attend, and Houston and I tagged along. It was my first mass, and and I found it to be an intriguing and somewhat confusing experience.
The service began with a service of music at 11:30 PM. A good friend of mine is the music director, and the organist had played for me when I was at Fourth Presbyterian. The choir was quite good, especially the quality of the men’s sections.
According to Linda, the service we attended was very traditional. There were the bells, the incense and drama of the liturgy. I was absolutely fascinated by the choreography of every detail, as well as by the fact that everyone seemed to know what was going on. I guess if you grow up in the church, it comes as second nature. I really didn’t want to stand out as non-Catholic, but there was no helping it. When it came time to sing, Houston and I sang out, as we normally do. It seems that everyone around us was somewhat muffled, even on familiar Christmas hymns.
I understood a little of the format of the mass as far as the text was concerned. In this service, many of the readings were chanted rather than read. Latin was used for several portions. This actually wasn’t so bad from my standpoint, since I’ve sung so many concert masses over the years. However, some of the musical responses were written using neumes. I could read and understand them well enough, but then again I’m a trained vocal musician with a degree in music. Houston reads normal musical notation, but was lost on the chants.
I had a bit of trouble timing of the kneel, sit, genuflect, crossing routine. As we were kneeling at one point, I began watching one woman in front of my for cues. She reached upward, so I also began to cross myself. It turns out she was only scratching her ear, so I deftly turned my motion into an adjustment of my glasses.
The service was very long, especially with all of the formal traditional elements. It was quite late, and my incense deluded brain started to play tricks on me. At one point, the text read, "in hu-man form", and I saw it as "in hit-man form." That would certainly change the theology of things. That wasn’t the only time the text got me…
In union with the whole Church we honor Mary, the ever-virgin mother of Jesus Christ our Lord and God. We honor Joseph, her husband, the apostles and martyrs Peter and Paul, Andrew, [James, John, Thomas, James, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Simon and Jude; we honor Linus, Cletus, Clement, Sixtus, Cornelius, Cyprian, Lawrence, Chrysogonus, John and Paul, Cosmas and Damian] and all the saints. May their merits and prayers gain us your constant help and protection.
…plus on other listing of saints later on in the service. I wondered if I anyone would notice if I made up my own saint names – Popeye, Homer, etc.
Finally, it came time for the Eucharist. With it already as late as it was, I wondered how long it would take for everyone to partake of communion. Things went very smoothly (with Houston, Linda, and I abstaining). It was really no worse than when we had communion at Fourth.
With the service of music ahead of time, the entire program lasted two hours. I enjoyed the experience, and was actually happy to have attended such a traditional service, but it really left me exhausted for Christmas Day.