For my Catholic Tradition class, I had to attend a Catholic mass. It sounds like a pretty easy assignment to most people. Just show up, answer the questions the professor gave you, and you earn full credit. That was not exactly the case for me. I was raised Jewish and the majority of the religious traditions I am familiar with are Jewish ones.
In my Catholic Tradition class, I learned more about the faith, and I know many theological ideas behind what Catholics do. When I showed up to the Catholic mass, I discovered that some of the rituals attendees do in mass were completely foreign to me…again.
It started out with me entering Mary, Seat of Wisdom chapel and sitting in the back so that nobody noticed me, the only Jew in the building. Great! There was a bunch of students behind me who were obviously Catholic and a few priests. The next thing I see are people getting down on one knee and do the sign of the cross as they enter the seating area. I didn’t do that. Luckily, my friend Nathan saw me there and greeted me with a friendly handshake, making me feel more at ease.
The service started with a song which I managed to (sort of) follow along thanks to the aid of the hymn book. Soon after, everyone started singing another song. After looking at everyone in the church, I noticed that everyone was singing from memory. I just moved my mouth to make it look like I was singing to cover up the fact I had absolutely no clue what I was doing.
After the song, I think I did a pretty good job blending in. I let the choir do most of the singing and did my best to follow along what everyone else was doing, whether it was taking that stool thing from under the seat in front of me or standing in a posture where the palms of my hands are facing the ceiling.
People would also say stuff like “and with your spirit” or “God be with you,” which is probably the English translation to all the stuff I say in Hebrew at synagogue. Everyone except the only Jew knew what to say. I continued to just move my mouth, trying to look as Catholic as possible. I had a bad hunch it wasn’t working.
Eventually everyone got out of their seat and got in line for something. After remembering Dr. DeSanctis talk about everyone taking communion, I realized that is what I got in line for. I was going to have the body and blood of Christ. The presence of Christ in a small piece of gluten containing bread.
Oh no! What have I done? I was getting in line to eat something with gluten, and I have a gluten allergy. What was I going to tell the priest? “Sorry Father, but I cannot eat the body of Christ for I am allergic and will probably die if I eat it.” Then what would he say? Maybe he’d have a gluten free version. Some priests do. I heard they do make gluten free versions. Even if he does have a gluten free version, he would have touched the glutenous bread with the same hand, probably giving me a gluten reaction. Should I tell the priest to wash his hands before giving it to me?
By the time I finished that thought, it was my turn to take communion. I told the priest I have a gluten allergy, and couldn’t take communion. He smiled and greeted me and said it was okay. The person with the cup of holy wine just looked at me with an odd confused look not knowing what to do, and I went back to my seat, forgetting to kneel and do the sign of the cross again, probably making a complete idiot out of myself.
The people in front of me were kneeling on the cushioned stool. I took it out from under the chair in front of me, only to discover everyone else wasn’t kneeling but standing. I was pretty confused so I just put the stool back with my hands suddenly remembering everyone else put it back with their feet the last time so I just stood up with an embarrassed look on my face, waiting for the awkwardness to end.
Lucky for me, all I had to do was listen to what the priest said and sing with the guidance of the hymn book. Even though I had no clue what on Earth I was doing, I felt like a better person. I always had that feeling that it never really matters what faith you are as long as you try to do good in the world. Isn’t that the goal of all religions? I did feel a spiritual connection. After all, I was worshiping the same God I worshiped in the synagogue back home.
It is really awkward to be the only Jew at a Catholic mass, but everyone at Mary, Seat of Wisdom was accepting of me. Sure I felt silly at some times, but I felt welcomed, and that’s what really counts.