Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Why would an agnostic, someone...

...who was raised as a Catholic but is now, as my parents would derisively put it, a "fallen-away Catholic," attend a Latin High Mass at retro St. John Cantius in Chicago?

Would you believe me if I said that sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, or would you be more apt to side with my wife, who said our old therapist would be having a "field day" if she knew? I'll let you decide.

St. John Cantius is a Catholic Church just east of the intersection of Ogden and Chicago Avenues on the Near North Side. Completed in the Polish Baroque style in 1898, the church nearly closed in 1988 but has been experiencing a bit of a renaissance lately through the use of "solemn liturgies and devotions, treasures of sacred art, and liturgical music" according to its website.

Or, as Wikipedia describes it:

...Traditional Catholic rituals and devotions that had fallen out of favor after the Second Vatican Council, such as the Tridentine Mass in Latin as well as Vespers and Benediction, the Corpus Christi procession, the Stations of the Cross, Tenebrae services, and the St. Joseph and St. Anne Novenas. The parish has a rich program of sacred music supported by eight parish choirs and an orchestra.

Or, as a cynic might opine, perhaps the pastor, Father Frank Phillips, found a market niche that wasn't being served.

Walking into St. John Cantius on a typical Sunday is like taking a time machine back to the world of Catholic America before the reforms of Vatican II. They say there's no such thing as time travel? Nonsense.

A visitor to St. John Cantius is immediately struck by the magnificent nave, or interior. It actually won a contest for "The Most Beautiful Church in America." (You can read more about its architecture in A Chicago Sojourn, one of my favorite blogs.)

The next thing you notice is the smell of incense. (Sometimes it's so strong that it actually irritates my eyes. My son asked, "Is that a good thing?") But that's not all. Many of the women in the pews wear veils on their heads, the congregation kneels at the communion rail to "receive," and parishioners line up on both sides of the church for Confession. It's how I imagine 1950s, Patrick Buchanan-style Catholicism. Since I barely remember that world (Vatican II adjourned just after I made my First Communion in 1965), is its appeal for me nostalgia? Am I honoring my parents and the rest of my ancestors by attending? Maybe that's it.

And then there's the Mass itself, particularly the Latin High Mass at 12:30. What would the former president of the board of trustees of a low church Unitarian Universalist congregation get out of the Tridentine High Mass in Latin? Good question. And my first answer would be, it's not an apples to apples comparison.

The Extraordinary Form of the Mass is one of the most dignified, majestic services or ceremonies you will ever experience. And, by attending, you may feel like an extra in a play of some sort. Besides the jaw-dropping interior and the incense, St. John Cantius also has some of the most beautiful music I have ever heard. (I could write an entire post on that subject alone.)

So what is it? Just experiencing the "smells and bells" of a traditional Catholic Mass? Listening to gorgeous music? Taking a break from the hustle and bustle of the modern world? Longing for my deceased parents and grandparents? Nostalgia for a world I barely knew? All of the above?

Or, am I really trying to reconnect with my Catholic heritage? And do I secretly believe in God and wish to return to Mother Church, as my wife suspects? Who knows?

All I can say is that it's a really nice way to spend about an hour and a half on a Sunday afternoon.

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