midnight mass

Last week, I went to a midnight mass at the St. Louis Cathedral. The primary draw was the announced choral singing preceeding the mass, but also curiosity about the structure of Catholic worship, and so I considered staying for the entire service, despite it being late and me being pretty tired. It turned out that the choir performance was a little disappointing, and I would have left afterward, but for a straggler who forced me into the middle of the pew, making it socially inconvenient to leave at the start of the mass, which transitioned seamlessly after the singing.

But I was glad that I stayed, even as late as it kept me up. What appealed to me about the mass was contrasting it with the Protestant service I’d attended earlier in the afternoon. The primary distinction was one of attitude. The Protestants would not stop letting me know how happy they were that I was there, pleading with me to make sure I knew about all the details they’d taken to ensure my comfort, that I knew where the bathrooms were and the coffee and the treats, that I could leave at any point and go to the space in the basement and watch on TV if the service became too much for me. At the end they had a snazzy promotional video for an upcoming sermon series, and a thematically-linked item to take home to invite other people to come to the series.

In contrast, the Catholic service wasted no energy explaining itself. It demanded that I stand, sit, and kneel at various points; that I endure an organ; that I sing many verses of long hymns (my preference to modern music, but an onus to some). There were no apologies that I was crammed in next to the humans on either side of me. It treated me like an adult, expecting that I would figure out what was going on, and that I would adapt to it, rather than it to me.

I’m not Catholic, though I’ve long been drawn to it. For all its problems, their approach to celebrating one of the chief events on the Christian calendar was a far better execution of the metaphor of the Christian call to be drawn outside yourself. I could feel the deep appeal to its age, its majesty, its permanence, and its certainty.