Being comfortable

Over at Our Sunday Visitor, my friend Greg Erlandson has posted a thought-provoking column, entitled Parish the Thought, which raises the question of where one should go to Mass: One’s geographical parish, or a parish where one is “comfortable.”


I think the question is an important one, but it occurs to me that I’m fairly uncomfortable most of the time, and particularly uncomfortable at Mass.  I live in an area (within a mile of the campus of the University of Notre Dame) where Mass is celebrated frequently and with widely variegated presiders, all sorts of liturgical quirks and preferences, surrounded by every imaginable kind of congregation.  In my geographical parish, there is a daily “red-eye” Mass at 6:45 a.m. where we all tend to mumble and make minimal eye contact, exchanging the sign of peace sincerely but perfunctorily.  The daily campus Mass is “high church” enough to delight any Anglican, and the cantor always leads us at a pitch which forces churchgoers like me to choose between falsetto and basso profundo.  It’s often difficult to remember the homilies given there.  Most Sundays, my wife and I go to Mass at the chapel of Holy Cross College, where there is usually no music and usually a good and nourishing homily.  Most of our fellow congregants there are active members of other parishes, but refugees from their more elaborate Sunday liturgies.


Greg concludes that “a parish isn’t about ‘how good it makes me feel.’ It is about me getting outside of myself and caring about others who are not like me at all, yet are brothers and sisters in Christ. For those defending geography, the pick and choosers risk making the Mass an entertainment that we vote for with our presence, rather than a miracle we are privileged to share.”  I agree, mostly, but it seems to me (and I pick and choose even more widely than most Catholics are able to) that it’s not necessarily “entertainment” value that we nomadic Catholics are pursuing.  The Mass is indeed a miracle we are privileged to share, but if we are to behold and share that miracle, might it not be the case that we know some venues to be less distracting than others?

Michael O. Garvey works in public relations at the University of Notre Dame.

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