Woke up late this morning, and the first church I tried turned out to have a ‘property for sale’ sign draped over their billboard, so their 11:30 was definitely not happening. I ended up at the Spanish Mass at St. Paul’s.
I spent some time once with a religious order in Peru — that’ll have to be another post — which left me with some knowledge of Spanish and an affection for all things Latin, but I tend to feel like an interloper at Spanish Masses. I don’t like to stick out, so my instinct is to try to pass as a Spanish speaker myself, but of course that’s not where my focus should be.
I have been avoiding St. Paul’s, too, because the combination of all that cavernous space and the small sprinkling of attendants is a little depressing. So I was surprised to find the place already half full when I got there five minutes early, and it kept filling up. So many Catholics, and so many young people! The average age of so many English-speaking congregations is closer to 50 than to 30.
Is it just the perspective of an outsider that makes Latin Americans seem particularly warm? Before the Mass started, everyone greeted everyone else. We held hands for the Our Father. The choir sang contemporary stuff, with feeling. All that stuff might bug me at an English Mass, but when it’s in Spanish it never does. Maybe that’s prejudice, or maybe having to translate the words I hear helps me to actually hear them; or maybe it just seemed less forced than things like that usually do.
I also got to watch the father of the family in front of me interact with his sons — poking them, whispering to them, all of them grinning — a sight that I always find beautiful and painful in equal measure. But beauty and pain are two very good things to put on the altar.
I stopped by to greet the priest afterwards on my way out, with everyone else. He said, ‘Como estamos?‘ I said ‘Muy bien,‘. He grinned and said ‘Muy bien, eh? Very good, very good!’ and gave me a huge hug. I wasn’t fooling anyone after all. Just as well! The lady I had been sitting next to overheard the exchange and said, ‘So you’re starting to learn Spanish? Me too!’ I guess she meant ‘And I’m starting to learn English.’ Or, just as likely, I mistranslated. I get the beginnings and endings of sentences okay, but the middle always goes by too fast.
So, maybe I’ll accidentally oversleep again some other Sunday soon. Maybe some of that warmth will rub off.