Please note! This essay has been submitted by a student.
After being baptized Catholic, I never really got that into the religion. I have identified as non-religious for a while and really had no desire to join any faith before this assignment. For my assignment, I went to an Easter Vigil mass while I was home for Easter. The building overall was very ornate. There was a lot or ornamentation. There was a giant crucifix at the center of the church. It looked lifesize which was something I had never seen before. The crucifix was hanging inside a giant central spire that was adorned with stained glass on both sides. The man church walls were a mixture of stone and stained glass. There was a prayer altar to both the holy family and the patron saint of the parish. This church was actually massive. The front altar was made of stone and had a giant central cross on it with the names of the Gospel writers on both corners. The organ was loud as there were speakers all over the building. There was a little entrance area that was a mixture of stained glass and regular glass. The parish’s logo was etched onto the glass. There was a lot of the color green used in the building. The stations of the cross were along each wall, they seemed to be carved from wood and were mounted on the stone walls. Under those were little red vigil candles. Near the candles was an explanation of what they meant. Each candle was meant to signify a person that had died or some intention. You were able to buy a candle and let it stay lit there as long as you’d like. The outside of the church was quite flashy. The roof was copper and very shiny. The central spire was very tall and had a cross on top. It was visible from far away. In the back of the church there was something I actually recognized. Growing up with immigrant grandparents from Poland I was incredibly familiar with the “Black Madonna”, a relic that has been celebrated by the Polish people for hundreds of years. Seeing that made me feel more at home and comfortable. There was a lavish manger up at the front of the church that also helped get you into the “easter mood”.
This church was not very diverse overall. The biggest group I saw were old white people. The church seemed to be at capacity (which was a lot). It seemed like they were the ones that participated primarily. Within that group of older people, I noticed that it seemed like the women participated a lot more than the men. There were some families that had small children , but they weren’t really participating as much. It seemed like the old people were the only ones that actually wanted to be there. The younger families seemed like they were only there because they had to. I see this as a bad thing for the members of the faith. There are a lot more old members than new members. There are fewer members being born into the faith than the amount of members dying out of the faith. If you have no way to at least equalize the flow in and the flow out then you are running at a deficit. If you are running at a deficit then eventually there will be nobody left. American society, in my opinion, is slowly turning away from religion which is a bad thing for churches trying to get new members. There was really no in between when it came to participation. The people I observed were either fully engrossed in the mass or they were not participating at all.
The mass started out in the dark with the lighting of what I later learned to be the Paschal Candle. It symbolizes Jesus and his “light” in the world. This mass was extra long as it was the Easter Vigil mass. As the priests entered the church, they blessed the people as they entered with incense and holy water. They used what looked like palms symbolizing Jesus coming into town on Palm Sunday. A reading was done and the lights came on. There were lots of readings and songs. There was one called “Horse and Chariot” that was actually really catchy, I still find myself humming it to this day. Then every candle in the church was lit for the Gospel reading and a lot of incense was used to bless the book. There were very loud bells and the choir was booming at this point. The Gospel story was read and then the priest came down to talk. After a little Googling I learned this was known as the homily. The priest told some stories that were actually pretty funny. He started off with a joke and then told a story about Jesus rising from the tomb and scaring the disciples. After the priest finished explaining the reading, he said how it was not time to initiate new members into the Church. This mass was special because new people were baptized and confirmed. After the new members were initiated, the priest blessed the congregation.They blessed the water in front of us all by saying a prayer and dipping the big paschal candle in the water. They then priest asked everyone the same questions he asked those that were about to be baptized A bunch of priests went around and blessed people with water and incense. I saw this as a similarity to renewing marriage vows. At the end of the mass was a grand “alleluia” to celebrate the end of the lenten season and the rising of Jesus. The entire mass had very good music. It was loud and actually gave me goosebumps. There was a full size organ, a full choir, a full band, and a bell choir. All of these really added to the experience, I never really pictured a mass really could get that loud and the music could be that catchy. It made me feel very connected to God somehow. Not only did the incense smell good, it also had a symbolic meaning. As the smoke rises the entire congregation prayed. The smoke “lifts” up the prayers to God. In regards to prayers, there also was a section before the distribution of the host in which everyone offered their prayers up as a community, this interested me. I liked the sense of community that was offered. It seemed as if they didn’t care who you were, what you looked like, or what made you different. Everyone was very accepting and accommodating. My parents have been members of this parish for right around 20 years, I felt very welcome despite the fact that I never really identified as a part of the faith.
I had a strange feeling throughout the mass. It was strange, I felt warm and happy inside and I actually have no idea why. It kept my attention and I honestly wonder why I never really got into it when I was younger. I knew the very basics of Catholicism but I really would like to get into it more now after experiencing it again. When I was young I dreaded when my parents forced me and the idea of religion confused and perplexed me. I have thought about it and I definitely see a purpose. I felt like I was a part of something bigger. Something bigger than anything I have ever really been a part of. An entity that does so much good in the world. I am definitely considering getting involved with the Church again. I was surprised by how accepting everyone seemed to be. Although I wasn’t exactly sure of the responses and what to do all the time it was pretty easy to mimic and nobody seemed to care I wasn’t exactly sure what I was doing. Overall I would rank the experience as very positive and will definitely be back over the summer. I am definitely interested in getting involved, my only problem is the doubt of existence of anything. But I am sure if God wills me to join the faith, I will overcome any doubt I have.