One of the things I enjoy doing while traveling is going to church, specifically to Roman Catholic mass. How different peoples worship is a significant window into their culture. What I find particularly interesting about Catholic mass is that although the structure of the mass is essentially the same all over the world, there are still noticeable differences depending on where you celebrate mass. In the world there are differences in the architecture of the churches, the homilies given by the priests, and in the people attending mass. In Ireland I was impressed by the efficiency of the mass because they had to conduct six masses in about four hours (and I was told all of the masses were packed). In Grenada the church was completely open on both sides and you could see the ocean.
One of my favorite churches was the Basilica Cathedral de Arequipa in Peru, which was beautiful (those Spanish Conquistador’s knew how to build churches as all of the churches in Peru were remarkable). And even though the mass was entirely in Spanish, I knew what was being said because the mass is the same, notwithstanding the language.
And since I am naming some of my favorite churches, I must mention Saint Patrick’s in Aurora, NY where Jen and I were married; sitting on Cayuga Lake, the longest of the Finger Lakes , it provided an extraordinary spot for a wedding.
Yesterday was Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent, which is an important day in the Catholic faith. I inquired with the staff if there was a Catholic church close by and was told there was one twenty minutes away in Savannah la Mar. Without any more prompting the staff arranged for a driver to pick me up and drive me to the church so that I could attend Ash Wednesday services. As promised, a driver picked me up at the appointed time and brought me to Saint Joseph’s Catholic Church. The church was modest both outside and inside, but what won me over were the parishioners. Being the only white parishioner I guess it was easy to tell I was not a member of the parish. But that didn’t matter as I felt very welcome from the start when a deacon made sure to give me a hymnal when he saw I did not have one. The priest was an American (getting station in Jamaica is not a bad gig) whom I thought was quite good and very much in touch with his parish. What really impressed me though about this church was how well everyone sang! In a lot of churches in the US, the singing is pretty bad and is not a large part of the mass. Without any musical accompaniment, these people sang every song and refrain and did so with gusto. Since this was a weekday mass I know it was toned down and there probably only twenty-five people at the mass. I spied a piano and a drum set in the corner of the church, which I am sure are put to good use at a full Sunday mass and I imagine the singing is even more impressive.