Seeing the Mass as a Tourist


In my Catholic lifetime of thirty-something years, I’ve worshipped in many different places.  I’ve sung my alleluias under the vivid stained-glass of Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris, with hushed tourists filing their way around the seats.  I’ve listened to the Gospel in an airy modern chapel in Albuquerque.  I’ve recited the Prayers of the Faithful in a small red-brick church in Cooperstown, New York, and I’ve tasted the body of Christ under the fluorescent lights of a portable building in Irvine, California.  I’ve honored the birth of our Lord in the Spanish-style majesty of Mission Santa Barbara, and I’ve celebrated his resurrection in a modest stone church in Beaune, France.

It’s no sacrifice for me to go to Mass when I’m traveling.  Though it requires a certain amount of legwork to hunt down a local parish and figure out the Mass times, I have an insatiable appetite for visiting new churches.  It’s the same impulse that makes me stop by open houses in my neighborhood: I love seeing what different people do with their living spaces, and I love seeing what different communities do with God’s house.

At its core, this is simple curiosity, but it’s the kind of curiosity that is rooted in an openness to transcendence.  It’s the same impulse that makes me want to travel in the first place  – I’m motivated not just by the desire to see a new place, but by the awareness that the place will change me, will enrich me in some subtle way that I can’t begin to imagine.

Like the stamps on a passport, each of these out-of-town Masses has left an imprint on my spiritual life.  Those Masses in France showed me the history and the universality of my childhood religion.  The church in Albuquerque showed me that architectural simplicity can be breathtaking.  The Mass in Irvine was proof that a community of believers, gathered in Christ’s name, can infuse even a portable building with the presence of God.   These spiritual discoveries are the souvenirs that I bring back home with me, tucked carefully into the luggage of my mind.

When I’m worshipping in a new setting, I also find that I engage with the Mass in a different way.  The unfamiliarity of the church can lend a certain exoticism to the words and prayers of the liturgy, the ones that I know by heart.  It’s as if I’m not just a physical traveler but a spiritual one as well, wandering into the ritual of the Mass for the first time, gazing open-mouthed at its beauty.  We all need to play the tourist in our own faith every now and then.

And yet for all of the charms of variety, my traveling Mass-going has taught me a very important lesson about what I value most in my faith.  Though the architecture and the stained glass and the congregation and even the language can vary from place to place, the ritual is always the same.  No matter how far away I go, when I’m at Mass, Christ always comes and finds me.  No matter where in the world my wanderlust takes me, when I walk into a Catholic Mass, I’m home.

Copyright 2012 Ginny Moyer


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  1. Seeing the Mass as a tourist made me reminisce, too. And I had to smile at my recollection of a Mass in Las Vegas. The name of the Church was Guardian Angel or Holy Angel–something to do with angels. It looked like an A-frame house. There were no statues. I couldn’t find the Tabernacle. They practically had an orchestra for music. I had my doubts that this was really a catholic church that the taxi driver brought me to. Then I read the name of the window, next to me. “Donated by the Danny Thomas Family.”
    That’s how I knew I was in a Catholic Church.

    • Faith, I lived in Las Vegas for 14 years. Danny Thomas donated the whole Guardian Angel Cathedral. He also left instructions that it was never to be changed in anyway. That is why it is still purple etc. Only in Las Vegas! 🙂

  2. Ginny, great post! I used to travel for business and would always try to find mass, even during the week, if I could go. It was great to see so many churches.

    And the Guardian Angels Cathedral on the Strip in Las Vegas; I have been to mass there so many times. The interior is worth seeing, very different.

  3. Ginny, I love this! I feel this way, too, though admittedly, I haven’t been able to go to the grand old cathedrals of Europe…yet. I find the treasures of Mass to be so different when I’m outside my “comfort zone” parish…the music may be different/better, the homily may be insightful/maddening, but always, ALWAYS, the heart of it is the Eucharist, Jesus Himself. Thanks for sharing this in such a lovely way!

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