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