Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Same But Different

I had a wonderful experience today when I went to a gospel Mass at St. Alphonsus Liguori Rock Church.

The Rock Church is on Grand Blvd., not far from the Fox Theater. The beautiful Gothic-style church was dedicated in 1872. It was nicknamed the "Rock Church" by the construction workers who built the church and the rock wall that surrounds it. The church continues to draw people from the immediate area and all over the city.

Driving north on Grand, we could see the tall church steeple a couple of blocks before we saw the building. We found the parking lot and were directed to a space, then we followed the stream of people entering the building.

The Gothic-style church is beautiful. Stained glass windows line the sides of the building. The ceiling was painted a wonderful sky-blue color. There was a awesome high altar, but a simpler African-decorated one has been placed in front of it. The baptismal font, which was in an area halfway up the main aisle, had the same African motifs on it.

Before Mass started people were milling around talking to each other. Since we didn't know anyone, we sat in a pew about a quarter of the way up and spent the time looking around. There was a diverse group of people in the congregation...old, young, black, and white. When the piano in the corner by the choir started playing lightly everyone started taking their place.

The church practices Catholicism in the African American tradition. Although the mass lasted almost 2 hours, it didn't seem near that long. Some differences I noticed between St. Alphonsus and my regular church:
  • The choir was outstanding! It certainly added more energy to the Mass. We had a sheet with the words to all the songs, but most of them were very simple and easy to learn. Often a soloist would sing a phrase which was repeated by the entire group.
  • If someone was moved something, they'd let out an 'Amen'. Clapping and swaying to the music was common.
  • Although I saw a few teenage boys in jeans, most people were dressed nicely. Several woman had on dresses and hats.
  • The opening procession was like nothing I've ever seen. First in line was a woman carrying a bowl of incense, who swayed to the music as she walked. When she got halfway down the aisle, two sets of young people, dressed in servers robes and carrying candles and a cross, started their trip. Each group waited until the previous group was almost to the front before they began. The presiding priests came last.
  • There were no missal books in the pews. Instead, during the readings I noticed most people opened the Bible they brought with them and read along.
  • When the offertory gifts were brought up to the altar from the back of church there was another wonderful procession. Seven people-two pairs of teenagers, two adults, and an usher-took part. The teens swayed to the music as they walked up; the adults carrying the gifts were more solemn. The usher carried a large woven basket containing the offertory money.
  • The Sign of Peace, which takes just a couple of minutes in our church. lasted at least 10 minutes today. Everyone left their pew and mingled through the church hugging and exchanging greetings with other people. Even though they didn't know us, several people came up and gave us a hug.
Even though there were a lot of differences, in the end it was the same; I was at a Mass. I prayed the same prayers and listened to the same readings. When the priest gave the final blessing I realized that I had gotten a lot from this incredible experience.


  1. For me...
    I always "grow" spiritually when I stretch myself to experience someone else's process...whether I am comfortable or not (ususally self-conscious) I benefit in way that are hard to explain..

  2. I think I feel the same way you do :-)

  3. During Lent, some friends and I go to a different church each week - a physical Lenten journey - and it's interesting to see how each one is different. This sounds really interesting - but 2 hours! Yikes!

  4. I'm glad you experienced (and were willing to experience) the church.