July 12, 2019

Joyful Witness / Kimberly Pohovey

Universality of Mass unites us as one community in Christ

Kimberly PohoveyI believe there is more that unites us than divides us. A recent experience at Mass made this realization even more evident to me.

Last month, my husband, Mark, and I were blessed to enjoy a belated 25th anniversary trip to St. Lucia, an island paradise of the British Commonwealth. On the Sunday morning of our trip, we ventured to the village of Gros Islet to attend Mass at St. Joseph the Worker Church. As our driver was about to drop us off at the church, he let us know that the pastor there was likely going to preach longer than we were used to in the United States. My husband and I shrugged at each other. “How much longer can that be?” I thought to myself.

As we entered the church dressed in our casual vacation clothing, we noted that we were very underdressed compared to the parishioners who were decked out in their Sunday finest. The ladies especially were dressed up in a variety of bold colors.

One by one, we began to spot young boys in black and white suits and girls in white dresses. Yes, we stumbled upon their first Communion Mass. I will admit that our first thought wasn’t “how wonderful that we get to experience this sacrament,” but rather a mental ticking of the additional time this was going to add to the Mass.

Two and a half hours later, Mass came to an end. What I experienced within that time frame, however, was well worth the trip. The majority of St. Lucia’s population are predominantly African-American. As my husband and I sat down, we quickly realized that we were possibly the only Caucasian folks in the church. My husband commented that this must be how minorities feel when they attend a predominantly Caucasian church. However, I felt no uneasiness because I was enthralled by the joyfulness of the liturgy.

The music was beautifully uplifting, sort of a combination of standard hymns with which we were familiar, and a blending of island sounds and influence. I couldn’t help but sway to the rhythm of the drums.

The sacrament of holy Eucharist was exactly what we encounter back home. The uninhibited look of pure joy on the faces of the young people as they received Jesus in the Eucharist for the first time looks the same in any country. The pastor spoke in his homily about the importance of embracing the gift of the Eucharist and parents’ responsibility to bring their children to Mass—familiar themes preached in every parish.

The universal aspect of our Church and liturgy is a thing of beauty to me. The thought that I can walk into any Catholic Church in the world and be able to participate in and celebrate the Mass alongside my brothers and sisters truly binds us as one community in Christ.

What happened near the end of the liturgy surprised me. The lector asked that all visitors in attendance please stand. We tentatively rose, hesitant to be singled out. As the choir began to belt out the most jubilant “welcome” song, folks emptied out from their pews to approach us. At first, we weren’t sure what was happening, but we were soon enveloped in their warm and welcoming handshakes. We may have been guests, but we felt embraced by this community.

More unites us than divides us.

(Kimberly Pohovey is a member of St. Jude Parish in Indianapolis. She is the director of mission advancement for Archdiocesan Education Initiatives.)

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