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Why should you go to mass? Reason I: The Memories

Upon looking at this post's title, you're probably wondering why a Catholic science geek is trying to get you to mass...and probably wondering "Why should I go to mass? She has no right to tell me how to spend my Sundays!" You're right in the sense that I do have no right to force you to go to mass on a Sunday. However, I got plenty of reasons why going to mass would be a good of which I will explore in this post. If you don't want to hear any of it, please know that I am only doing this as a favor to a friend. 

I'm sure you also have plenty of reasons why you should stay home. Perhaps you are a Red Sox fan who cannot bring themselves to take mass seriously when a particular priest, for some unfortunate reason, happens to be a Yankees fan.  Perhaps, you hate the flower arrangements at a particular church, almost as much as you hate the woman in charge of arranging them. Perhaps you have terrible memories of your parents dragging you to church while you were kicking and screaming. Perhaps your reasons are more serious. Perhaps mass reminds you too much of a deceased loved one. Perhaps mass reminds you of some form of heartbreaking event. Perhaps you can no longer go to mass because of a terrible experience that you do not want to revisit. There's a spectrum of reasons why people don't go to mass ranging from frivolous reasons to very grave. Again, I don't want to judge you. I don't even want to force or scare anyone into going to mass. I am simply asking you on behalf of a friend and attempting to provide some reasons to at least get you thinking about going to mass. 

Let's face it. Memories, while nowhere near as important as the Eucharist, are usually the make it or break it point when it comes to mass attendance. People with good memories of mass tend to keep coming back, while people with bad memories tend to stay home and hop on the "I'm more of a spiritual Catholic" bandwagon. You know who I'm talking about...and this post series isn't designed to judge them. It's designed to get some more of us out of our houses on Sunday mornings and back to the pews. I figured I would start off this series with a less serious, but still very important reason that every Catholic (and other denomination) can relate to...memories.

When I was a child, my family was one of those families that always went to mass. My dad would wear a suit or, at least, a nice shirt and pressed pants. He always shaved before mass, so the scent of shaving cream and cologne would also waft through the house. My mom used to take time to make herself look as nice as she could before we went to mass. The house would smell of perfume and hairspray after my mom was done, and she always came out of the bathroom looking fantastic. Though my mom never wore makeup, she always presented herself in the best manner that she could when it came to mass. She would put on her pearls, and have her hair done up perfectly without a single hair out of place. Though my mom and I were almost identical as far as appearances go, I have yet to get my hair to stop looking like mad scientist hair. My hair, in case you're wondering is usually raggedy with a mix of straight, wavy, and curly hair bunched up in a pony tail. No matter how long or short I cut it, there's always more than a few wisps of hair that come undone and don't know what to do with themselves.

My sisters and I, before we got old enough to dress ourselves, would always wear dresses (except on some occasions where we wore other cute clothes that matched). The only time we didn't wear matching dresses was if one of us had grown out of a matching dress, or if the store did not carry the same dress in 3 different sizes. We would wear the white frilly socks that should still be burned in the memory of every Catholic girl that ever had a first communion. We also tended to wear some form of Mary Janes (white, black, brown) that clacked whenever I (the wayward middle child) would hop all over the stone walls lining the bushes around the entrance of the church. In the days where we went to Portuguese mass on Saturday nights, I (being one of the first ready, you'll find out why soon enough) would watch the cartoon "Doug." My sisters would join as my mom got ready. Then we'd drive to the church and walk in as a family. My sisters would walk with my dad (daddy's girls) in the front and I would walk with my mom (momma's girl) in the back. 

When we got older, my parents let us dress ourselves and that's when I entered the Cosby Sweater years. I, for no sane reason, decided that it was badass (in a respectable way) to wear these obnoxiously bright, patterned knit sweaters to mass. I think I even went through a period where I wore the same sweater over and over every week. It became my mass sweater and certainly made getting ready for mass a lot more quick and efficient. Unfortunately, however, since you don't really get dirty during mass...I never used to wash this sweater. I would just put it back on the hanger as soon as I got home. Needless to say, it got to the point where it started to smell kind of funky. Think incense, musty, burnt candle, and body odor kind of funky. My mom at some point kidnapped the sweater and gave it a much needed washing...but it didn't feel the same after a while. I moved on to better things soon a button-up shirt and skirt combo. 

My mom sang during Portuguese masses. She had a powerful alto (perhaps mezzo?) voice and could be heard above the voices of all the other women there. She loved to sing. She had a passion for the words she sang and a love for God that could be heard throughout the church. I joined my mom in the front. Sometimes I sang and sometimes I would just hear. On a few occasions I has the opportunity to do the reading. We practiced as a family when one of the kids got to do a reading...and it was something special. The whole family got involved. When we started going to English mass, my mom was not familiar with too much of the new songs. However, that did not stop her. There was one song that was easily translated..."Alleluia." Yes, it was only one word and not the longest song, but she sang it as beautifully as she sang any of the Portuguese songs she knew and loved.

My dad's devotion was more quiet than my mom's. At one point, he started praying before Our Lady of Fatima in a little area by the entrance of the church. My mom joined him and eventually my sisters joined him. He and my mom were convinced that praying before mass improved their lives drastically and I believe them (especially seeing how the rosary has changed my life). My sisters and I were skeptical, but joined my parents anyway. Over time we came to appreciate this small, extra act of faith even though it involved praying extra every Sunday and getting to church a little bit earlier. Today, even when my dad is abroad and it's just me and my sisters, we kneel before Our Lady and pray for her intercession. 

My dad always made sure we had change for mass. One great way to get change, we soon found, was by going to Wawa (a place that's kind of like a delicatessen for all of those beyond a particular region of the Tri-state Pennsylvania/Delaware/New Jersey area). We would all get coffee or tea and some form of muffin or pastry as a family. I always got a orange-passionfruit-jasmine green tea (since discontinued) and a banana nut muffin. My mom always got an apple fritter. My dad tended to get some form of pie or a doughnut. This quickly became one of the parts about going to mass that my sisters and I looked forward to the most. When we did not go to Wawa, there was never a shortage of bakeries in my town to provide a Sunday treat of some sort for my family. 

Each of my sisters and I, at one point or another, got a chance to be one of the three shepherd children or even Our Lady (a very coveted role) during one of the processions my church had every May. If you're not Portuguese, just believe me when I tell you that this is a BIG DEAL to Catholic kids. It's their time to shine and be the center of attention for a good long time as the procession winded through the streets. Whenever we went to Portugal, we continued to go to mass. We went on pilgrimages to several holy sites in Portugal and to several candlelight processions. These experiences were exceptionally special because they allowed us to experience our Catholic faith in the same manner that my grandparents and great-grandparents had experienced the faith. This, in a sense, served as a connection to the past and to people that my sisters and I did not get to know very well due to the distance between Portugal and the US. 

What wouldn't you do for a welcome like this?
Mass was also the place where I, as a young child, found Jesus and Latin. For some reason, I wasn't really into the Old Testament as much as I was into the New Testament. I really came to like the New Testament because I was very fond of that guy that told these great stories (the parables), loved children, and tended to look out for everyone else.  Jesus sounded a lot cooler in these readings than he did when my parents tried explaining him...I came to like Jesus and the New Testament so much that I would read all of the readings with Jesus in them instead of listening to the priest's homily or paying attention to mass. The missal became one of the coolest books I ever came across as a child and I would go through the New Testament readings for the entire liturgical year within a few weeks. There were so many great stories and people within this book...and there was LATIN at the end of the book. I memorized quite a few Latin prayers throughout the years during mass. I found the language to be very beautiful and it was close enough to Portuguese that I understood a good part of it. To this day I can still recite the Credo, Pater Noster, Salve Regina, Ave Maria, Gloria in Excelsis Deo (long and short), Agnus Dei, and quite a few others. In fact, I prefer the Latin version because it helps me concentrate on each prayer a lot more. I don't just recite mechanically when it comes to praying in Latin. I have to translate it in my mind and as I do it, the prayers come alive. 

I understand that not everyone out there has such wonderful memories as I do when it comes to going to mass with the family. However, you can always start making good memories. I'm lucky that I have a boyfriend who supports my wanting to continue going to mass every Sunday after we get married and start raising a family. Though he was never really a churchgoer (or even a practicing Catholic), he understands how much my faith means to me and how much going to mass means for me. I had so many wonderful memories about going to mass with my family and these memories have stuck with me for my entire life. I want to make sure my kids have memories like this one day. Even after my mom passed away and I started fearing that I would forget her voice....I never forgot her singing during mass. It was simply too powerful an expression of faith to ever forget. Even though I live in my own place now and don't get to see my dad as often as I would like, I have never forgotten his silent, steadfast devotion to Our Lady. No matter how tough things get, I remember his example and his faith. As a result, regardless of what church I go to, I will still kneel and pray. Even if I'm sightseeing and not necessarily attending a mass, I will still follow the example of my father. 

If you don't have great memories, I hope that you will start making some of your own....memories that will triumph over whatever reason you have for not coming to mass. Feel free to steal any of my ideas (even the Cosby sweater idea if you really, really want to mortify your children) to start working on your memories. If you have any questions or concerns regarding mass attendance, feel free to comment or even email me. I would be more than happy to help you out on behalf of my friend. You see, he invites me to mass every Sunday and wants me to help spread the word that everyone else is invited too.

Pax Vobiscum

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