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By Lucille Arcedas
The author, from Kabankalan City, Negros Occidental, teaches at Colegio de San Agustin, Bacolod City, and is currently studying at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.
‘I might be in a wrong group’, I thought as I was attending Mass. It was kind of different. After the prayers of the faithful, when the people themselves offered individual petitions and then everyone going up to the sanctuary, the priest at the center of the altar and the faithful surrounding it. My dilemma was enlightened when the priest said, ‘for Benedict our Pope, and Matthew our Bishop’. I sighed in relief.
It was 22 August 2008, my first time to attend Mass in Ithaca, New York. Before I arrived, I searched the internet and found out that there were two Catholic Churches there and also the CURW (Cornell United Religious Work) held at Anabel Taylor Hall. Each denomination has a schedule and a room where they can have their own form of worship. I knew that the room that I had just entered was the venue for Christian services but I wasn’t really sure if the service was really the Mass of Roman Catholic Rite because the priest was sitting among the congregation while giving the homily. During the Lord’s Prayer, everyone held hands. Communion was different too. A woman was the first to receive the Body of Christ and then the Precious Blood. The priest then gave each of us the Host, and the woman let us drink the Precious Blood from the chalice. Although there were two other men in the group, the altar servers were ladies. After Communion, we went back to our place and the priest read a verse from one of the letters of St Paul. The final blessing was the culmination of the celebration.
It was a nice feeling, especially on the Queenship of Mary. That first Mass was followed by other daily Masses, when I was free. My Sunday Masses were at St Catherine of Siena Parish, the nearest Roman Catholic Church to my boarding house. It is relatively small, with a very welcoming atmosphere. There are also many families who attend the Eucharistic Celebration there. I think this confirmed what I had read somewhere that divorce is very rare among Catholics in the US.
In my experience as a parishioner in the Philippines, in the Diocese of
Kabankalan, my hometown, and in Diocese of Bacolod, my workplace, I observed slight differences from my communities in the
USA, St Catherine of Siena and Cornell Catholic Community. The smaller number of church-goers made it possible to give
Holy Communion under both forms at Sunday and weekday Masses. There are female altar servers and extraordinary
ministers of Holy Communion. The Nicene Creed, not the Apostles’ Creed, is prayed every Sunday during Mass. Communications are done mostly via email and
each parishioner is invited to be actively involved, especially in decision making. I don’t know if there are religious organizations in the parish, as
there is not even a single Legion of Mary praesidium. Weekly parish bulletins are given and the financial statements are updated.
For a new member like me, I was given the parish kit, with all the necessary things to know about the parish, including the invitation to be involved with whatever parish ministry I wanted to help in. I’m not very active in the parish because I don’t attend any meetings or the monthly social hour.
Sacramental preparations are also longer. For one to become a Catholic, at least six months of studies and other preparations are made. They call it RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults). Even for one to have a Catholic Marriage, preparation takes longer than in the Philippines. Baptism and confirmation take place within the Mass, which make the celebration of these sacraments very meaningful both to the new members and the parishioners who welcome them. The Philippines has more symbolic Lenten and Easter ceremonies as theirs are simpler and confined to the parish compound. I have also never known of a Novena or Triduum of Masses in preparation for the feast of the patron saint, even for that of St Catherine of Siena or of the Immaculate Conception in the other parish.
As a cradle Catholic, it made me appreciate more those who were just converted to the Catholic faith, knowing their
struggles, especially with their friends in the religion they used to have, how they have studied much in search of the Truth and renouncing their former way of life. It also poses a great challenge to know my faith more and to be an agent of conversion to others.
My experience of the Catholic Church here in Asia and in the West confirmed for me the marks of the Church established by Jesus. I belong to the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. One: In union with the Pope, even if I am far from home, I still participate in the same liturgy, ceremony and practices (John 10:16). Holy: With Christ as its founder, I am with a group of people who strive to be holy and help each other whenever someone falls (Matthew 16:18-20). Catholic: the ‘Universal Church’ for all people of all time (Matthew 28:18-20). Apostolic Succession: With Peter as the first and Benedict XVI as the 265th Pope, the people journey together to become Christ’s presence in a world where materialism is glorified through living truth in charity.
The Church is a constant sign that I am not alone in my life’s journey. Jesus
manifests Himself to me through the Church and I hope that because I am its
member, I can share Him with others, especially in my witnessing, in my little
acts of love.
You may email Lucille at email@example.com .