I was raised Catholic, though I haven’t been practicing for a long time. I’ve memorized most of the worship service, and usually entertain myself in mass by following along with the priest. Like most Catholics, my participation in mass is from rote memory, and most of my verbal recitations are lackluster monotones. At mass on Christmas Eve this year, I realized that everyone was reciting in lackluster monotone, even those statements which should be full of enthusiasm and energy. The response “And peace be with you”, for example, had no emotion whatsoever. Here’s a wonderful sentiment: peace be with you! May your life be filled with peace! And yet we’re all repeating it back to the priest – and to one another – with the same energy we might recite our home address.
It seems like much of Catholicism is lackluster, the more I think about it. The Catholic homilies I’ve heard are, on the whole, dry. Even when the homily may be interesting, I don’t think I can recall a single homily that I could honestly describe as “passionate”. I admit, though, that my experiences with Catholicism are limited: I’ve only attended services at a handful of churches; so there may well be a very upbeat and enthusiastic parish somewhere.
I attended an Episcopal church for about a year. The priest there was lively and energetic. He described Episcopal services as “Catholic Lite”, and on the whole I tend to agree with that assessment. His homilies were full of energy, and he shared a great deal of his personal experiences in his homilies. I learned to appreciate the Bible readings in a new light, and while the recitations from the congregation weren’t full of energy, they weren’t completely lackluster either.
I attended my first bar mitzvah a while back. This was also the first Jewish service of any sort that I’d ever attended. It was an educational experience, and I’m really glad I had the opportunity to see another faith expressing their beliefs. There was a remarkable amount of ritual in the service, much of which seemed to be done by rote from those in attendance. The two things that most struck me, though, were the rabbi’s interpretation of the story read from the Torah, and the printed Torah in each pew. The rabbi did an absolutely stellar job of relating the story of Joseph to modern life. His remarks were engaging and candid. His presentation was lively. The Torah in each pew, though, was really something else. On each page was the text of the Torah in Hebrew and English, along with detailed interpretations of each passage from Jewish scholars, making the stories much more interesting to read.
(Since I don’t understand Hebrew, and most of the service was in Hebrew, I busied myself reading the scholarly interpretations of the various Torah stories. There were linguistic analyses, historical analyses, and multiple interpretations. The whole thing was absolutely fascinating, and far more informative – intellectually to me as an “outsider”, but also substantively to those of the faith – than most anything I’ve seen or experienced in a Catholic Bible.)
I don’t have any real insight to share, here, other than how boring so much of Catholic mass is. I understand the social significance of ritual, and repeated actions as teaching mechanism; but the wooden nature of Catholic service is really depressing, the more I think about it. Growing up Catholic, I never really took the time to open my eyes (and ears) to the discrepancy between the themes of the service and the presentation of those themes.