Monday nights my co-worker Elly attends Spanish-language mass at the Catholic church across the way from our office, and the first Monday after I got back she invited me to go. I'm rather game for new adventures, especially the religious kind, and I knew it would be a good opportunity to meet community members as well as work on my Spanish skills. So I put on yet another spiritual hat (to add to the UCC, Episcopal, Missionary Baptist and others I wear down here on the Coast) and headed off to la Misa.
The first challenge was trying to participate in the call-and-response service in a foreign language. I've been to enough Catholic masses in French to have memorized all the correct formulae and when to say what--"Pour des siecles et des siecles, Amen." "Que l'Esprit Saint soit avec vous..." "et avec votre esprit." Bada-bing. (The only trouble I've ever had is with the Lord's prayer, because I am so used to the words and the rhythm of the English version I grew up reciting every Sunday. But then, I get thrown off just by being in a different English-speaking congregation where they pause in different places or emphasize different words--although I have interchanging "trespasses" and "debts," as appropriate, down to an art.)
Now, I don't even know the Catholic service in English, so my participation in la Misa is entirely dependent on how fast I can a.) figure out what the priest (Father Paddy, who speaks Castilian Spanish with an Irish accent, I kid you not) is saying, b.) translate that to the corresponding section of a French mass, c.) remember the correct response in French, d.) translate the French response into Spanish, hoping I get somewhere close to what I'm actually supposed to be saying while still managing to fire off a reasonably sincere prayer. This is why I'm continually behind the rest of the congregation (thank God for the older lady who is also always behind because she can't hear anything); sometimes I have to resort to simply lip-synching and hope it looks like I know what's going on. And NEVER can I find in the missal what I'm actually supposed to be saying in time to join the congregation--it's torture!!
Other than that, however, la Misa is fantastic. The contrast between French and English masses (dare I say white/European masses in general??) and Latino mass, or even African-American mass (I once attended a fabulous second-line service at a black Catholic church in New Orleans), is like night and day. The first is solemn, slow, and can even be a bit dreary at times, although I do love the classical music & Gregorian chants that typically accompanied mass at La Cathedrale Saint-Sauveur. The second is more up-tempo and full of life--the homily is just as devout and the prayers are just as prayerful, but somehow listening to a group of mariachis (un-costumed; let's not get carried away) on guitars accompanying el coro as they harmonize Mexican folk songs while little kids zip up and down the aisles to be blessed, arms beatifically crossed and trying not to giggle--it just fills me with a little extra joy. Then there's all the cheek-kissing during the Passing of the Peace...okay, that happens in France, too, but somehow it's a little warmer here, a little less removed.
I never fail to walk out of la Misa with a smile on my face, my heart uplifted and my toes tapping for some ranchero music. It reminds me of the time a group of Unitarian-Universalist high school youth came down from northern Minnesota to attend prayer service at the local Missionary Baptist church--UUs can be pretty open to different forms of worship, but apparently these kids' home congregation wasn't too lively, because they all came out of service clapping their hands and singing gospel music, shouting "That was awesome, we're converting!!" much to the chagrin of their self-professed humanist youth group leader.
El Senor obra de maneras misteriosas...