When assigned this project I was worried about visiting any place of worship because practicing religion is so foreign to me. Growing up my parents never took my brothers and I to church, so we were rarely exposed to a church- like atmosphere. I can recall going to church once or twice for a wedding or baptism, but that really does not deem me experienced in practicing any religion. Many of my friends’ families were avid church- goers and their lives showed great dedication to their God. Walking into their homes I was presented with religious paraphernalia and it reminded me of the lack of my lack faith and the absence of God from my life. I have always recognized the presence of a ‘ greater being ’ and its role in my everyday life.
For this project I knew that I would have to approach any situation with an open mind. I felt like I needed to be accompanied by someone else in order to feel a little less anxious about the whole situati on. Originally I had planned on going to a synagogue with my neighbor, wh o is Jewish and worked at the synagogue , but she was so busy in her moving process that she was unable to take me. Given this obstacle I had asked my friend, Isabella , if I could go to church with her. Isabella has attended St. John Neumann Catholic Church with her family since she was a child and was actually baptized there and performed her confirmation there as well.
Before going with her I did some background research about John Neumann in order to understand his significance in the Catholic Church. Neumann’s is a story rejection and hard work leading to success. When he was first looked to be ordained many churches claimed they were no longer ordaining and left him unable to fulfill his goal. This hardship did not discourage young Neumann; instead he worked harder and began to learn English. He wrote letters to many ministers and finally a church in New York accepted and ordained him. He was such a success because was able to hear confessions in six different languages , which allowed him to reach a much broader audience. His ability to communicate in different languages allowed his following to expand . Then in order to be consistent with the era, he learned Gaelic as well because t he Irish immigration led to a large Irish following. (Catholic Online) I began to wonder how it is possible to become a saint and their significance in Catholicism.
During my experience I noticed that saints play a very large role in the Catholic lifestyle. Rather than praying to God, catholic people tend to pray directly to Mary or saints. A saint could be any given person that is residing in heaven. “ A saint is also a person of remarkable holiness who lived a life of heroic virtue, assisted by the Church, during their pilgrimage on earth” (Roman Catholic Saints). Though it seems that by this definition, Catholics would be praying to millions of the deceased because they are ‘saints’, but that is not particularly true. Catholics usually pray to the canoni zed saints. “Canonization seeks primarily to ensure that the person is in heaven and God is working through him or her” in order for this process to take place miracles must have occurred (Canonization of Saints). “These miracles must have occurred after the person’s death (to demonstrate that the person is in heaven and able to assist the living), but miracles during his or her lifetime are also taken into account as evidence of God’s favor” (Canonization of Saints). The purpose of saints is obvious after discovering this information. Saints are prayed to because they have proven that they are prophets of gods, they are messengers. Instead of praying to God, people pray to his messengers who each represent different virtues; reminiscent of what we learned i n class about the Hindu gods. Unlike Hindu Gods, these representatives are called “saints”. This shows some aspects of worshiping can transcend almost all worldly religions .
First entering the church, I noticed a very large fountain vase containing ‘holy water’. As each person entered they would dip their fingers in the water and then make a cross starting at their head, then mid chest and reaching across to each shoulder. I had seen people do this before, most times muttering “in the name of the Father, t he Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen”, so I was not too unfamiliar with the gesture. As we had spoken about in class, water is a holy symbol throughout world religions. Water symbolizes purity. I further investigated the significance of holy water in Catholicism. The usage of the holy water fountain “ corresponds actually to Old Testament Jewish practices of purification: The Book of Leviticus prescribed various ritual purifications using water to remove the ‘uncleanness’… for three reasons: as a sign of repent ance of sin, for protection from evil, and as a reminder of our Baptism” (Holy Spirit Interactive). Before entering the church, members must cleanse themselves of their sins and impurities. “Just as water and blood flowed from the Sacred Heart of our Lord as He hung upon the cross — signifying the great sacraments of baptism and holy Eucharist [mass] , the taking of holy water and making the sign of the cross remind us of our baptism in preparation for the reception of the holy Eucharist” ( Holy Spirit Inter active). This act is important to not only guard the church from evil, but as a reminder of faith and dedication to their Father.
During the services I attended the choirmen brought out silver platters and set them on the table. Then the priest stood up and blessed each of these silver platters and then handed each choirmen a gauntlet of wine to drink from. The members of the church were then asked to come up by rows and receive the body of Christ. When the choirmen opened the lid to the silver platters it was revealed that they held small wafers. As each member went up they were given the wafer, or the body of Christ, and took a sip from a metal cup containing wine, the blood of Christ. The first visit I had made to the church I asked many question and I had found out that the wafers and wine were simply wafers and wine before they were blessed, but after they were blessed they became sacred. At the Last Supper , Jesus served bread and wine, “…When He had given thanks, He broke [the bread] and said, ‘Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.’ In the same manner He also took the cup [of wine] afte r supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me’” ( 1 Corinthians 11:24- 25 ). The people consumed the blood and body of Christ in order to establish a deeper connection to their faith. I wa s also told that these wafers were so sacred that the remaining pieces were taken to a statue of Jesus and placed in box so that his body can rest with him. It is a disgrace to discard of these wafers any other way because it is as if you are throwing away Christ. It is also crucial that you put the wafer on your tongue in front of the choirmen and if not you will be approached by fellow members who would insist that you eat the wafer in front of them. When I asked why this was so important I was informed that there have been instances w h ere Santeros have taken the body of Christ and have performed rituals and sacrifices with it. This is a large disrespect to the Catholic Church. If a child or someone who has not done their confirmation is in line to receive the body of Christ they must place their hand over their chest, crossed. This signifies that they are unable to receive the body of Christ because you have not attended communion or confirmation. If you are not a member of the church it can be very disrespectful to consume the body and blood of Christ.
This experience allowed me to be more understand ing and well- versed when it comes to religious practices. I had never before understood why people find that sitting down in church is so empowering, but I re alized it once I was there. As everyone is singing and holding hands there is a definite sense of community, it is almost tangible . Participating in this service allowed me to better relate to my peers who attend church weekly and it allowed me to feel the inclusion that any religion provides. I finally understood the sense of family, especially as each member of the church is “one of God’s children” and as addressed and “brothers and sisters” who work to serve their Father. It is not only the mass that is involved in the Catholic life, after church there are social gatherings and clubs so that the church- goers can be more involved in the church. Being Catholic also becomes the Catholic life style.
“Canonization of Saints.” Canonization of Saints . Web. 8 Oct. 2015.
Saunders, Fr. William P. “The Significance of Holy Water.” Holy Spirit Interactive . 2004. Web. 8 Oct. 2015.
“St. John Neumann – Saints & Angels – Catholic Online.” St. John Neumann – Saints & Angels – Catholic Online . Web. 8 Oct. 2015.
“Roman Catholic Saints.” Roman Catholic Saints . James Fitzhenry, 2011. Web. 8 Oct. 2015.
The English Standard Version Bible: Containing the Old and New Testaments with Apocrypha. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2009. Print.