Welcome! This blog celebrates both the local and the catholic -- that is, universal -- aspects of the Roman Catholic Church by sharing reflections on experiences of the Church in a variety of settings and cultures. Postings will come from around the world and around the corner. You don't have to be a Catholic to come along.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Universal, but not Identical

"Catholic" means universal, but not identical. Here are some of the experiences that have reminded me the Church is everywhere the same but also different:

● On my first trip to Europe, we participated in an Ascension Thursday Mass in a Brugges, Belgium, convent (shown at right) that had once been a duke's private chapel. The language was Flemish but the familiar order of the Mass made it easy to know when we were at the Gloria, the Lord's prayer, etc.

● One evening at the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky, while I was on retreat, I took part in a communal recitation of the rosary. The monk in charge, Brother Andre, invited anyone who wished to lead a decade to do so. At one point a Spanish-speaking woman began the Lord's prayer and the Hail Mary in her own language and the rest of us finished it in English.

● A couple of years ago, on a visit to St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican we found ourselves at a Mass offered in side chapel. The liturgy itself was in Latin, with the homily in Italian and a few words by the priest at the end in German. The German-speaking choir sang a Negro spiritual in English.

● At the Cathedral in Kyoto, Japan, I was amused but not surprised that Japanese Catholics bow at the sign of peace rather than shaking hands western-style.

● One Saturday night in Milan we went to Mass at Tempio Civico di San Sebastiano according to the Ambrosian rite. Named for St. Ambrose, fourth century bishop of Milan, this is a rite of the Latin Church that is used mostly in that city. It was familiar, but different. The broad outlines are the same but many of the prayers are not and the sign of peace takes place near the beginning instead of after the consecration.

● On the south wall of our living room we have two pieces of art depicting Christ's entrance into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. In one, Jesus and the apostles look distinctly Asian. It is a print by the Japanese Catholic artist Sadao Watanabe. The other is an Africa version in which Jesus is black. On the same wall hangs a Asian Madonna-and-child from Korea.

Sometimes the Church is even more universal than its visible boundaries. On my first night in Cuba, I was at a meeting in which a group of Presbyterian women were praying in Spanish. I assumed I wouldn't understand them, so I didn't try very hard. But a Lutheran minister standing next to me said, "That's the Magnificat." How surprising that this prayer so associated with the Mother of the Lord is known by its Latin name in at least some Protestant circles.

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