Catholic Mass: Counter to Postmodern Despair

I have a confession to make.

When my frustration with Evangelical praxis becomes unbearable, I escape to Saturday evening mass at St. Joseph’s, a small Catholic congregation on the north side of Springfield. I don’t go regularly, although I should. I sit, alone, near the back—I can take it all in from there. I watch and I pray and I read with the congregants. We hold the Roman missal in our hands, and read prayers—most cite from memory, but I read them, carefully, considering each line. The priest comes, swinging incense that lingers; it settles about, diffusing slowly. I breathe it in intentionally, like smoke from a good pipe, and it is intoxicating. I smell the prayers, hear the prayers; I feel the prayers bound in my hands.

This postmodern era is certainly an exciting one, but with it comes a price. Self-identified postmoderns—at least novices like myself—revel in the eclectic ramblings of postmodern theorists with their varied methods and definitions of deconstruction. Yet there occasional times, at night, or when I am alone, that I face a deep dismay or fear of the unknown, the other, the “out there.” I call it postmodern despair, although it is known by a million other titles. Living in a state of “perpetual skepticism”—as a good friend has recently called it, is not the easy road. It is terribly disconcerting at times.

In my occasional escapades to St. Joseph’s, I suspend my frustrations, and engage in just under an hour of material, experiential, sensual religious ritual. Every action is intentional; every word bears meaning. In this ornate sanctuary, I am grounded, if momentarily, in a deep historically-rooted Christian tradition. Gone is the dismay, if but for a second, and the skepticism. I feel like I am part of something genuine, something non-artificial, something that has withstood the test of time. We proceed solemnly to the altar—I cross my arms across my chest, my own screaming self-admission of perpetual outsiderness and jarring reminder of reality. Then I leave. On the way down the steps, the bells reverberate sonorously, announcing the end of one’s time in thick, Eliade-envisioned sacred space.  I am back to the world of Christianity-as-product, Church as production, and success as number in attendance. And that is frightening.

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