People who move to a foreign country are inundated with newness, attacked by unfamiliarity, overwhelmed with shocking sensations of strange cultures and unknown customs.
But Catholics have an advantage. Every week Catholics celebrate the same rituals, recite the same readings and participate in the same Gospel – making the Catholic Church a steady constant throughout the world.
Or are they?
Imagine my surprise after visiting Catholic churches throughout southern Italy and realizing that all Masses are, in fact, not created equally. Here are five ways I’ve noticed that Catholic Churches in southern Italy differ from Catholic Churches in the United States.
1. The Processional. There is no nicely sung song that escorts an Italian priest down the aisle in preparation for the Mass. There are a few bells, a few chimes and he enters stage right in a whopping 15 seconds. But hey! We knew Italians did things fast, right? Same goes for the recessional. The priest ends the Mass, says his goodbyes and exits the Alter – once again – from stage right.
2. The Congregation. You know how you get the evil eye in America if you walk into Mass late, make the slightest commotion or chat too loudly with your neighbor? Well, if these things bother you forgo visiting a Catholic church in Italy. Church-goers enter and exit the church doors at leisure, chat loudly on their cell phones just outside the door and take smoke breaks during the Homily. I was in such shock the first time I saw this I had to double up on Hail Marys and ask God for forgiveness for the ultra-judgmental thoughts I directed toward my fellow Catholics.
3. The Kneelers. They have them – they just don’t use them. Well, not really. Of all of the churches I’ve visited throughout southern Italy only the petite black-clothed nonnas kneel on the kneelers. The other congregants stand throughout this ritual.
4. The Communion. Forget about that nice, orderly line you are used to queuing in as you approach the alter for your Communion Host. When the time comes, everyone moves toward the front in a single mass and falls into “line” just before they meet the priest. Instead of accepting the Host and turning to your right (or left) and circling back around the side of the church to return to your seat, most Italians do a U-turn and head directly back down the middle, pushing their way through the people who are still “in line.”
5. The Catechism. Back home, children attend CCD, or Catechism classes on Wednesday evenings. Here in Italy the classes follow Sunday morning Mass. Most children and their families arrive five minutes before Mass ends and hang out in the doorway until they can enter the church.
Have you noticed any other differences between churches in the US and Italy – or other countries? What were your observations? Please share.