This is Day 4 of the 12 Days of YMF-Mas! Whether you love or dread the holidays, we’re here to help make spirits bright. Thanks for reading, and happy holidays!
I lost my job just two months before I was to begin my first semester as a transfer student at BYU. Worried that I would be unable to make tuition for the upcoming semester, I returned to my parents’ home in Washington State to save money, taking odd jobs here and there in addition to working full-time at the local pizza joint. One of the jobs that fell into my lap was a position as a cantor at a Catholic parish about 30 miles away from my home town.
As a music student, I was fairly familiar with the Mass–its form, translation, and a plethora of different arrangements composed across centuries and continents. But what I didn’t realize was how much participation would affect me. I had always been told by friends and family that Mass was boring and weird and so I would probably feel uncomfortable, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. That very first Sunday–the first Sunday of Advent–was one of the most spiritually uplifting experiences of my life…and it terrified me.
You see, I remember being told as a child that when Nephi is describing the Great and Abominable Church, he was talking about the Catholic Church. I had been told of this Great Apostasy that stripped the earth of the priesthood authority that Catholics claimed to still have. I had been told that the practice of celibacy for nuns, monks and priests was an abomination in God’s eyes. And yet, as I proclaimed my sins and shortcomings through the Penitent Rite and thereafter sang the Kyrie–Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy–I experienced a swell of gratitude for atonement that I rarely felt in LDS worship services. As we sang the text of the Gloria–We praise you, we bless you, we adore you, we glorify you, we give you thanks for your great glory, Lord God, heavenly King, O God, almighty Father..–I couldn’t help to feel a longing in my heart to praise God through song and deed. Not just sing about God or about Christ, but to revel in praise to God. As I sang during the reception of the Eucharist, I couldn’t help but to feel that these people were every bit as devoted to their faith as I was to mine.
As the Mass ended and we were implored to go in peace, I felt anything but. I had felt the Spirit so strongly in a place that I had always been told was devoid godliness. How could this be? All of the elements that I had been told were such great abominations–the vestments, the saints, the crucifixes, the wine, the priests, the ritual–were so stunningly beautiful and jarringly comforting. My body was taken over with the warm feelings that I had always been told were the markers of truth-giving. These were the same feelings I felt when I prayed about the Book of Mormon, when I had prayed to know if I should go to BYU, when I repented, when I attended the temple. And here I was feeling them in The Great and Abominable Church.
As I returned each week to sing during that Advent season, my love for the Mass and the incredible feeling of peace I felt there continued to grow. Every week as I left Mass and drove to my LDS sacrament meeting service, I cried in confusion. I simply didn’t know how to reconcile the feelings of peace in my heart. The evening that I arrived to sing Midnight Mass, I wept in my car and prayed in desperation–Dear God, is this true? This church? This is where I feel your peace and your love in ways I have associated with Truth. But I have been told this is wrong and these people confused. Does the Devil have hold of me? Or is everything I once thought to be true not so?
I wish I could say that I received an incredibly profound and peace-giving answer that confirmed my previous assumptions. It would make this a much better Sunday School story, but the reality is that I didn’t. I returned back to my regular Sunday meeting attendance and eventually became comfortable once again with the feelings I had there, but I always feel like something is lacking, especially at Christmas time. There’s something about the ritual worship that speaks to my heart. And so, each Christmas Eve that I am able, I sneak away from other responsibilities and go confess my unworthiness, implore God for His mercy, glorify God, profess my faith, wish peace unto my fellow worshipers and welcome in the Christchild. And every Christmas morning, I feel it again–that tugging at my heart that reminds me that all who worship–regardless of the form that takes–are striving for communion with God and my heart sings the familiar refrain, “Peace on earth, good will t’ward (wo)men.”
Amy lives in Calgary, Alberta and enjoys sewing, reading, and deep theological discussions. She holds a Masters degree in musical performance from Brigham Young University and is the mother of two children.