Christmas literally comes from the mass taken in observation of his birthday - the name is "Christ's Mass." In honor of the holiday, I went with a friend of mine to the midnight mass last night at Saint Peter and Paul Cathedral in downtown Indianapolis.
My sole experience with the Catholic church had been my trip to Italy, which was absolutely breathtaking. Prior to going, I'd been fascinated by the rituals and doctrines of the Church, and while I'm not a tenet, I'm definitely an admirer of the ethical arguments and traditions of the organization. But last night was my first mass.
I was hoping for a button or t-shirt or hat or something that said "Protestant's First Eucharist", but no such luck. We went in, dipped our fingers in the Holy Water and crossed ourselves, and quickly found a seat near the back. The service began with the entry of the Archbishop and the rest of the ecclesiastics, complete with incense, a Bible being held overhead, and a sort of decorated staff carried as they proceeded. They reached the platform, and assisted the Most Reverend Archbishop with his really cool hat, and we were all seated.
The choir sang, the organ piped, and the violinist fiddled away wonderfully. Up and down; sitting, standing, and kneeling; I've decided that, in order to help facilitate my New Years' Resolution of weight loss, I'm going to go to Mass twice a week. It's like calisthenics for the devout or something.
The ceremony was fairly traditional, my friend tells me, because Latin was used quite often. I even sang in Latin. I didn't take communion or anything like that, but I did participate as best I could. I didn't know the words or the proper responses, but I did enjoy the ceremony. Because it was so conservative, though, I was surprised as the number of roles that were filled by women. I was under the impression that the Catholic Church did not endorse the use of women during the rituals and ceremonies, but nuns participated in everything from leading the recitation of the historical Roman record of Christ to leading hymns to even taking the Eucharist from the Archbishop.
After going to my first Mass, I can honestly say that I'm not likely to convert, but I may have found a fun new tradition for Christmas Eve. I genuinely enjoyed the experience.