Say the Black, Do the Yellow

“Say the black, do the red” In other words, stick to the entire liturgy. Not only say what you’re supposed to say, but do what you’re supposed to do. I don’t. I say the black and do the yellow, for cowardice.

Only two Sundays ago I began saying the entire liturgy. Before that, I had skipped the confiteor and the creed. I couldn’t in good conscience ask the “blessed Mary, ever virgin” to pray for me if I wasn’t convinced of her perpetual virginity. Neither could I confess a belief in the “one, holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church” when I couldn’t say for sure if the Catholic Church was Christ’s church. Those following my blog may have read my recent posts on Mary and Tradition. After looking into these two “problems”, I am convinced to the point of being able to profess belief in them, but it wasn’t easy.

Every step I have made on the road of accepting Catholicism has been deliberate and painful. It’s almost a year ago now that I started crossing myself. I labored over this small expression so much that I can remember exactly when and how I started. During the Good Friday mass, I surreptitiously crossed myself, hoping nobody would notice in case I did something wrong like holding my fingers weird. Nobody did notice, not even Chris. It was about a month later that I told him I was doing it, and he still hadn’t noticed.

Our old parish had a rather large Hispanic sub-community and a separate Spanish mass. There were a couple catechists in RCIA that we spent a little time with. I hope nobody takes this the wrong way, but I’ve always envied the ease with which the Hispanics of my acquaintance do these things. They cross themselves and kiss their crucifix and leave it for others to accept them the way they are. It’s beautiful. I wish I could do that.

So what is my problem? It feels weird. I have a naturally self-conscious nature, so it’s hard for me to get over feeling like I’m on display. I know that in reality nobody is paying attention to me, but I have an unnatural fear that someone will glance my way when I muddle up the gestures for lack of experience. It feels like there’s a floating neon sign above my head that says, “This one’s a Protestant!!! She’s not supposed to be doing this. Stop her!” So I still don’t genuflect or kneel or even cross myself with holy water at the entrance. Two extremely wiggly little children give me ample excuse to skip these things, and even prevent me from following through on a resolve to begin a gesture from time to time. Somehow, though, I feel like I’m cheating. My excuses are dwindling and I’m left only with my fear of a new thing.

I know I’m making a big deal out of nothing. These gestures are an outward expression of our inward prayerfulness. They give God honor that is due Him. I want to give these things to Him. I could just do it, but this is how hard it can be to change. I was raised to be suspicious of all things Catholic and apparently that doesn’t disappear with just knowledge to the contrary. Once I build up the courage to say the black and do the red, I wonder how long it will take me to be comfortable and feel at home with it, or if I ever can.

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22 Responses to Say the Black, Do the Yellow

  1. Lacey says:

    Stacey, I’ve been following your blog for a while, but I haven’t commented. I just wanted to tell you I COMPLETELY understand what you’re going through. Seriously, I fully relate to all your posts. When I first started going to mass (and sometimes still) I would try to study (without staring at people in church… awkward) how everyone was holding their hands when they crossed themselves to see if I was doing it right and I agonized over doing it at all for a long time. And I worry too that the flashing “Protestant” sign over my head distracts others from the liturgy, but it hasn’t yet… =) Just wanted to let you know you’re SO not alone!

  2. Ragamuffin says:

    I actually went through a similar thing toward the end of my Pentecostal/charismatic days. The weight of expectations that surround such services was killing me. I had something of a leadership role at church and did feel that people were watching me, thus I had to do all the outward expressions typical of Pentecostal worship: lifting hands, eyes closed, dancing…whatever. I’m sure you saw it. All the normal cues to the rest of the congregation that you’re operating in the “freedom of the Spirit” and things like that.

    But I didn’t always feel like doing the happy dance or lifting my hands. Sometimes I wanted to cry or kneel down in shame for my sins. That’s the thing about spontaneous expressions of worship that’s so crippling if you think about it. You’re all but advertising to the entire church how close you and God are (at least in their eyes) and whether you’re walking in the Spirit or backsliding. I resolved to stop lifting my hands or performing any outward signs of worship until I could get over this notion of doing what’s expected and what makes me look like everything’s hunkydory. I decided to do nothing more than perhaps close my eyes to allow me to concentrate on the words I was singing. And it was a good thing.

    What’s nice about the expressions in liturgical worship is that we really are wired to have our bodily posture and gestures match what we’re doing and expressing. But when it’s done in the context of corporate worship and we all cross ourselves or all kneel or bow, the focus is no longer on me. We’re not a bunch of individuals freelancing the worship experience and striving to find something “authentic.” Instead we get to join with others in the body of Christ and we’re doing this together. And what’s crazy is just how often in the course of doing these things, the Lord manages to steer my heart and direct my emotions to fit what is going on in worship. The very act of kneeling begins to shape my heart and feelings toward humility and adoration, even if I wasn’t “feeling it” going into the service.

    So I guess all I’m saying is, take comfort in the idea that as compared to your charismatic days, you’re in the perfect environment to be able to do these little acts of worship and respect and adoration but not have the white hot spotlight on you. You’re just part of something bigger.

  3. Stacey says:

    Lacey,

    It’s great to hear from you 🙂 And very comforting to know I’m not the only neon sign bearer. How long have you been attending mass and are you planning to or have you converted?

  4. Stacey says:

    Ragamuffin,

    It’s true what you say. I remember those hand raising, dancing days. When I was really young it was easy enough, but as I got older, I was painfully aware of the spiritualization of it. There was such status attached to it at my old church, so I just stopped. Like you say, when it’s formatted and expected of everyone the spotlight is removed and we can get on with focusing on God.

    And what’s crazy is just how often in the course of doing these things, the Lord manages to steer my heart and direct my emotions to fit what is going on in worship.

    This is one reason I’ve really wanted to do some of the gestures, like kneeling. My kids are still young enough to make that rather difficult sometimes. Last Sunday comes to mind… *shaking head*

    You’re just part of something bigger.

    More and more I really want to be.

  5. Lacey says:

    I’ve been attending mass for almost a year, and I’ve met with our faith formation director at church. Together we decided that I should enroll in RCIA just after Easter with the plan of entering the church at Easter Vigil of 2010. None of it is set in stone, but I’m really excited about the coming year… lots to learn and figure out and pray over. I’ve been meaning to comment on here for a while to tell you that I just so totally relate to everything you post, but I’m a commenting chicken.

    By the way, Ragamuffin, I just love what you wrote here:

    “when it’s done in the context of corporate worship and we all cross ourselves or all kneel or bow, the focus is no longer on me”

    That is just what I have found about the corporate expressions of worship in a liturgical setting. In the evangelical churches I grew up in I always felt stress and pressure about when to stand during a worship song or raise my hands. I was just so conscious of trying to be worshipful while simultaneously trying to keep the spotlight off of me. It’s just a great insight.

  6. margaret59 says:

    Stacey,

    I’m thoroughly enjoying following your blog (found you through Iranaeus). Now, I’m not a convert, but my mother was. Wish I could ask her how long it took her to get comfortable with Catholic gestures at Mass, but she is unfortunately deceased for many years. I never really thought about it, but I would bet that she had the same issues. She was raised Baptist, and converted back in the 1940s, when I would imagine it was much more difficult in terms of her family and friends. She was an introverted person who seriously did not like being noticeable in a public setting.

    I can tell you, however, that eventually it became second nature to her. She taught my brother and I all the proper behaviors and showed no sense of discomfort in performing the various gestures and attitudes of prayer. Heck, she even made the sign of the cross in restaurants after grace, in the VERY protestant town in which we lived.

    I did have to laugh at the idea that you worried about how you held your fingers when making the sign of the cross. Catholics do this in so many different ways, from the “waving away flies” gesture, to the very deliberate “two fingers together, crossing the thumb over the other two fingers” types. Believe me, no one would notice! (I do think that the Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholics have a specific manner of holding their fingers, but us Western sorts are all over the place!)

    I’m very glad that you are now comfortable praying the confiteor. It’s one of my favorite prayers-I think it is just beautiful, and so humble. BTW, if you’re a noticing sort, you may see that some people strike their breast lightly when saying the words “I have sinned, through my own fault, etc”. I do this myself, but I don’t think it’s common. Just another way that we Catholics vary in our gestures. So, don’t worry about how or what you are doing–we are all happy to have you at Mass, whether you finally enter the Church or not.

  7. Stacey says:

    Hi Margaret 🙂

    It sounds like your mother was a very brave woman. It seems hard to convert these days, but I can’t imagine the difficulties that would have been back then.

    I hope I can pass these things on to my children like your mother, even though it’s hard for me now. My daughter is almost three and she notices when mommy doesn’t do everything. She tells me, “Mommy, you do it!” and before I started saying the whole liturgy she used to say “Mommy, talk with Father Frank!” She’s so precious, doing these things herself. She genuflects, dips her hand in the baptismal font at the entrance, and attempts to cross herself although it gets rather confused. She even tries to kneel but her little body can’t quite reach everything right. As far as she can tell, that’s just how we do things. Except mommy right now 🙂

    Thanks for making me at ease about the sign of the cross! I confess I still peak over at people to see what they’re doing with their fingers. Such little things, such a big to do!

  8. Stacey says:

    Lacey,

    I hope you keep us updated on your journey! It always makes me happy to hear people are joining the Church. Funny, isn’t it? Since I’m not a member myself.

  9. margaret59 says:

    Yes, my mother was a very brave woman. My brother and I both think that she showed us how to die (pancreatic cancer). One day I’ll write how my father showed us how to live..but not now. Sometimes, life is hard. Sometimes, it bloody sucks. Sounds like your life is pretty good right now, and thank God for it.

    Perhaps someday we will meet in person. I understand that your degree is in physics..mine is in chemistry, so at least we would understand each other on a mathematical level. LOL, yeah, physicists are generally better at math, but at least I find it truly beautiful. Hang in there, enjoy the true beauty of Catholicism, and suffer with us with that which is truly horrible (I will not give examples here, as I was taught by my mother to not engage in gossip!)

    Oh, did you go to KU? Did you know that the new auxiliary Bishop of Denver is a convert from KU? Also, he is native american as is Archbishop Chaput, who is from my home diocese. Archbishop Chaput is one of my favorites. Read his articles, if you want to be happy to be exploring Catholicism. Also, read PBXVI, particularly “Salt of the Earth” and the great encyclical “Deus Caritas Est”. The Church does not revolve around the Pope, but I think that we have been truly blessed with not the Pope that we deserve, but the one that we need. May God bless him and grant him wisdom, health and long life.

  10. catholictap says:

    You’ll be surprised how many cradle Catholics feel self conscious when they venture into a different parish than they usually go to.

  11. Stacey says:

    Margaret,

    You’re right, God has blessed me greatly and I’m astounded sometimes how He gets us through hard times and gives us a nice little resting time of blessing. Not so long ago, things were pretty… crazy for me and my husband. The immigration process was trying and sometimes heartbreaking, especially since I was pregnant at the time. But now it’s hard to believe things were ever so difficult.

    No, I didn’t go to KU. I used to live on the MO side of KC, so I went down to Springfield at Missouri State. Are you in Kansas City? We are blessed with Archbishop Naumann right now. We have a subscription to the Leaven (our diocese newsletter) and I love the frequent articles by him. One came in the mail today where he talks about Kathleen Sebelius, Kansas’s old Governor. It’s wonderful to be under a man who stands while everyone else falls. Thanks for the reading suggestions 🙂

  12. Stacey says:

    tap,

    Really? Is it so different?

  13. catholictap says:

    Stacey,

    It might just depend on the person. I would agree though that protestants feel more so, b/c its a whole new “world” for them.

  14. lenetta says:

    I have the flashing neon sign over my head when I attend hubs’s Lutheran church! They begin much like the Catholic Mass – “In the name of the Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit” – and I crossed myself out of habit. Eek.

    For some Hispanics, Catholicism is cultural, which makes it “easier”. I hope I’m not repeating myself here – did I mention I spent over a year working for the three dioceses in Colorado as a mission coordinator? They sponsored a mission in northern Mexico, and I recruited missioners, did fundraising, PR, etc. It was awesome.

    I still do certain gestures that I picked up while visiting the mission, such as crossing myself while saying the Glory Be. (Learned that one saying the Scriptural rosary while making a walking pilgramage on the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.) Our mission worked very hard to encourage people to take part in the Sacraments. They might baptize their babies, but didn’t have them make their first Communion, etc. It certainly varies a great deal . . . my point is just that it you’re most comfortable with what you’ve grown up with. Your daughter is learning that gift right now. :>)

    (Side note, I read an article on Bp. Naumann and the former Gov. He rocks!)

    I also wanted to agree with tap that there are some slight variations between parishes. I think they depend a bit on the bishop’s preferences, too. Things such as . . . they might stand a bit earlier or later than I’m used to. This one threw me for a loop – the first time I visited a church without side aisles, I had no idea how communion worked! I was used to going up the center and down the side. (Can’t remember how they did it now, either.)

    Like Margaret, I also give my breast a tap at that point in the mass. I do three taps as the priest elevates the bread and then the wine during consecration. Not many do that anymore. I think I read it in the missalette as a wee one, and it stuck with me.

    Sigh – little one up too early from her nap. Better go see what I can do.

  15. catholictap says:

    Testing to see if my user name is now “tap” hope you don’t mind.

  16. Tap says:

    Finally figured it out, can tell i’m slow…

  17. margaret59 says:

    Stacey,

    No, I’m not in KC–I live in Wichita. I have a daughter in the KC area, and will probably have another there by the end of the summer.

    Archbishop Naumann is a fine Bishop. Bishop Jackels, here in Wichita is another, and my understanding is that Archbishop Finn of KCMO-St Joseph is yet another. Kansas also has Bishop Coakley of Salina, of whom I hear many good things, and of course, in Lincoln,Ne is Bishop Bruskewitz. For the most part, we out here in flyover country have good, orthodox men as our bishops who are willing to speak out, especially on RTL issues. Thank God for them.

    Lenetta, LOL on the sign of the cross in the Lutheran church! I haven’t been to a Lutheran church in years, but I think I did the same thing. I also strike my breast at the consecration, but only twice; once at the body, once at the blood. I remember that during the confiteor, it used to be 3X (mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa – if I remember my latin correctly).

    Tap is correct about the differences from parish to parish. At the parish where my children grew up, there is no kneeling at all. Everyone stands through the Eucharistic prayer, after the Agnus Dei, and most return to their seats after Communion and just sit. Eventually, I grew uncomfortable with that, and began to kneel after the Sanctus and after Communion. There are many wonderful things about this parish, but the liturgy is—-meh. My younger daughter and I now usually attend a more liturgically orthodox parish, where I am more comfortable.

  18. stirenaeus says:

    “I have the flashing neon sign over my head when I attend hubs’s Lutheran church! They begin much like the Catholic Mass – “In the name of the Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit” – and I crossed myself out of habit. Eek.”

    Actually, crossing oneself is in the Lutheran rubrics (ELCA at least), but it’s not done in America, probably because of latent anti-Catholicism. But I’m part of a German-American Lutheran service, and a lot of the parishoners will cross themselves at various points, like after receiving communion.

  19. lenetta says:

    Yes, hubs told me he’d seen some of the old generation of his church making the sign of the cross but I’ve never seen it there and it didn’t to much to cool my burning cheeks at the time. (He’s LCMS, by the way.)

    Margaret, you’re mostly right, I meant three taps at each of the two occasions. :>) Although I realized this morning that I also do three taps during the Lamb of God on the two “have mercy on us”es (us-es? sheesh) and the “grant us peace”. Not sure if I picked that up from the mission or where.

    I have found myself going the other way from which you describe, Stacey. When I go to church with hubs, I nearly always wear either my crucifix or an Our Lady of Guadalupe necklace, to ID myself as Catholic, I guess.

  20. Stacey says:

    Lenetta,

    No, you hadn’t told us about the mission before. That’s awesome stuff 🙂

    Sigh – little one up too early from her nap. Better go see what I can do.

    Haha! I love it. And then when you’re wanting to go somewhere or do something and have them hurry and wake up, they’ll all the sudden sleep until 5.

    I think it’s good that you ID yourself as Catholic and are comfortable and have such a strong identity. Has it caused any awkward moments?

  21. lenetta says:

    You’re right – little ones ARE amusing like that! My daughter (she’s our only one – hoping to be blessed again soon . . .) has been a terrible sleeper from the beginning and it has been a source of way too much stress for me. I’ve tried offering it up and over to her guardian angel (and my angel, and to a few well-chosen intercessors). Things have improved as she’s gotten older and is more able to cope with not getting enough sleep.

    Anyway. When hubs and I were talking about one of us converting way back at the beginning of our relationship, I remember telling him that, for me, saying that I am Catholic is about the same as saying I have blue eyes and brown hair. It really is an identity for me. Perhaps part of it stems from my family – while both my parents were raised Catholic and continue to practice their faith, my father’s brothers and sisters (he has 10 of them) don’t seem to practice as much and my cousins are even less so.

    But on my mother’s side (she has 9 brothers & sisters), it’s a whole different story. Her mother had an incredible faith (she died in 2000 and I think we all miss her every day – she’s one of my intercessors, though!) and even now I smile at the memories of attending church with so many cousins at various family get-togethers. We’re a reasonably musical family and one of my favorite memories is singing with my cousins, although that has ruined me for music at most parishes. They just can’t stack up. :>)

    Wow, I’m rambling now and not even really answering your question! Or maybe it provides a bit of background for my answer. I’d say more than causing awkward moments, I feel like I can retreat to my faith and hold fast when I’m in an otherwise uncomfortable situation. (And I’m really the one that made it uncomfortable most of the time. No one can see the flashing CATHOLIC neon sign except me.)

    One uncomfortable moment that sticks out – there’s a man at hubs’s church that, if I remember right, grew up ten miles from my hometown, so he felt kind of a bond with me. He mentioned to me once that he really would like to see hubs and me taking communion together someday. Back then, I wasn’t all too well versed on apologetics (well, I’m not now, so even less so then!) and I didn’t have much of a reply. It was an opportunity to witness, I suppose; although in the interest of tact and good taste, it probably wasn’t the best time for that anyway, in the back of hubs’s church.

    Hubs and I attended a Lutheran Engaged Encounter, which ironically is pretty much the same as the Catholic one except without the NFP session AND is held at the Archdiocese of Omaha’s convention center, where the Catholic ones are held. It was actually ELCA rather than LCMS, which is what hubs is. At the closing worship service, they had us go up to a table that held bread and wine, take a piece of the bread, dip it in wine, and give “communion” to each other. It was lovely, but not the real presence, unfortunately. And then right after that, JPII (who I also miss every day) came out and said that Catholics should not receive communion at other churches. Totally makes sense, I just never thought about it.

    Boy, ask one little question, get the longest comment ever! :>) I’d better take advantage of the little one napping and get some sewing done. Blessings!

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