St. John The Evangelist

http://www.stjohnsea.org/st-john

I attended mass here on an overcast Seattle Thursday morning.  The attendance was light, as you might expect a non-primetime service might be.  Including me, there were nineteen people present.

It was pretty quick, and it was pretty quiet, I left the house in a hurry because I was a little late, and failed to bring my clipboard and note paper with me, but fortunately, the service was pretty memorable, and had a pretty simple theme, so I really didn’t need notes.

I’m not an expert in Catholicism by any stretch, and this is the second service I’ve ever attended, except a wedding once, over a decade ago, which I have to admit, I was a bit too intoxicated to remember much of.

I don’t know the proper names for things or places in the church, so I hope those of you who do will bear with me.  I know that there’s a lot of Catholic-specific jargon, and I won’t be using much of it.

The church is big.  It has great high arching ceilings, beautiful ornate wood carvings, statues, beautiful stained glass… there was something to see, some bit of art or symbolism literally every where I looked.  It was like being in an art gallery.  I immediately felt relaxed.  Peaceful even.  I can see why people like to come to this church.  I can almost see angels looking down from the arches overhead.

The priest had just started when I walked in.  He and a group of parishioners were gathered together in an intimate space in a “bump out” behind the main altar.  This little alcove had about enough space to hold maybe thirty people.

There was a table in front of him, with a nice cloth over it, and some gold (plated, I presume) chalices.  Some gold dishes, some gold candle sticks with glowing lit candles in them.  If you’re sensing a theme it’s this:  There’s a lot of gold here.

Behind the priest is another sort of table with some very intricate “relic” like objects.  One of them, also gold, was as big as a large hat box or bird cage, and it was sort of centered.  I’m sure it has a proper name and symbolic function, but I have no idea what that is.  I’m sure someone can tell me.  There was also a beautiful golden cross with a heavy base.  It was the kind of cross that has a large circle right in the center of it.  It looked like it must have weighed 20 pounds.

The wall behind him had a beautiful marble back, which rose in majestic arc above.  And on that marble was a life-sized carving of Jesus on the cross.  To the right was a statue of Mary, with a cross adorned with roses, and to the right was a statue of Joseph, holding a playful baby Jesus and a cross of his own.  They were life-sized, or perhaps a little larger than life-sized.

I found a seat amongst the art and splendor and sat down.

What followed was rather interesting to me:  The Priest was reading (but mostly reciting from rote memory) a series of chants, pausing periodically for a response from the parishioners.  They responded with shorter chants, also from memory.  They did this for a while, and then a lay person (I think a deacon) read a passage from the bible, and then turned the show over to the Priest.

He was a pretty good speaker.  He had a thick accent, and I gather from his skin tone and accent that he was a native of some country in Africa.  He was fairly young, I’d guess no older than me, and pretty enthusiastic.  Not what I was expecting from stereo-typically stodgy Catholicism.  His enthusiasm was contagious.  I kind of liked the guy almost immediately.

Since this was just a morning Mass, and not the full blown Sunday show, it was pretty short.  But in that short time, the message from this Priest was better by my grading scale than the other two churches I’d attended so far.

I don’t recall the exact passage he read, but I believe it was from Luke.  The story was about Jesus being in a town teaching to his followers when a beggar came up trying to get his attention.  The other followers told the beggar to go away and leave the Messiah alone, but ol’ Jesus would have none of that, and asked the guy what he wanted.  He said he wanted to be able to see again, and Jesus, impressed with his persistence and bravery, granted his wish.

The Priest then took the time to talk about what he liked about that story.  He focused on the concepts of sticking to your guns in the face of adversity, and being brave enough to overcome challenges.  He used real-life examples (including one about running fast to get to church on time which might have been directed at me).  He went into some length about how giving up won’t get you any where, and how courage serves people well.

Looking back, I don’t think he was actually talking for more than about ten minutes.  But those ten minutes were filled with practical advice, good instructions, and some real self-help kind of stuff.

After that, he went back into “reapeat chants from memory” mode, and so did the parishioners.  There was a lot of borg-like back and forth for a while, and then they set up communion.

Now here’s where I get a little negative:

They had two cups for the whole group.  About two-thirds of the parishioners attending were elderly.  My girlfriend has a cold right now, and I’m feeling okay, but I could be a carrier, and I wasn’t about to put germs on a cup that would be shared with someone whose immune system might be compromised.  They did have a white cloth to wipe it off, but not everyone was doing that.  I opted out of communion.  Which is a pity because I really wanted to know what Catholic Jesus tastes like.  I’ll bet he doesn’t taste as good as Mars Hill’s shortbread Jesus.

Also:  Gold.  Riches.  Finery.  The place was filled with millions of dollars worth of art and treasure.  From my outside-looking-in perspective, this really puts a taint on the concept of charity and helping one’s fellow human.  I think they can auction off the artwork, the golden things, and the statues, and probably feed a lot of hungry people.  And I don’t think Mary or Jesus would mind if they did.

Here’s the score:

Score:
Being good to your fellow human: 0 (no mention)
Help your community: 0 (no mention)
Be good to yourself: 1 (courage)
Good and timely advice: 2 (persistence pays off)

Total:  3

As of this writing, best score yet.

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12 thoughts on “St. John The Evangelist

  1. It’s a good thing you opted out of communion if you aren’t Catholic. We believe that the Aristotelian “substance” of the bread and wine are changed (through transubstantiation) into the actual body and blood of Christ, and partaking in communion as a non-Catholic is a big no-no (but you can still ask the priest for a blessing).

    Re: “also gold, was as big as a large hat box or bird cage, and it was sort of centered.”

    That might be the Tabernacle where the leftover transubstantiated host is kept.

    Finally, I’d encourage you to go to a Sunday Mass at one of the Parishes in town run by the Jesuits (I know St. Joseph’s on Capitol Hill is one and then Seattle University (a Jesuit School) does a 9pm Sunday Mass at the Chapel of St. Ignatius [Which is one of the most beautiful and unique worship spaces I’ve ever entered]).

      • I went to Seattle Preparatory School, a Jesuit run Catholic High School, and all the students believers or not, Catholic or not, were encouraged to take communion at the handful of mandatory masses during the school year. However the priest dipped the wafer in the wine and put it on your tongue, so assuming he’d washed his hands, and folks ahead of you in line hadn’t dripped or sneezed on them, there was little to fear from germs being spread around.

      • Oh, and the taste was awful – the communion wafers were very thin and stale, or maybe that was my lack of faith I was tasting.

  2. Also Mark, please note that due to the doctrine of transubstantiation, there is no real worry about passing along disease through communion. Plus, they use real alcohol.

    Also, despite the note above, many Catholic priests, particularly in the US, practice a sort of “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy with regard to communion. The practice varies from church to church however.

    • I understand the concept of transubstantiation, but I do not believe in it. The alcohol in the wine is probably not enough to kill all the germs, so if, like me, you believe in actual science and facts and reality, you’ll want to do the moral thing and keep your germs to yourself.

      • I believe that you can also simply request that the priest dip the bread in the wine and place it in your mouth, so you don’t have to share germs. IIRC (and this is from the Episcopal Church, so YMMV), when the priest shows up, you open your mouth and stick out your tongue. The priest then dips the host into the wine and places it on said tongue.

        Also, what sort of crazy person are you that you don’t believe in transubstantiation? How do you think cow meat turns into human flesh without the grace of God and the doctrine of transubstantiation?

        Oh wait – I’m thinking of digestion. Forget the previous comment.

    • “Also Mark, please note that due to the doctrine of transubstantiation, there is no real worry about passing along disease through communion.”
      Don’t know if you’re being tongue in cheek or not about this, but transubstantiation doesn’t claim that the “accidents” (i.e. the physical bread and wine) change at all, so any germs wouldn’t be removed/destroyed by the metaphysical change.

  3. Re: the gold, riches, finery, etc.

    The thing about those vestments, etc. are that they play an important part of Church Tradition, which is just as important as Holy Scripture when it comes into bringing people closer to the Lord for us Catholics, at least.

    Plus, they wouldn’t actually go for much – and the ones that do, the Church doesn’t actually own, it just maintains (like St. Patrick’s Cathedral or the Vatican).

    • I look at it like the artwork in the Smithsonian, its a patrimony. We could probably fund a system on universal healthcare by selling off its collection, but we maintain it as part of our cultural heritage.

      In America especially, a lot of the Catholic Church’s that “finery” was made in the 1950’s and looks fancy, but probably isn’t worth all that much. Many forward-thinking priests I know opt for a simple clay chalice and plate.

  4. Thank you for visiting our parish! You are right, Fr. Crispin Okoth is from Kenya. He came to St John Parish in 2008. Fr. Crispin grew up in a rural village of mostly Muslim families. His upbringing brings a great perspective to his homilies. He speaks of how material goods have very little to do with happiness or being closer to God as well as what we have in common with other religions and also how we are different. The parish recently raised $30,000 to bring the first well to Father Crispin’s village. Before the well was built, the women of his village had to walk for miles to get stagnant water to use for cooking and bathing. The parish also supports an orphanage and a girls school at our sister parish in Puno Peru. Here in Greenwood, the parish is the home to a St Vincent de Paul ministry which helps with food and household items for people in need regardless of their religion.

    I’m so glad you enjoyed the worship space, it is wonderful. The artwork, though priceless to us, isn’t really worth much money. While I don’t think they are really made of gold, the chalice, crosses and other “treasures” are an important part of the mass.

    Please join us again for mass on a Sunday, the prayers that you heard repeated from memory are written on cards in the pews for those of us who can’t recite them by heart. You will see there are many people on Sunday who take a blessing rather than communion so please don’t feel like you would stand out by not participating.

    Thank you again for the very kind words about St John the Evangelist.

    Good luck with your very interesting blog!

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