OK, so it's been almost 7 months since I've been in Japan. My time here is halfway over (sad!), and yet in all that time I hadn't been to Catholic mass (I know, I'm bad). I had been going on and off to a Protestant church, but decided it wasn't for me for three reasons. One, I had to be dependent on a ride in order to get there. I don't like having to burden people -- especially when they aren't overly enthusiastic about picking me up/dropping me off (not that they were angry about it, of course). Two, the awkward conversations (and one in particular where someone made a snooty comment about me being Catholic). Three, even though it was nice to have the sermon translated into English, it just wasn't what I am used to -- especially to be there by myself. So, for Ash Wednesday (the beginning of Lent), I decided that I would do some real research and find a church to go to (since I was told that there are two or three Catholic churches in Omura). I actually found one that is close to the deaf school, but it's about half an hour bike ride away -- that and I couldn't find the mass times. To solve that, I went on the good internets, searched, and wahlah! There is a catholic church that is about 10 minutes from my house. Wow...if only I knew this earlier.
I went to mass on Ash Wednesday and mass this morning at 9 am. I like this church, I feel at home...even though it's all in Japanese. (I understand some, but I know what is going on anyway.) For those of you who are Catholic and know how the mass works, I have observed some things that are different. Please allow me to enlighten you! (From at least this one church...)
First of all, from when I walked in on Wednesday night, I noticed something that made me question if I was in the right place (and that made me stand out even more so than I already did...being the only foreigner). All the ladies had white veils over their heads. I think I figured it out today at mass -- I suppose it is their communion veil. The reason I came to this conclusion is that the two ladies that I saw without veils did not receive communion. I think this is an older tradition, but I've never seen it (minus a few older ladies here and there), so I was a bit surprised. I took my seat on a simple wooden pew -- no cushion and no kneelers. The only people that "kneel" are those that choose to stay in the back (and they are really just sitting seiza, not really kneeling). I do kneel a few times and here and there... I wonder what people think of that? I quickly realized, after sitting down, that there were no missalets or song books at the seats. I turned around and saw that they are all in the back of the church, so I got up and got a couple. I missed the missalets both times, but next time I'll make sure to get one so that I can follow better (via reading).
OK, so on to the mass. The priest does not walk down the middle during the first song. Instead, him and the altar servers come out from the room by the altar. Interesting. The altar servers wear white robes like at home, but instead of having a white rope belt, they have 2 red stripes (I think it's part of the robe); one on each side, from the shoulder down. Besides ringing the bells during the consecration and lighting/putting out the candles, I didn't see them do much more -- maybe because the church is so small.
For Ash Wednesday, in the States, the priest will actually rub ashes on your forehead in the shape of the cross. In Japan, they just sprinkle some ash on the top of your forehead (if any came off his fingers onto my head, I'm not sure). Also, in order to actually get ashes at home, you have to go to mass ON Ash Wednesday. Today, he distributed ashes to the church. I found this interesting. He did say before hand that if we had received ashes on Wednesday, we need not come forward again. At least I understand that! :)
This priest in particular, I've noticed, does a good job of not looking anyone in the face. I can't decide if that's a good thing or not.
And, here's the best part. During the rite of peace, instead of shaking hands, everyone bows at each other. This is so painfully obvious, in that it's Japan, but for some reason that never even crossed my mind. I was thrown off for half a second, but then it became very natural.
If I read the calendar correctly, they have a daily mass every night at 7pm. On Wednesday, Father said mass in 33 minutes; beating even Msgr. Dominec's 45 minute mass! Today's mass at 9 am was the usual hour long ceremony, though. (And the only reason I know this is that there is a clock right above where the priest sits -- that's a new one.)
I've only been twice, but I think I found a winner. People don't stare or look at me weird and I feel like I can worship in peace. A friendly (yet a little strange) man talked to me today after church -- he said he had been to America a couple of times and that he loves America. He even knew to shake my hand and say "peace" instead of bowing. Nothing fake, no meaningless conversation, just a place to feel like I'm at home. :)
Here's what the church looks like (pictures taken from http://www1.odn.ne.jp/tomas/kakomati.htm):