Christmas Mass is "Disorienting" to Me

My “About Me” page lists quite a number of little trivial tid-bits about this feller known as the father-of-five.   One of the traits mentioned is that “I am a man of faith”.  It further goes on to explain that I was born and raised in a Catholic family, and that I still consider myself a practicing Catholic.  I will never be likely to be voted “most Catholic” in any sense of the imagination.  I do not agree with every aspect of my religion (religion vs faith.  Different animals.  A discussion for a different date and time), but I do my best.  As they say sometimes, “It’s complicated.”  Nonetheless, one of the things I DO try to do my best at is mass attendance. 
We grew up going to mass EVERY week.  When I got older and started working (16-23 years old) – I still continued to attend mass.  Often, I went to an earlier mass on my own so I could still arrive to work on time.  I married a wonderful woman who’s religion and who’s faith (remember, they are different animals) mirror mine very closely (and might I add that this has been truly a gift!).  So as my life progressed into the realms of marriage and family, my religion and my faith remained largely unchanged.
 
One of the things I am grateful to God for is my career.  I landed in a career that I believe in, feel I am contributing to the “greater good” of mankind, and that I (mostly) enjoy.  As much as I love my career, it comes with cost.  One of the biggest downsides of my career is it’s unpredictability.  24/7/365, non-traditional (not M-F), rotating, extended, and forced shifts mean that my availability is often unpredictable at its best. 

I would love nothing more than to commit more within my church.  There is a men’s club, bible study, and such, but due to my schedule it would be impossible to maintain regular attendance.  How do I know this?  I know this because (and here is where I bow my head in shame and admit one of my “failures” as a practicing Catholic) I am not always able to attend weekly mass. 

It’s not that I am lazy or that I don’t want to go – I actually enjoy attending mass.  It’s one of the few times I can slow down, and really reflect on my life and the direction I am taking it.  Mass is meaningful to me.  It is just that the unpredictability of my schedule often prevents me from attending as often as I want to.  I am frequently at work for both Saturday evening mass, and Sunday morning mass.  There are a few other times throughout the year that my attendance is lacking by choice - usually around a hunting, camping, or fishing trip.  When I am not able to attend, I do make it part of my weekend to spend time reflecting on the same things I focus on while at mass.  When this happens, it is often in “God’s country" (the woods, on a lake, etc) where I often feel most connected to God – even more so than Church sometimes.  So even though I am not in "church", I feel as if I am in the presence of God.
 

So, what does all this have to do with a “disorienting” Christmas??

 
Well, whenever I am able to attend mass I almost always sit in the same general area in the Church.  Not only do I sit in the same general area – but many of the other “regulars” that attend the mass I do also sit in the same general area.  Even if we don’t know each other's names we sort of all recognize each other – and there is always a polite nod of the head, or quick hand shake symbolizing a friendly “Hey, nice seeing you again”.  It’s comfortable and familiar.  I like comfortable and familiar. 
 
St John the Baptist Jordan Minnesota

St John the Baptist Jordan Minnesota

Typically, on “any given Sunday” our church is anywhere from one-half to two-thirds full.  Again, that’s on “any given Sunday”.  Then, there are the “big two”.  The “big two” are Christmas and Easter.  For those who are even more “mass attendance challenged” that I am (or for those “twice a year” parishioners), the “big two” are typically the masses they attend.  So, when you factor in the “big two” parishioners and travelers / visitors for the regulars as well as the “big two” attendees, you can imagine just how crowded our little church gets!  (Don’t get me wrong – it’s nice to see!)  It gets so crowded that if we want a seat in church, we have to drop someone off 30-45 minutes early to reserve a pew.  This year was no exception.

My work schedule and commuting time left me with fifteen minutes in which to prepare for church, and to get to church.   When I arrived home, I noted that I had received a text message from #4 of 5, indicating that she was able to reserve a pew, but informing us it was not in our “regular” area.  I quickly got dressed, and headed to church, where I was met with full house.  Not only was the church full, the choir loft and the gathering area was filled with temporary seating and a large screen TV in which to view mass.

Throughout mass, I noticed several people I have never seen before.  (Don’t take that the wrong way.  I am not passing judgment – only observing the large number of faces that were new to me.) – but what really became a weird “phenomenon” to me was seeing the “regulars”.  Every angle I turned I noticed a few faces I recognized – but what made it odd was that they were not where they were "supposed" to be.  I am so accustomed to seeing “that big family” (ahem… not that mine is any smaller) ahead of us and to my left.  The retired couple that sits in front of us were not sitting in front of us.  The former City Council Member was not sitting behind me and to my right. #4 of 5’s friends (the twins) were also not sitting behind me and to my right.
Some of these “regulars” were either not there, or I was unable to find (think “Where’s Waldo).  Others were sitting in a different areas.  They were mostly facing the wrong direction from my perspective.  Those who’s heads I usually see from behind were to my side or behind me, and some that I am accustomed to seeing their face I was seeing the backs of their heads. 

The large number of attendees for these “big two” masses has us “regulars” all mixed up!!
This is why I always find attending the “big two” masses so “disorienting”. 

(For the record, being a creature of habit (some would argue that I am “to a fault”) the fact that I was being forced to sit in a different area, with different folks around me is not a “complaint”.  It’s merely an observation - and  honestly, I think it’s  a good and healthy for me to do from time to time!)

My vantage point from our seat on Christmas Eve.
The altar is located behind the big pillar just left of the center of the photo.

St John the Baptist Jordan Minnesota

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