Want To Play Mass?
“Want to play mass?” This is what my siblings and I asked one another.
I was the youngest of 8 kids raised in a devoutly Catholic family. We attended a private Catholic school where nearly every function or field trip was held in the parish church located just 100 yards away across the school parking lot. There was a lot of church time, prayer time, mass time and holy days of obligation, which is the Catholic way of saying moral imperative. Then we would go back to the parish on the weekends with the rest of the family and go to church again. It seemed like we were in church for one reason or another for most of my early childhood. As children we had the ceremonial mass production down pat. We memorized when to stand up, sit, kneel, or hold hands, and what to say exactly when
Church was intense and for a 6 year old. It was excruciatingly long and boring. I’m convinced they hung the clock in the back of the church on purpose so that you would feel the judgment of others as they witnessed you slyly turn around to check the time.
The odd thing was, even though we didn’t want to attend mass at the church we wanted to play mass at home. At home we could make church exactly how thought it ought to be. Mass only played when we had special goodies in the house to substitute for the body and blood of Christ. These were usually wheat thins or triscuits and Sprite.
We fixed up our living room as nice as possible and designated the brick area surrounding the fireplace, as the altar. We placed a wooden podium in the middle of the altar and set dad’s biggest and heaviest bible, the one with the pearly white cover on top. While my older brother Tim put on the white robe from the Halloween Costume box, my older sister Elizabeth and I gathered and arranged the congregation. There was the Cabbage Patch family, all of the Easter rabbits, including Beautiful Bunny, Peanut Butter Rabbit, Great White Bunny, and Peanut Butter Rabbit Jr., as well as the gorilla named Big G. We propped them all up in rows on the carpet facing the alter folding their hands in front of them as much as we could. Big G was the most devout at this ritual for his fingers interlocked perfectly.
In Our Church we could mimic and emphasize our most favorite parts of real church and skim over or delete our least. By default, my older brother Tim was always automatically the Priest because he was a boy and the oldest of the three youngest kids.
One day, there was a confrontation in Our Church when I decided I wanted to be priest and Elizabeth wanted to be an alter girl. Together we quickly resolved it when we decided that in Our Church it didn’t matter if you were a boy or a girl, you could participate however you wanted. From then on Our Church became even more awesome and more popular as we wanted to play it again and again. We sang lots of fun songs and practically turned the receiving of the Eucharist into an all night buffet, introducing the ability to receive 2nds and 3rds if you wanted. Then each of us had a try at reading from the Bible in different priest-like holy voices, singing the words “Aaaaaaaaaah mennnnnnnnnnnn” and “Ah aaa aaa aa lay looooo yaaaaaah”
One of the parts of real church I actually enjoyed was the “Peace Be with you” part. This was when everyone stood up and turned to their neighbors, friends and families to offer each other a sign of peace. The sign of piece was exchanged through a hug, kiss, handshake or far way hand peace sign. This was the nice social part of mass I enjoyed because people were finally engaged with one another. It also signified that mass was about to end.
In Our Church, we enjoyed the “Peace be with you” part as well, but not because we were happy to get mass over with like the people at real church seemed to be. We enjoyed it because we were spreading the peace while having fun and had successfully concluded another mass ceremony. It was also a good pause for us to help consume all of the congregation’s uneaten Eucharist from their cotton-stuffed laps.
With much excitement, we proudly brought our creation of or mass reenactments to our parent’s attention. Our parents signed a pledge with our Catholic School stating that our family would attend the parish Church together each Sunday. I’m sure they felt a lot of pressure to uphold this promise and keep up with the Catholic Jones family. I believe it was Tim who tried to convince our parents that Our Church could be substituted for going to real church on Sundays because we were so well rehearsed. To our shock, his negotiating actually managed to get us out of real mass for about two weeks. Mom probably secretly enjoyed this brief break of not having to drag us to real church. Plus she could feel less guilty for not upholding her pledge to the parish, if the kids were at home playing mass anyway. This rationale did not last long.
As children, we were honestly trying to make church better by expanding on the best parts of the ceremony and making some other much needed improvements. Our church was more sincere, open and fun than real church ever was. We didn’t have the programmed emotionless responses because we were fully engaged. Looking back I think it was early realizations like this one that led me to eventually stop attending the Catholic Church. I have since replaced this early childhood game with my own creatively spiritual rituals that provide me with the same sense of connection, joy, and sincerity.