I went to New Orleans this weekend to see my brother undergoing the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (i.e., an adult convert baptism into the Catholic Church).
(Background: I converted to the LDS Church at age 16; my parents are nonpracticing Catholics who did not baptize their children in infancy.) His baptism and First Communion were part of an Easter Vigil, held the night before Easter. While my perception of the event was skewed by a burning fear that my two-year-old would explode before the service ended (two hours and seventeen minutes later!), I was impressed by the service in many ways. I have, in my childhood, been to Catholic services on many occasions, and a handful of family Masses in recent years (grandparents’ 50th, etc.). This one, a High Mass and Easter Vigil, had more to it.
We entered a dark chapel (Do they call it that? Or is it a sanctuary?). Because it was still light outside, the stained glass windows were gorgeous. I helped my five-year-old identify the stories about Jesus represented in the glass.
I told my husband later that I was pretty sure that our children would be begging to convert to Catholicism because they each got to hold, and then light (!), and then blow out (!!), a real candle twice during the service.
We think we have them beat in the doctrine department, but they have us nailed when it comes to music. Hymns generally bore me; Mormon pop offends me. Most of the music (cantor, congregational singing, small band with a few guitars, handbell choir, soloists, chanting in Latin) was folksy in character and I loved it. I genuinely felt that the Spirit was present because of the music. The service ended with a gospel-style song which didn’t do anything for me, but my kids loved clapping. What’s the history here? Is LDS music so lame because we don’t allow innovation? And, if so, is that a reasonable price to pay to keep LDS soft pop out of sacrament meeting? Do the saints in Ghana really sing our dirges, or do they innovate when no one is looking? Is that good or bad?
I was tempted, so many times, to silently mock the symbolism. (Incense. Ha. How silly.) But really, is any symbol inherently more ridiculous than another? I don’t know the background on the use of incense, but I would imagine that it has something to do with the idea of the Holy Spirit spreading throughout the world. Is this sillier than a golden angel perched on top of a building?
I am not sure of the title of the person who did this (not the priest, not the cantor) but a man in a suit did a dramatic but not cheesy reading of the creation story. It was delicious. I loved listening to the scriptures, by someone reading them ably and animatedly, without archaic language or commentary. Just the scriptures. I will be first in line to defend our use of the KJV, but I still loved this. And did I mention that there was no commentary? It was beautiful. It made me realize how often talks in our church consist of someone more or less saying, “What (Moses, Jesus, Paul, etc.) really meant to say was . . .”.
When it was time for the actual baptism, an altar girl carrying a cross led the candidates (each with a godmother and/or father and/or sponsor with a hand on their shoulder) in a procession that took them the longest possible way to the font. During this time, the cantor sang a song that basically consisted of the names of biblical bigshots and then saints, each pair followed by the words ‘pray for us.’ In other words, “Adam and Seth, pray for us . . . Abraham and Isaac, pray for us . . . Mary and Elizabeth, pray for us . . . Timothy and Titus, pray for us . . . Boniface and Ignatius, pray for us . . . Teresa and John, pray for us” Obviously, there is doctrine here that LDS don’t go in for, but I was touched by the idea that every person throughout history was sustaining and supporting the candidates. Once again, the music itself was beautiful.
The baptism was by immersion (except for one arm out of the water that the priest was holding; it also appeared that one of the other baptize-ee’s face did not completely go under; no one cared). Even my hard-core Catholic relatives were surprised that the baptism was by immersion. It occurs to me that they would have had no occasion to witness an adult being baptized, since everyone else in the family (and friends) would have been baptized as an infant.
I have no grand conclusions to draw, except that the next time someone makes an offhand remark in Sunday School in that condescending tone about the bankruptcy of apostate churches, I am going to smack them.