EDIT: A Catholic friend informs me that “Lord, hear our prayer” is the response to the community prayers, not the litany. Sorry for the mistake.

This past weekend in Biloxi — because we don’t miss church but also because I’m afraid to take a shot in the dark when it comes to churches — we attended mass at Nativity of the BVM Catholic Cathedral. You know basically what you’re going to get with Catholicism.

A few impressions:

— In my experience, Catholic churches tend to come in three forms, 1) Basilica grade, 2). functionally and identifiably Catholic and 3). sleek-and-ugly.

Nativity Cathedral was solidly in the second category, architecturally reflective of the early 1800s, with a few traditional statues, stained-glass, plain white walls and the stations of the cross. You knew you were in a Catholic church immediately, but it wasn’t as overwhelmingly other-worldly as some decorated-to-the-hilt Cathedrals can be.

Even though it had a post-Vatican II altar, the church had a traditional castle-style Tabernacle that reminded me of the side altars at St. Mary Basilica in Natchez.

—Before mass began, the priest made announcements and warmed the crowd up with a couple of jokes about Peyton Manning. He said that things looked a little thin, probably due to Mardi Gras, but I couldn’t really tell that they were significantly down in attendance.

He also encouraged parishioners to sing during the service because it “makes the mass all the more special.” Apparently, he’s been fighting the silent Irish for some time.

—The service itself was pretty standard Novus Ordo. Low mass. Organ. No band. A older lady reader for the first couple of scripture lessons, a girl — and she was just a girl — leading in responsorial psalms and litany.

The litany was a little weird after being used to Eastern liturgy, responding with, “Lord, hear our prayer,” rather than, “Lord, have mercy,” and consciously making the sign of the cross left to right instead of vice versa. My thought was, “When in Rome…”

The congregation mostly kept with the priest’s request, singing along with the hymns, at least to the same extent that you see in most Protestant churches.

Of note to me was that one of the hymns we sang — the Wesleyan “Rejoice, the Lord is King,” was one that I knew from my Presbyterian days.

—The homily was (of course) from the Gospel reading, which was from the Beatitudes. The priest made a few points that the text doesn’t glorify poverty but that those who are placed in the position of having to trust God are blessed, and then, because it was St. Valentine’s Day, segued into a couple of cute love stories about couples who trusted in God for their marriage (one of them was about an Irish dock worker, the other about Benedict XVI’s parents).

Then, he asked all of the married couples in the congregation to stand and renew their wedding and — I am not kidding — baptismal vows. This was eerily reminiscent of something that happened in an Evangelical megachurch I was visiting the Sunday before St. Valentine’s six years ago.

DW and I sat that one out, preferring to control the two young children in our possession.

-Which leads me to my next point, and this is one that weighs a lot in my mind: the people in the church didn’t seem to mind when the kids acted like kids.

No one shot us dirty looks when one of the kids made noise, or when the baby (loudly) babbled along to the hymns. In fact, the only reaction we really got, other than smiles, was from a lady who turned around during the giving of the sign of peace and said, “She’s going to join the choir one day, isn’t she?”

I’m not sure if it was because these folks were a particularly child-friendly congregation or because Catholics don’t tend to age-segregate their churches and are thus more likely used to having small children in the service, but it was a nice experience.

—Eucharistic prayers were done facing the people, otherwise, communion wasn’t particularly notable (inasmuch as the Eucharist can be not notable). We’re not communicant in the Catholic church, so we just watched as everyone filed down and then back up.

—Upon leaving, an elderly man stopped us at the door and said, “You need to get rosaries,” before reaching into his pocket and giving us a couple.

On the whole, it was a pretty pleasant encounter, even if the “renew your vows” thing was a little strange, a small reminder that there are many things we separated brethren have in common. I guess this makes me an ecumenist.

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