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Different Community, Same Liturgy

By Thomas Byrne

This past winter quarter, I had the pleasure of attending St. Monica & Luke’s parish in Gary, Indiana as a part of my coursework with the Catholic Studies program at DePaul. Having gone to Sunday night Mass at St. Vincent’s for the past 4 years, this was a great opportunity for me to experience the liturgy in a different community.

St. Monica & Luke’s parish is a predominantly African American parish that is deeply rooted in the community of Gary and has not been immune to the economic troubles the city has faced over the past half-century. There used to be a thriving school (Kindergarten-8th Grade) connected to the Church that many of the parishioners had a connection to as either students or parents, but the school’s closing in the 1980s made it difficult to keep numbers up. The remaining parishioners today are of an older demographic, and they mostly have some sort of connection to the school and house of worship that they grew up in. However, one of the benefits of having a smaller community of believers with long-lasting ties to the parish is that those who attend are greatly invested in one another, as well as the survival of the parish. I definitely got that sense upon entering the church.

One very unique aspect of the liturgy at St. Monica & Luke’s parish is that the sign of peace (typically after the Our Father) takes place before the Mass begins, and it usually lasts about 15 minutes so everyone can shake hands and exchange kind words. This is done in order to not disrupt the Mass in the midst of the Liturgy of the Eucharist. Considering how easy it can be to view my Sunday obligation as a matter of personal faith and not a gathering together of believers, this was a breath of fresh air that really immersed me into the community.

Something else that was a unique experience for me in the Mass at St. Monica & Luke’s was the use of traditional African-American musical stylings for the liturgy. The prevailing stereotype for Catholics (though not true for our choir at St. Vincent’s) is that the music and worship are not lively enough to elicit a spiritual encounter for those involved. However, this felt more like a Southern Baptist service where the choir volume is higher, the music is faster, tambourines are involved, and participants clap along to the beat. This was certainly different from any Mass I had ever been to, but it was certainly engaging.

The difference in the liturgies between this parish in Gary and my home parish at DePaul was a great reminder for me of the universality of the Catholic Church. There may be different approaches to celebrating the Mass, but at the end of the day, the most important thing is that we as Catholics all come together to commemorate Christ’s loving sacrifice for us and experience his presence in the Eucharist. This sacrament sustains us no matter which church we attend.