My green, fleece-lined boots squeak across the marble floor as a priest guides us to a wooden pew in the back of the cathedral. Melted snow drips from the black rubber soles, pooling under the cushioned kneeler.
We sit behind a handful of young men, all in dark suits, their hair shorn short. They are the first-years. When the organ thunders the young men stand, and my dad and I follow. We mimic their actions throughout the entire vespers service, sitting, standing and kneeling when they do. I try not to stare as the priests and seminarians file past us down the center aisle. They stream into a section near the altar, and when they are seated, a young man genuflects toward the front and then closes the gate, separating us from them.
My dad and I have navigated the back roads of rural Nebraska through a blinding snowstorm to attend the vespers service at Our Lady of Guadalupe Seminary on a Sunday night. The service is beautiful, hallowed, and I am mesmerized by the priests’ lulling voices and their precisely orchestrated movements. But though I grew up Catholic, most of this service feels foreign to me. Our Lady of Guadalupe is a seminary for the Fraternity of St. Peter, which practices Mass, the Divine Office and all the sacraments according to pre-Vatican II. They chant the entire service in Latin. Although I keep the heavy, leather-bound book open on my lap, I quickly lose track of where we are, even with the English translation of the Psalms alongside the Latin. Incense blankets the air as a priest clanks the censor over the gate in our direction. I don’t recognize their black beret-type hats or the gold-embroidered cloth that is wrapped around the chalice.
I drive slowly through the heavy snow on the way home, my wipers sticking to the ice-glazed windshield as I gripe to my dad. “I just don’t understand all the pomp,” I say. “It seems like a bit much. And the Latin, I don’t get that at all. Why go back to the Latin?” My tone is petulant and critical.
We are stopped at a red light. The city is deserted. No other cars are on the road, in the dark, in the snow. “Well,” says my dad, “it’s their thing. It’s their way, the way they connect with God.” He pauses. “Everyone has their own way. That’s the way that works for them; that’s what they believe in and how they demonstrate their faith.”
I’m mulling, turning my dad’s words over in my head. He continues. “My thing is in the basement in Gray House, hanging up laundry, organizing the store. That’s where I find God. Your thing is your writing. That’s your way. That’s how you pray. We all have our own way.”
The light turns green. I make the turn onto 27th Street slowly, toward home. We crawl forward, the headlights cutting a swath of light through the swirling snow. It suddenly makes sense, what my dad says. We all have our own way.
Have you ever participated in a worship service that felt foreign or unfamiliar? Have you ever felt like someone else’s worship practices were “wrong,” simply because they were different from yours?