I thought I was prepared; I had looked at Google maps and planned out the route. Looking at the satellite version and realizing it would leave me where I could not get to the parking lot, I knew where to turn and what to expect. What I didn’t count on was attending Mass while in the Northern Neck of Virginia was going to be an adventure.
While taking a three-day weaving class in Heathsville, I decided to stay closer to the location rather than drive an hour-and-a-half back and forth from my home. Classes were from 9 to 4, so that gave me an hour to get to the 5 o’clock mass at the church for the Saturday night vigil, which Google indicated was 20 minutes away. Perfect! Or so I thought! By the time I wrapped up what I was doing and drove to the location, I arrived about 25 minutes before the scheduled Mass to an empty parking lot. I started worrying that perhaps there wouldn’t be Mass that evening. So I looked online but there wasn’t any notification of cancellation, and any other churches were 30 minutes to an hour away. There was a vehicle that came and parked for a few minutes, then took off again. I began to think I was at the wrong location, maybe the church was further down and I hadn’t given Google enough time to get me there? As I began to drive, I tried to engage Google maps and again select the same church. When it started giving me directions, I realized it was taking me in a big circle! (As this is a rural area, one does need to journey for a bit just to get back to where one started.) Just before Google was about to turn me down the same road for a second time, I noticed the gleaming new sign for the church I was looking for! It was dramatically up a winding road and there were plenty of cars in the parking lot!
I was a bit stressed at this point; rather than being early, I was now 5 minutes late. I tried to walk quickly to the main doors in the front, but when I tried to enter them they were locked! Apparently they don’t use those heavy doors on a regular basis, preferring to use the side doors that lead out to the parking lots. I cautiously entered from the side door and quickly took a seat in the back. I was just very thankful that I had made it! I was here, and now I could focus on Jesus, as the priest proclaimed the Gospel. However the adventure was going to continue. I was very surprised when the priest faced the altar with his back towards the congregation for the entire Liturgy of the Eucharist, and perhaps even more so when he continued in English. I know this posture is much more common for a Latin Mass. Then at communion, a kneeler was brought forth and placed in the center of the aisle. Since I was in the back I could see that the first few people knelt down to receive. Did everyone need to receive while kneeling? Did we have to receive on the tongue? As the line crept up, I realized that it was up to the individual; some knelt and received on the tongue, while others stood and received in the hand. This seemed to accommodate everyone’s devotion. And lastly, I was pleasantly surprised when at the end of Mass, the priest led the people in reciting the prayer to St. Michael the Archangel.
Going to Mass while on vacation can be an adventure, no matter how well prepared we are. Even if we locate the building without issue, some of the local customs can throw us off. I have had adventures in Italy, Germany, Australia, and New Zealand, as well as a few different states in the U.S. What is wonderful about the Catholic Mass is that it is the same no matter where you go. The songs may be different and each parish may bring its own unique charisms, but just like Abraham, allowing God to lead us is an adventure. If we let Him, He always leads us closer to Himself.