Last night, I was at a meeting with other central North Carolina-based Filipinos to discuss and plan Simbang Gabi. It was started approximately 7-8 years ago by a group of Filipino Catholics who yearned for this tradition from their homeland. It helped that a Filipino priest with the Missionhurst Missionaries, Fr. Mel Portula, was assigned to a parish in Eastern Wake County because then the Masses could be conducted in Tagalog, as is tradition (well, at least is tradition in the Tagalog-speaking areas of the Philippines. I would venture a guess that in other regions, the local language (e.g., Cebuano, Ilocano, Bicolano, etc.) would be used).
Well, enough of that history. (If you are curious to know more about Simbang Gabi, click on the link I provided above, or do a Google search on "simbang gabi".)
After this most efficient meeting, facilitated ably by Fr. Julian Jagudilla, OFM, we participated in a house blessing (Fr. Julian blessed the nice new addition the Zaballeros made in their house) and then we enjoyed a late dinner/snack. (I can never say no to ginataan.)
I was chatting with a couple of people, and our discussion turned toward religion. Not surprisingly, when Fr. Julian was asking for a chairman for the Liturgy sub-committee, several in the room volunteered me for that job. They know that I've provided the Order of Worship for at least the last five Simbang Gabi. (By the way, we've only done one Mass within the nine days before Christmas; traditionally, it is a Novena of Masses, so there is traditionally an early morning Mass each of nine mornings, starting on 16 December, culminating with a Misa de Gallo the morning of Christmas Eve, 24 December.) Admittedly, my experience in helping to plan the liturgy with Fr. Mel came in very handy when I was applying for a church job of my own.
But I am digressing. (Actually, my whole post has been one huge digression from what I really wanted to talk about at this point. Hmmm. Will I need a beta for my blog posts? **snerk**)
Back to the interesting discussion I had with a couple of people. I told them I was the Organist/Choirmaster for an Episcopal church near Duke University. They were genuinely curious to know if it was considerably different from Catholic Masses. This was where I went into a discussion of Liturgical versus non-Liturgical churches. They found it interesting. One of them said she was raised Catholic (most Filipinos are, btw), but fell away from the Church for one reason or another. She married a non-Catholic, and described the wedding she had - it was Pentecostal, she thinks, and lasted for only 10 minutes. She said she felt something was missing. Her second marriage, also to a non-Catholic, occurred in the courthouse. Again, she felt something was missing. I told her that when my family went to one of my cousin's wedding, which took place in a Methodist church, they felt it was a rather incomplete service, like something was missing.
So the discussion turned more toward the services themselves. She couldn't quite pinpoint what was missing, but after her second husband died, she started going back to the Catholic Church and going to Mass once again. And then, she was able to articulate what was missing - the Real Presence that is Christ in the Eucharist. She realised she didn't experience that in the Pentecostal services she was attending with her husband. Oh, they seemed emotional enough when praying or preaching from the Bible, she said, but for her, that didn't seem enough.
It was when she started going to Mass again when she realised she found what she was looking for. She found comfort in the Liturgy of the Mass - essentially unchanging, routine - and felt like she was home as she approached to receive Communion. And from that point on, she went to Mass and even got involved with her parish.
Interestingly enough, I experienced something similar. I had fallen away from the Catholic Church after I finished high school. Yes, I went through CCD and the whole lot, which abruptly stopped after Confirmation. (Not that we ever took it seriously; it was rather a farce, just reading from the book whilst we were in the back of the classroom, doing book reports or math homework, etc.) Funny that everyone seemed to think I'd be a nun when I grew up. Anyway, I stopped going to Mass and muddled through my undergraduate education. It wasn't until I was well into my graduate studies that I gradually started going back to church. It helped that St. Peter's Church was right across the street, and that my roommate at the time was a devout Catholic who went every Sunday to Mass, and even tried to catch a Daily Mass when she wasn't in class.
It was Palm Sunday and I just "felt" like going to Mass that day. I remember going to a late Sunday afternoon Mass. After having ensured my work was done in the lab, I walked across campus and into the church. Somehow, everything felt right. I couldn't articulate what that feeling of rightness was. That feeling of rightness became even more intense as the Mass went on. At the end, the celebrant was standing outside the church, greeting people as they left. The priest (I wish I remembered his name) was very friendly and engaged me in conversation. I told him I was a graduate student in the Chemistry department at the university across the street, and he smiled, telling me that before he was in seminary, he too was a Chemistry student in his native Puerto Rico. I thought that was rather neat.
Needless to say, after that experience, I started going to Mass every Sunday. I felt like I had come home.