Yesterday I attended a Bar Mitzvah, my first ever. For this fallen-away-Catholic girl, the experience was more than interesting; it was thought-provoking, moving, and weirdly familiar.
Yeah, that's right. Familiar. To my surprise, I discovered strong parallels between the Catholic Mass of my childhood and the Jewish service I attended yesterday. Both services employ a liturgy. Both make ample use of an ancient language. There's sitting and standing, and an ark which is opened to remove a sacred object central to the service. There are even chapel veils for the women - little lacy hats. And - in the ultimate parallel - in recent years, the use of ladies' chapel veils has become voluntary in both venues!
There are clear differences, of course. The men are required to wear their own version of the chapel veil, kippehs, to synagogue, while in the Catholic church men have always had to bare their heads as a sign of respect. The use of Latin in the Mass has become rare. There isn't much kneeling in synagogue, but there's clapping, which you won't find in Catholic churches. The ark in synagogue is much larger than the little one set on the altar in Catholic churches, and what comes out of the Catholic ark are tiny edible wafers as opposed to the large (and wonderfully ancient-looking) Torah scroll. And, yowser, those readings - we covered Onanism, duplicity, harlotry, single-motherhood! Youngest Daughter and I, sharing the prayerbook, kept reading ahead in the translation because, let's face it, it was wa-aa-ay more interesting than any letter Paul ever wrote to anybody!
The differences seemed just details, though. I had never felt so strongly the shared origins of Judasim, Christianity, and Islam (with its own liturgy complete with risings and kneelings and traditional head-coverings) as I did yesterday.
Most striking, in the end, was the feeling of community, of ancient roots, of the ritual binding of families and friends together in the presence of an Almighty Being. I don't go to Mass anymore for reasons I've thought through and embraced. But attending yesterday's service reminded me of how much I will always enjoy a good, mysterious, religious rite.