Green Room

Attending Mass in Rome not quite as easy as you’d think

posted at 7:25 am on March 10, 2013 by

A quick observation on my first Sunday here in Rome …

I had figured that it would be easy to find a church nearby my hotel in Rome, because … well, it’s Rome, right?  When I asked the hotel’s clerk, however, she seemed a bit nonplussed.  She suggested the Vatican at first, but that’s nearly a mile away.  I was hoping to give my sore legs and feet a little relief today after walking back and forth from the media center both Friday (twice) and Saturday (once, blessedly).  Part of the reason for this is that my hotel is, I have discovered, off the beaten path for tourists and pilgrims, and is in more of a government-office section of town.  It’s nice, but not as active as Campo di Fiori or Piazza della Repubblica, where we stayed the last time.

The clerk then suggested a church here in the neighborhood, but I misunderstood her directions in English — my fault, not hers — and didn’t see any church at all.  I consulted my GPS system to find the nearest church, and it was 1.1 kilometers away, almost the same as walking to the Vatican.  Finally, as I headed back, I realized the church she pointed out was practically in the same building as the hotel, just around the corner from the entrance, and looks nothing like a church from the outside.

I entered and waited for Mass to begin, at first with only a few elderly congregants in the pews.  By the end of the half-hour, though, the place was packed, especially with children who had obviously just finished their Sunday school lessons.  I tried to follow the service, very easily recognizing the structure as identical to those everywhere but failing to comprehend much of what was said. I offered my responses in English, quietly so as not to distract the people around me, and said “Pace” during the Sign of Peace.  That must have worked; I got plenty of smiles and “pace” responses.  Queuing for Communion turned out to be less organized than in most American churches, but I managed to go with the flow.

It’s very comforting to know that one can travel and still be in communion with the Church and the people of the community, even if we don’t understand a word each other are saying.

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Well, Ed, I recall there being 900 or more churches there, and that you only had to walk a single city block before finding another one. Glad you were able to locate a Catholic church. It is much harder to do in certain parts of America, I fear. And you don’t find those great little coffee bars outside waiting to refresh you after mass. Have fun in Italy!

DrUrchin on March 10, 2013 at 9:03 AM

Great read, Ed. Glad you found a church nearby and that you found the mass comforting.

dogsoldier on March 10, 2013 at 9:27 AM

One thing about Rome, you can’t fall over without hitting your head on a church! I went to pick up our tickets for the Wednesday papal audience from the Church of Santa Susanna (the American Catholic church in Rome) I found no less than four churches at the same intersection and didn’t know which was the right one!

The Church of Santa Susanna (Via XX (Venti) Settembre 15) has a 6:00 p.m. mass in English Monday through Saturday.

Trafalgar on March 10, 2013 at 9:40 AM

What’s really nice is that when you’re away from home, there’s a Catholic church somewhere nearby…and the structure of the mass is the same wherever you are. But there’s always some little, minor difference or two that’s just different enough to red flag ya as not being a local…while you look around to see if anyone noticed your slip-up.

JetBoy on March 10, 2013 at 10:24 AM

It’s very comforting to know that one can travel and still be in communion with the Church and the people of the community, even if we don’t understand a word each other are saying.

Well said, Ed.

Just as an aside, I teach RCIA, and judging from the candidates’ and catechumens’ reactions, the part where I explain that Mass is the exact same all over the world seems to be one of the facts that impress them the most.

There’s something powerful, I think, about the symbolism expressed in this practice: we are truly all one (as you know, catholic of course meaning universal) in our faith.

inviolet on March 10, 2013 at 10:42 AM

too bad it wasn’t the Tridentine mass, it would have been easier to follow

soccercheese on March 10, 2013 at 11:31 AM

Try to get to Mass at Santa Maria Maggiore. Mass has been celebrated there every day since the 400s. Latin Mass is at 11:00.

Ted Torgerson on March 10, 2013 at 12:23 PM

They cover Italy but have times for very few of the churches.

A lot of these places are not like the U.S. churches, where a crowd shows up for 9:00 then clears out, and another crowd shows up for 11. Many people show up whenever, and say a rosary, light a candle, or go to the confessionale, and Masses are offered at various times all morning.

The nearest thing to it I have seen in the U.S. is St. John Cantius in Chicago. The National Shrine is a bit like that too.

Greek Fire on March 10, 2013 at 12:51 PM

In Vietnam they bow to each other at the Sign of Peace, which is a nice local touch.

Mr. Joe on March 10, 2013 at 1:43 PM

I experienced the same in China. Participate in Mass but could not understand a word. It is a bit disconcerting.

ojfltx on March 10, 2013 at 2:41 PM

Try to get to Mass at Santa Maria Maggiore. Mass has been celebrated there every day since the 400s. Latin Mass is at 11:00.

Ted Torgerson on March 10, 2013 at 12:23 PM

I’ll be staying closer to there next weekend. Thanks for the tip!

Ed Morrissey on March 10, 2013 at 3:35 PM

soccercheese on March 10, 2013 at 11:31 AM

That’s what I remember about Mass as a child. No matter where you went you could follow along. I recognize the advantage of English, but the universality of the old Mass can’t be beaten. With my new job as a trucker, I miss Mass period.

Kraken on March 10, 2013 at 3:55 PM

If you every get the chance you should try to attend Mass at Maronite Church(Eastern rite Catholic), My Dad took me to one when the Knights of Columbus were invited. The entire Mass is in Arabic and it was very old school. The way they did communion was very different they mix it and the Priest uses a spoon you tilt your head back to receive the host.

We were over in Ireland on 9/11 and we attended Mass the next day and when the people found out we were American, the sympathy we got over whelmed us.

Patricksp on March 10, 2013 at 5:04 PM

Ed, we lived in Rome in 2000. I always went to the English Mass at San Silvestro in Capite:

Take the metro to the Spagna. Walk down Via Condotti to Via del Corso, hang a left and follow Via del Corso to Via della Mercede. Take another left and follow Via della Mercede to Piazza San Silvestro. Like you I tried going to a Mass in Italian, at the beautiful Sant’ Anselmo monastery in the Aventino, and while I could follow the structure the intimate details were lost on me.

Good luck, we loved our time in the Eternal City, I’m terribly jealous.

wkh on March 10, 2013 at 5:41 PM

I went to Mass several times in Guatemala as an exchange student in the summer of 1979. It was a wonderful experience.

Mr. D on March 10, 2013 at 6:51 PM

Was the Mass in Latin or nuveau Italian? I remember all the responses of the old Latin Mass. Favorite because of its haunting resonance: Un Espirito Sante…Aaaahmen.

Ladysmith CulchaVulcha on March 10, 2013 at 9:18 PM

Great story, Ed. I recall attending Mass in a little hill town in Tuscany called Contignano… small church populated by wonderful locals… I followed the rite the same way you did. The connection was instant.

dpduq on March 10, 2013 at 11:51 PM

Ed or someone out there: During the Liturgy of the Eucharist do they stand instead of kneel?

tommer74 on March 10, 2013 at 11:58 PM

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