[Note: I’m not super familiar with the proper terminology for Episcopalian services, I’ve tried to double-check a few things, but if I’m totally off, let me know, please. And I apologize for any offense given by my incorrect language.]
Today, I went to an Episcopalian Easter Sunday Mass (St. Mark’s in SLC, which is gorgeous and has fantastic acoustics) this morning with some great friends and had a lovely, touching, triumphant, spiritual, moving, celebratory experience. Yes, mass was all of those things. I was struck by the immersive nature of the experience, how far it went to engage all my senses—sight, taste, touch, smell, and hearing. I don’t love overly ritualistic things generally (one of the reasons the temple ceremony doesn’t move me as much as it does others), but something about this service was powerful.
We arrived about 30 minutes early and sat in our pew as the room filled, the organ playing, echoing throughout the cathedral as the smell of the candles and incense was faintly present. The mood was being set and today, of all days, that mood was one of celebration, of jubilation—Christ is Risen! He was DEAD and LIVES! There was a happiness to the service that I don’t typically find reflected in LDS meetings.
There was much singing, with a choir, the organ, some light percussion, and a brass section (two trumpets, a trombone, and a tuba). It was fantastic. Obviously hearing brass accompaniment for hymns is something that I am not used to during Church services and I was surprised at the difference it made. I’ve been to other denominations meetings before and appreciated the different music, but I don’t think I’ve been to a service with brass accompaniment and that was something radically different and jubilant and powerful for me. Perhaps this was because I play trombone (played might be more accurate, since I haven’t really played in years, but probably maintain basic proficiency), so hearing that brought with it all sorts of fond associations of band trips and playing and a sense that I could use that musical gift to praise God, that this thing that I loved and enjoyed and was decent at could also be used to worship God. Maybe that’s overanalyzing it, but I think there’s something there. Also, I think something about the sonic quality of the brass instruments helped enliven the music and created a larger, more tangible sense of the joy that was being sung. The hymns typically had fairly intricate musical interludes between verses, which tripped me up as I was singing, but was beautiful and created a more involved and complete musical experience.
As the Mass began the procession came down the middle of the cathedral, with the incense swaying, long reeds with streamers waving, and the choir descending from their position up above near the organ and walking down through the congregation before returning to their seats. The smell of the incense wafted through the crowd as I watched the smoke billowing around the procession. I don’t know the symbolism at work there, but I felt the weight and richness of the ritual, the depth of the tradition and its ancientness. Something was striking with all of that. It felt old, like we were all connecting with something from ages past, that we were linked together through the strangeness and foreignness of the ritual, that the distance brought us closer together. I would love some high church, highly ritualistic Mormonism. Not every week, but on occasion. Perhaps during Holy Week—one of my friends that I was with had been going to services throughout the week at St. Mark’s and was telling us about how the room changes physically and some of the meaning behind those changes (particularly from Maundy Thursday to Easter Sunday). Or during Christmas. Or both. Or some other religiously significant time of the year. I think there’s a power in the ritual that we don’t see a lot of.
Yet, I don’t know if that would fully capture what I loved about the service today. I think that would still be missing the joy, the triumph, the sense of celebration that rang throughout the service. This jubilation that I felt a part of. Whether in the music, in the call and answer portions of the mass, the frequent and repeated ‘alleluia’s’, the welcoming nature of all the people and the communion, and the ‘peace’—where ‘touch’ is incorporated and you shake hands with, hug, kiss if desired, and greet those around you; total strangers were so gracious and welcoming and glad, just beaming from ear to ear to see us there and seemed genuinely thrilled to say ‘peace be with you.’ It was almost like a party—the room was abuzz with energy and warmth and joy and all of it was because of Jesus.
The sermon was solid, there were some interesting things shared about Christ’s linens being rolled in the tomb and some of the potential significance of that relating to customs of the time that was fascinating. I didn’t participate in Communion, but obviously taste is engaged that way and something about the experience again, seemed to be more celebratory and less somber than the Mormon parallel of the Sacrament typically is. Not that it wasn’t being taken seriously, but that that seriousness was reflected differently, through an expression of joy and happiness that Christ died for us.
The service ended with a beautiful performance of the “Hallelujah Chorus” from Handel’s Messiah that was transcendent. Everyone was standing and turned to look up and face the choir and musicians. People singing along peppered throughout the congregation. The smell of incense lingering from the procession’s departure just before the song began. I’ve never heard the “Hallelujah Chorus” associated with Easter, but it perfectly captured the jubilant, triumphant, celebratory feel of the service and therefore of Christ’s Resurrection.
We hung around talking about things, took some photos of the building and together, grabbed some snacks, and soaked up the atmosphere. I would love more variation in Mormon meetings. Some really ritualistic, high church kind of stuff like this, but also some really casual, pop-y, praise band, Christian rock sort of stuff, maybe a dash of some black Baptist Gospel choirs and their call and response, just bits and pieces from all over the place. And not every Sunday, but as seasonally/thematically/locationally/structurally appropriate.
But hey, Jesus Lives! And that’s pretty fantastic, so celebrate good times (c’mon), and peace be with you. God bless.