Whenever I go somewhere new, I always like to see what the Catholic mass is like. It is something I have grow up with my whole life and is a central part of my family. Whether in European countries like Spain, or even in new cities domestically like New York City or Nashville, I like the familiarity I find in the mass as well as the differences. One of the first things I noticed when I first entered the church in Cusco yesterday was of course the architecture. High-ceilings, golden ornamentation, and chandeliers stood out. The statues of various saints lined the edges of the church as central decorative pieces (until Corpus Christi when they are used in the festivities). Two main differences I noticed in the church’s appearance were the large alter leading to a statue of Mary, as well of the statue of Jesus in a coffin. Mary is always a central part of the Catholic faith, but in the United States I think it is rare to have such a prominent statue at the front of the church. My home church is the Church of St. Mary, so this reverence is not too different for me, but for many other churches in the United States I know this is different. Jesus in a coffin is something I have never seen before and kind of took me aback. I tried to do research on it but couldn’t find much on the cultural context of why Jesus is depicted in this way. I’m wondering if it is supposed to resemble the tomb before the resurrection and make passerby’s reflect on that?
The Catholic mass itself around the world is always special as the words are universal, just in a different language. Because I know Spanish and I’ve been to mass enough times to know the words, prayers, and hymns, I was able to pick up on everything that was happening. The universality of the church is always powerful to me. As I looked around at the Peruvians in attendance, it was an incredible feeling knowing that every time they go to mass, we all hear, say, and see the same things. The mass attendance was not as great as I would imagine it to be on a Sunday, but there were still a decent number of people there (passerby’s often wandered in and decided to stay). The mass itself was really fast (similar to my experience in Spain). In America, mass is at least 45 minutes to an hour, however this mass was efficient at maybe 25 minutes. Even communion was fast and not orderly in contrast to the United States. Giving peace is always one of my favorite parts of going to mass in a foreign place, as it confirms the universal community of peace we have in the church. Strangers who I didn’t know and will never see again reached out to me with open arms leaving me with paz in their church.
A final observation I have about the Catholic church in Peru (and most likely applicable to South America in general) is the universal reverence and strength towards the faith, which is something that definitely doesn’t universally exist in the United States. Being Catholic at my age in the United States isn’t something that is “trendy” or very popular. There are a lot of misconceptions and stereotypes attached to it with little understanding of people’s individual faiths within the whole context of Catholicism. Here however, people are Catholic with strength and pride, as it seems to truly bring together their communities. All this to say, I admire the dedication and love for the church I see here. I can now say I’ve been to mass on three continents!