Some Reflections on the Community at Mass

By Rowena D. Cuanico

The author, from Samar, is a former Columban Lay Missionary who served in Fiji and the Philippines. She is a frequent contributor to Misyon and other Columban magazines.

Weng with her Fijian friends

I often go to Mass at a chapel located in a shopping mall in an affluent part of town.

People are dressed nicely in fashionable clothes and shoes, carrying fashionable bags. They come mostly with their families. Some also come with their well-uniformed nannies and caregivers in tow.

Sometimes I would wonder why nannies and caregivers have to wear their uniforms. Is this to set their employers apart and bestow on them some status or prestige? Or is this to distinguish these nannies and caregivers from the rest of the congregation and assign them their place in society? I feel sad that even in a faith community where there should be ‘no more Gentile or Jew, servant or free, woman or man’, you can still identify their positions in society simply because of the uniforms some have to wear. I can't help but wonder,  is this how far we still are from the Kingdom of God whose dawning we have come to celebrate?

I often joke with friends that there are only a few 'natives' like me in the congregation. Of course the 'natives' would include the nannies and caregivers. Most members of the congregation are mestizo or mestiza, either Spanish or Chinese or of mixed heritage. You seldom hear Tagalog spoken. You often hear people talk in English. It is no surprise that the seven Masses on Sundays are all in English – not even one in Tagalog!

Weng during her CLM days

Most of the time I feel odd and strange. Only a road separates the place where I live from the condominiums and exclusive villages. But it is fascinating to recognize how much distance there is between ‘their’ world and mine. Indeed I can truly say that I live on the ‘other’ side. The road marks the great divide.

One recent Sunday, I was seated next to a seemingly nice lady in her early 60s. She came with her family. Her face looked serene and wasn’t heavily made up. She had a pair of diamond earrings and a diamond ring on her finger. The bag she was carrying was of an expensive brand. When seated she placed her bag on her lap. And then when we were singing the Our Father she had her arms outstretched – with the bag on one arm. I didn't know how heavy or light the bag was. But I did wonder  if this was about the bag and its contents or the person next to her - me?.

I really felt amused that even in that chapel, where people can see and observe each other, where there are security guards, ah - one can't put one's bag on the pew, even for the few moments it takes to sing the Our Father!

People seem to know each other. They must be neighbors in a condominium or village. They usually talk to each other before and after Mass. Yet in the two years that I have been attending the Eucharist there, nobody has ever spoken to me, except to ask if the seat next to mine is vacant or occupied. But I take comfort in the fact that they do turn their heads around and offer me their blessings of peace.

Why do I go there? It is convenient. It’s just about a ten-minute walk from the house. It is air-conditioned. I don't have to look for the pew nearest the electric fan or bring a fan!

The chapel is very quiet and the sound system very good. You can hear a lot of whispers before the Eucharist. But the chapel suddenly becomes quiet when the bell is rung to signal the beginning of Mass.

If the road is the great divide then the gadgets can be the greatest distractions. Before the Mass you can see them tinkering with these. Despite being reminded that cellular phones should be turned off or put into silent mode, there are still some ‘brave’ souls who defy the reminder.

Children are well-behaved. This can be explained, perhaps, by the fact that before Mass  there is an announcement asking parents to make sure their children are quiet and well-behaved. Most often when children start feeling restless or noisy, they are brought outside.

There are times when the choir is good. But I do appreciate the fact that they do join in the congregational singing!

And the most important reason I attend Mass there – the homilies are short and crisp. Most are less than ten minutes, which is a blessing and a relief!

In the nearly two years that I have been attending Mass there, I haven't heard any announcements about prayer meetings or about parish organizations, Couples for Christ, for example. I haven't heard any announcements about talks on issues of national significance. Not even about First Communion or Confirmation.

Ah - it 's nice to come here and not be bothered by other concerns. But I am proud to say that when there is a second collection, for example for catechetical programs of the parish where the mall is located or for relief operations, the people give generously. I seldom hear the sound of coins being put into the collection box. It's almost all bills.

When we pray the Our Father which thankfully is usually sung and in Filipino, I often wonder what does 'daily bread' truly mean and what does it signify for them and for me. Here's my thoughts on their 'daily bread ' and mine.

Theirs. Mine
Whole wheat  bread White bread
Rye bread Pandesal
Organic brown rice. White@37/kg
Muscovado. Brown sugar
Olive oil. Vegetable oil
Salmon fillet Salmon head
Lettuce. Kangkong
Chicken breast fillet. Wings
Cadbury Chocnut
Apple cider. Datu Puti
Branded Anything on sale