CHARLESTON W.Va. -- Catholicism is one of the oldest and most widely practiced Christian traditions in the world, yet like any religion, there are misconceptions about how and why Catholics practice their faith.
Father John Finnell, the pastor at Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church in South Charleston, said fostering an understanding between faiths and traditions is why the church will host an "Explanatory Mass" this Sunday. The mass will be carried out as it is every week, with one key difference: Finnell will explain each prayer, sacrament and action as it happens.
"The mass will begin with an opening song, and at each stage we will pause, and I will say, 'Okay, now we have the Penitential Rite -- this is what it means, this is why we do it here,' and then we perform the prayers just as we would at a regular mass," he said. "After the whole mass has ended, we will say, 'Okay, what did you notice? What questions do you have and what would you like to talk about more?'"
The mass will be held at 2 p.m. and will take the place of the church's regular 11 a.m. mass. According to Finnell, the church chose a late-afternoon mass so that non-Catholics or those from other congregations could attend without missing their own services.
For Finnell, the service isn't designed to gain converts, but rather to highlight the commonalities that exist between Catholicism and other faiths, especially other branches of Christianity, and to dispel some common misconceptions about the faith.
"Occasionally there may be a few people who might want to pick it up, but we're not looking to increase our roster or anything," Finnell said. "We want to show people who may not know that we don't do any superstitious hocus pocus, and we don't have any secret things that we don't want people to see if they're not members of the church. People are welcome at any mass, any time."
Because it takes the place of the church's normal mass, there will be a donation collection to support the church, but Finnell said visitors should not feel compelled to donate.
Finnell, who has served as the priest at Blessed Sacrament for more than five years, has performed explanatory masses before at other churches, and said they are generally very successful within the community.
"What we want to make clear is that what we do in our principle worship is to worship God the father through Jesus Christ the son by the host and power of the Holy Spirit," he said. "It's clearly a mainline Christian approach to worship, and not something that is off-base in regard to what other Christians do in their worship. Some of the rituals may be different, but if you listen and understand, you can discern what the focus is."
Natalie Zellers, a South Charleston resident and Blessed Sacrament Congregant, said she approached Father Finnell a few months ago with the idea of an explanatory mass because she felt that others could benefit from the same examination of faith that she said has always helped her to grow.
"I think non-Catholics could enjoy it because a mass, for them, would be like a history lesson," Zellers said. "It's how Christians have worshipped for centuries, and this would be a way to see where their Baptist or Methodist or Lutheran roots spring from. They're going to see parts of their mass that they see during their regular worship service, and maybe have a greater appreciation of where it comes from and why they do it.
"They'll also see things that don't occur during their worship service, and in that case, I hope they ask why, and subsequently, 'I see why Catholics do it that way; why do we not?' Not to try to change anything, but it would be interesting to find the answers to those questions, and they may find their faith is even more firmly rooted in knowing."
Zellers said she believed Catholics could benefit from the mass, too, as a kind of "refresher course" on the origins and meaning of the faith.
"So many Catholics are brought up in the church, and in a Catholic school or a regular Sunday school, and as a child, they learn 'here's how we do this, and here's why we do this,'" she said. "Then they grow up and they find that they either don't remember, or they have some life experience under their belt and they're ready to go deeper. This is an opportunity for Catholics to draw out the deeper levels of the mass that they may not have been ready for at a less mature age."
Light refreshments will be served following the mass, and there is no registration required to attend. Blessed Sacrament Church is church is located at 305 E Street in South Charleston, next to Oakes Field. For more information, call 304-744-5523 or visit www.blessedsacramentwv.org.Reach Lydia Nuzum at lydia.nu...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5189.