OK, don’t ask why (it’s a long story!) but for the very first time in my life I have actually attended a Catholic mass. Yes, after a mere six decades, your favourite blogger finally added yet another life-shattering experience to his repertoire of life shattering experiences… but it was nothing like I imagined it would be.
This week I’m in Baguio city, which is up towards the northern end of Luzon in the Philippines. And I’ve been invited to attend a mass in celebration of a 30-year reunion that has drawn a number of Filipinos from across the globe to hobnob with one another and reminisce about old times.
The mass is to be held in St Vincent church, and for some unfathomable reason, it starts at 7am! Yes, you read that right. How anyone can even think of being out of bed and halfway across town by 7am beats me.
As I stagger out of bed, the sun, too, is stifling a yawn while assorted cockerels do what assorted cockerels do naturally – that is, act as an alarm clock for those who have been summoned to mass at some ungodly hour.
It turns out that if any of you blog fans had notions about becoming a priest, you had better read the small print in your contract first. I mean, some poor sod has to be doing this every day – and can hardly lay claim to having a lie in when he feels like it.
The church itself looks pretty uneventful. Lots of wooden beams and loads of Catholic carvings and pictures with a splodge or three of green paint thrown in to brighten up the place – but it all gets improved by a massage with Photoshop; and I grab an early place in the middle of the gathering in a row with more legroom than the others.
Hanging haphazardly from the ceiling is a giant screen on which the words of the hymn or invocation or responses or whatever comes to hand is projected – a bit like a giant karaoke screen… minus the highlighted blue words, that is.
And while selected members of the audience perform their karaoke numbers (with some even getting a round of applause), the backing music is provided by a lone organist sitting up in the gods at the far end of the church.
Some of the singing might resemble a Saturday night in a typical Philippines’ karaoke bar (complete with out of tune caterwauling) but it’s all very amiable and good natured.
There’s even one part where we all are expected to hold hands with one another (no, Brian, you really do have to take your hands out of your pockets!) and a little later we all make V-signs at one another and give each other hugs to show that we love all our neighbours.
The poor priest is obviously feeling a bit peckish and glugs down a mouthful of very dubious looking wine, with a wafer biscuit, and then invites the audience to join in with the snacking. But I have had the foresight to knock back a quick coffee and mixed grill in the hotel before setting off, so I decline the offer of more.
Finally, it’s all over bar the shouting. Someone has already gone round with a begging bowl asking for donations – no doubt it will be used to fill up the priest’s cellar with more alco-pops – and we file out into the daylight once again.
Lest anyone is upset that they were unable to make it to the karaoke hymnal, there is a local radio station that has been set up that broadcasts every mass held in St Vincent to the local burgers of Baguio, no doubt so that they too can join in the singalong.
Yes, as I say, an earth shattering experience for your favourite blogger. But what is more bizarre is that I had already been invited to yet another Catholic mass in a fortnight from today. But more of that anon…