If you visit a different country, especially one in which you are also immersed in a different language, or just attend an immersion program, there are unmistakeable stages to the experience. The first is the shock of the different culture and/or language. Often this elicits a negative reaction, a feeling of dislike and homesickness and confusion. As time progresses and there is more exposure, the feeling shifts to one of understanding, and then to appreciation for the different culture and/or language.
In thinking about this, it struck me that my first experiences of the Mass directly corresponded to these stages. I suppose that shouldn’t be surprising, for I was raised in a completely different religious culture. I had never experienced liturgy, for example, and certainly didn’t understand the doctrines and dogmas expressed in the liturgy. Instead, I only knew the paradigm of Southern Baptist theological ideas, and so experiencing something so different was quite a shock.
Because of this, my first few experiences of Mass, spread out over a number of years, were a shock to my senses and intellect. I reacted by disliking the Mass and determining that I hated it and therefore needn’t go again or learn more about it. Since I wasn’t immersed in a foreign culture, I had the freedom to choose to simply not go again, where in the case of going to a different country, that isn’t an option. Consequently, I didn’t allow myself to continue long enough to gain understanding or appreciation – at that time. Instead, it took being confronted with it again years later and deciding to learn more for me to come to the end of the culture shock stages: appreciation, understanding, and love. Of course, I am not Catholic solely because I learned to appreciate the Mass, but because I came to believe the Church teachings, which of course are expressed in the liturgy. I would encourage those who have been to a Mass and disliked it to go again, though. The missal is a good guide if one feels lost, too.