For 46,000 Catholics, it was a Mass like no other, with the altar standing on centerfield at a ballpark and the presiding clergyman arriving in a bulletproof vehicle.Here we go with the disappointment, the heartbreak, boo-hoo!
But Pope Benedict XVI's Mass in the nation's capital Thursday was also different from a typical service in another way: Lay people were not asked to distribute Communion, which was administered exclusively by 300 priests and deacons.
Organizers of the Mass at Nationals Park were only following the letter of church law. But to some Roman Catholics, the ceremony was symbolic of what they see as Benedict's desire to erect clear boundaries between clergy and lay people. [And this is bad because why?]
"What he wants to do really is to reinforce the old categories and classifications — different roles for different people," said David Gibson, author of books on Benedict and the future of the U.S. church.
"Men and women, priests and lay people. Each one has their role according to their talents, their ordained status in the church."
The clear division of roles doesn't sit well with all American Catholics, who are used to living in a democracy. Some would like a greater say in church affairs, including choosing their parish priests. Others cherish the distinct roles held by clergy and point to several examples of the two working together in harmony.
The pope has signaled his position through some relatively small gestures, Gibson said.
For example, the Vatican has issued a document reaffirming that only priests and deacons can touch and clean the chalice after Mass, something many lay people have done.
The Rev. John Wauck, a professor of literature at Rome's Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, warned against measuring appreciation for the laity by what they can and can't do in church.
"The life of the church doesn't take place in sacristies and parish meeting halls alone," Wauck said. "It takes place in homes, shops, sports fields, businesses, hospitals ... wherever there are Catholics."
He added: "The relationship between the clergy and the laity can't be seen in terms of a power struggle. Both are serving the church in their own way."
Patty Olszewski, 51, of Potomoc, Md., was disappointed about the lack of lay Eucharistic ministers — she is one.Dear Associated Press and Ms. Olszewski, there are NO LAY Eucharistic ministers.
She describes herself as an anti-abortion Catholic who wishes the church would at least consider women priests and disagrees with church teaching against homosexuality. Even so, she said she's happy with her role and feels like she's contributing.
"In everyday life, you don't feel oppressed by any sort of hierarchy because it's so heavily populated by the laity," Olswewski said. "That's 'We the People.' The church is all of us."
Yay! Not all are clueless...
Erin Johnson, 24, a parish youth minister from Gaithersburg, Md., believes "you either follow the traditions of the church, or you don't."Notice the age gap?
"I feel like I have plenty of opportunities to serve," said Johnson, who brought 30 teens to the Mass. "Each individual, every single one of us, has a place."