The cynics out there say that, for Catholics, Sunday Mass during vacation is just an obligation, nothing more than "getting your ticket stamped" so you can get on with the real business of taking it easy and having fun. But year after year, when we go to Mass down at the Jersey Shore, I come away with a very different take on the so-called vacation obligation.
We just returned from a week in North Wildwood, N.J., where our parish-away-from-home is Notre Dame de la Mer (a merger of the former St. Ann's and Assumption parishes of the Wildwoods). We settled on this particular church (the former St. Ann's) not only because of its proximity to our rental but also because of its pretty interior and throw-back to older traditions we don't have back home in upstate New York. This beach parish was the first place my children ever heard bells rung during the consecration or saw altar boys holding patens as we received Communion.
This year, as we headed over to the 4:30 p.m. Mass on Saturday, our first day of "official" vacation, I could not help but smile at the throngs of people coming from every direction -- from the beach, the boardwalk, their bungalow rentals -- to get to Mass. I think we're past the point of thinking that American Catholics are so afraid of sin that they come to Mass out of fear. No, these people had cut a beautiful beach day short to attend Mass. They could have sat with their toes in the sand for a couple more hours but they chose Mass instead. That's not obligation; that's something far different -- love, respect, awe, adoration, all of the above.
Catholics in this country have made no bones about the fact that they will pick and choose what they want to believe regardless of what the Church teaches. And we've certainly seen a drop in Mass attendance to prove it. So I think the cynics have to take another look when it comes to the Sunday obligation during vacation. Maybe, just maybe, some Catholics -- many Catholics -- enjoy joining their brothers and sisters at Mass in a new place, where the faces are different but the words and songs are so familiar we can just fall into place as if we belong there. Because we do belong there.
I love sitting side by side with strangers far from home but singing every song, saying every prayer and showing my children that the Mass is the Mass no matter where we go. Sure, there may be notes of minor differences here and there, but the song remains the same.
What does Mass on vacation mean to you? Share your favorite vacation liturgy stories in the comment section.