I went to Christmas Mass this year.
I was raised Catholic and turned agnostic, then atheist in my teens, which was the kick-off for a number of truly spectacular fights between me and my mother. The part where I pretended I was going to Mass by myself and instead snuck off to a friend’s house because I was too chicken to tell her I was having doubts about the whole God thing was particularly memorable, especially when I got caught. We both went nuclear in the kitchen. My siblings and father cleared out and let us scream at each other before we retreated to opposite ends of the house in resentful, fulminating silence.
At that point, I wasn’t quite a disbeliever, but I was well-nigh certain that if God did exist, a God who wouldn’t let women occupy positions of ultimate power in his Church nor grant them autonomy over their own bodies was not a God I wanted any part of. I still thought Jesus was pretty neat, Mary was awesome – and Paul was totally gross. Let the women learn in silence with all subjection, my ass.
It was a genuine crisis of faith. I used to believe – not automatically, but with full faith and joy – in the glory of the Risen Christ, and then, gradually, I didn’t. I was an altar girl; I was a reader of scripture; I had danced at a Rosary gathering and acted in the Nativity pageants. I had been involved with the great machinery of the Catholic Church and I had been cherished and loved in that community.
But I could not believe. And thus I could not stay.
After the big fight, I went to Mass when my mother made me, and didn’t when she was too exhausted by the struggle. I enjoyed the singing, I mumbled the prayers, I dutifully took Communion because everyone else did and I would have felt too self-conscious if I hadn’t. And then I went to university, and didn’t set foot inside a church except for weddings and funerals.
Which meant that I didn’t go to Christmas Mass either, and those Christmases I spent at home, I hurt my mother every time I didn’t. I was sure I was right, but I didn’t like making her sad.
So a couple of years ago I decided to take a different approach. I go to Christmas Mass. I sing along with the choir, whether they suck or are great (this year, they were great), and I mumble the prayers.
However, I don’t take Communion. I don’t believe in transubstantiation, I have committed a great many things the Church regards as mortal sins since my last confession, and as I don’t believe in the divinity of any god figure, I am never in a state of grace. Communion is the most important sacrament of the Roman Catholic Church, and taking it under those circumstances would be immensely disrespectful. I won’t do it.
So, basically, the point of this screed is that I am absolutely certain there is no God, and I don’t think a little wafer that sticks to the roof of your mouth is the body of Christ. But, equally certainly, I love my mother, and I will bend my principles once a year to contribute to her happiness. This may make me both a sucky atheist and a terrible Catholic, but I’m confident that it makes me a better daughter.
A very merry Christmas to all those of you who celebrate it! And to everyone else, may your Sunday be wonderful.