Every summer I put a short announcement in my parish newsletter with the aim of encouraging parishioners to make the effort to find a church to attend when they are on holiday. Thanks to the internet it is now easier than ever to locate Mass times and parishes near to where one may be staying. I try to make it clear that, while it is important that we fulfil our obligation to be at Mass each Sunday, there are also numerous spiritual benefits which can be received when we experience worship in different places, cultures and contexts.
I always love attending Mass when I am away and it is an important and enjoyable part of my holiday. I can still vividly remember attending an outside candlelit Assumption procession a few years ago in the Dordogne. The smell of incense, the singing and the dizzy summer evening all combined to produce the fondest memory of that particular holiday. The après-Mass which the parish provided was also fairly splendid.
Participating in a Mass in a different language can help us develop and deepen our understanding of the liturgy. We don’t have to go abroad to experience this. In the last few years I have been to French and Italian Masses in London and last year concelebrated at a bilingual Mass in Wales. When we can no longer rely on a common tongue we become more aware of the action, flow and shape of the Mass. With some explanation before, it can also be a good teaching opportunity as we seek to hand the faith on to our children. My own daughter now recognises that Mass is much more than just words partly because of her exposure to Masses while abroad.
Not all Masses that I have attended on holiday have been positive experiences. I can think of times when I have had to endure the moribund, the liturgically inept and the woeful. But even when my explorations go wrong, it helps me to appreciate the more my little local parish and the community that I am privileged to serve.
There is something reassuringly familiar about the universality of the Church and her liturgy. Visiting different communities, whether at home or abroad, provides a wonderful reminder that we belong to a worldwide family. There is a danger if we only worship in our own parish that our sense of being part of the whole Church diminishes. Visiting parishes on holiday can be a way of opening our eyes to a richer and fuller experience of God as we see the same faith lived out in a different way.
We may find church-going on holiday difficult when we are in the company of non-Catholics. It can easily feel that our desire to go to Mass is an imposition on the precious time of the rest of our group. But done in the right way, attending Mass when we are away can be a good witness to others of the centrality of the Catholic faith to our lives. We may even be able to extend a gentle invitation, perhaps with the opportunity to see a historic church in action.
Holy days are God’s gift to us. The very name reminds us of their spiritual origin and that they are part of life’s rhythm of work and rest. We don’t take a holiday from God and so it makes sense that worship and the sacraments should be part of our time away.