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Here’s a switch.  usually I write about my experiences as an expatriate, either in Italy, where I truly am one, or in Arizona, where I mostly just feel like one.  Our friends Elena and Michela arrived from Italy yesterday, and now I get to see our country through their expatriated eyes.

Being practicing Catholics they went to mass this morning at the closest appropriate church, the Church of the Holy Cross in Mesa which is a half hour’s drive away.  Now if only they were Mormons, Methodists, Baptists or Lutherans I could have accommodated them in a matter of a few minutes.  Don’t let the photo above fool you – the place was mobbed for 10 a.m. mass.  I had to go to a nearby shopping center to find a parking place while I waited for my friends.  There are two churches, and there was standing room only.

How was it different? I asked.  In lots of ways, it turns out.  First, in Italy going to church is mostly women’s work.  If you see a solitary man in church he is very likely a recent widower, according to Elena.  Here you see many couples and families worshipping together; it is more the rule than the exception.  And it is beyond rare in Italy to see the church packed to the gills and overflowing for Sunday mass.

In Italy the congregants are offered only the host.  Here they are offered both host and wine, either for sipping or dipping.

The wafers are thinner and yellower than those in Italy, but Elena opined the caloric value was probably about the same.

Going to the altar for communion can be very disorderly in Italy with everyone getting as close as they can as fast as they can.  Likewise, people come and go at will, frequently not remaining for the whole mass.  At the service today Elena observed that everyone formed a line to take communion, and each person patiently awaited his turn.  No one left early.

She was enthusiastic about the music, which was almost like a concert.  Everyone sang!  In Italy only a few wurbley-voiced matrons participate, but here the singing was hearty and heart-felt.

So what were the impressions she came away with in general?  She was impressed by the number of people and the active and orderly participation in all parts of the service.  But she found herself wondering if there was the same spirit of joy in today’s mannerly congregation as she frequently sees in the smaller masses of her home church in Italy.  She couldn’t say yes, or no, but it was an interesting question for all of us.