Mass in the Holy Land was deeply spiritual. Since I could not understand the words, I focused totally on music, gestures, and ritual of the Mass; the familiarity and consistency was present throughout the liturgy.
The structure of the Mass is uniform throughout the world. I knew where we were at every point, because of the gestures that are so habitual and natural. From the Introductory Rite to the Closing Prayer, I intuitively knew every word said because they are written on my heart.
There are some traditions in the Latin Patriarchate Mass that are different than our liturgy. Incense is used each Sunday, and the ambo and Gospel book are incensed before the Gospel reading. My favorite variation is at communion. When young children approach the priest (no lay Eucharistic Ministers are used), he places the chalice on top of their heads for a blessing. How beautifully this communicates that, although you are too young to receive the body of Christ on the tongue, Christ is fully present in you and over your entire being.
There are many differences within the American and the Christian Arab cultures, from what we eat and the music and dance we enjoy to how we drive, grocery shop, smoke tobacco, apply make-up, etc. But, one thing is the same: our faith. We are exactly the same in our understanding of the mercy and love and salvation that we receive through Jesus Christ. Seeing how united we are in the common beliefs of the Catholic Church was made more powerful in relation to our different life experiences. Praise the Lord that we share the knowledge revealed in the scripture verse carved into the ambo at Annunciation Church in Beit Jala, Palestine:
“I am the WAY, the TRUTH, and the LIFE” John 14:6.
Dear Lord, help us comfortable American Catholics reach out to the world-wide Church. Help us see our neighbor in spite of different languages, skin tone, social structures, and regional hardships. Let us respond “How can I help?” Not, “Someone else will help.”