Electric Prayer

The Liturgy of the Hours, the Mass, and other things.

Mass Tourism – Mykonos

Posted by universalis on 8 August 2006

The Greek island of Mykonos is the home of opulent hedonism. If God made the elements (the island says) then it was so that we should enjoy them. And people do. On the other hand, if you join the passeggiata of beautiful people wandering through the town at 1a.m, you will notice an interesting thing: along with the bars and expensive shops there are many chapels open at the side of the streets, and people drop in to them and light candles.

Greece is, of course, Greek Orthodox. But on the way back from the beach one Sunday evening I passed a small building near the harbour. It was a Catholic church. Mass was in just over half an hour – too long a time to wait, too short a time to get back to the hotel and come out again. So I carried on walking.

On the other side of the harbour I changed my mind and came back.

The tiny church was packed and I was squeezed somewhere into the porch. The Mass was in a mixture of Greek and Italian. I can understand the liturgy in Italian but I can’t make the responses in it, and my Greek is pitiful, so I compromised by using Latin fairly quietly, adding to the overall volume of sound without confusing or irritating my neighbours.

(At the end of the Mass one of my neighbours congratulated me in Italian on choosing to make the responses in Latin. We switched to English, and he turned out to be a Bavarian with a suspiciously detailed knowledge of central London parishes. All very confusing to the geographical sense.)

As we shuffled down the already sardine-packed church to receive Communion and then shuffled back again to approximately our original places, I was reminded how insistent Christianity is about giving value and significance to matter.

The Pope, when he was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, speculated wistfully (I can’t at the moment track down the reference) about how much easier things would have been if Christianity had been a refined, spiritual religion on the Eastern model. Matter, though not evil in itself, would have been seen as an imperfection to be regretted and eventually transcended. We would have replaced all those undignified rituals – washing people’s feet, pushing through crowds to have a piece of bread stuck in our mouths – with more elevated symbolic representations. More elevated and less prone to embarrassing accidents, when one of the people whose feet are being washed can’t get his shoe back on or when the priest sprinkles the entire congregation with holy water and has to go through the rest of the Mass in sodden vestments.

But Christianity obstinately does not spiritualize. God made matter deliberately. It was not an accident or a mistake. God took on flesh and became embodied in matter. That was not a mistake either. When we are resurrected we will be resurrected not as disembodied spirits but as complete beings with real bodies. Bread, wine, salt, water, oil and ashes form indispensable parts of our spiritual lives.

And this is as it should be. It seems superficially attractive to “become more spiritual” as an antidote to the sins of the flesh – but only if you forget that the sins of the flesh are inherently self-limiting whereas the sins of the spirit are invisible and can grow without limit. Spiritualize still further and you end up with the dualistic world-view of the Manichees and the Cathars, who believed matter to be evil and the creation of an evil god and were led to perverse practices as a result.

So when a Mass that has being going at a reasonable pace grinds to a halt as too many people try to crowd into too small a space in order to receive Communion, don’t start wondering why we can’t have a single member of the congregation, up front, symbolically receiving the Host as a proxy for us all. Matter and its positioning in time and space is an essential part of the ritual, even when it is inconvenient, because matter is an essential part of our lives, even when it is inconvenient. It is not a mistake; it is not evil; it is not an illusion. It is good, and holy, and part of us; and it must always be respected, because God chose to make it.

10 Responses to “Mass Tourism – Mykonos”

  1. Bill Boyd said

    Well said about the rightness of matter. How many diseases (sins) of the spirit come about because we wrongly disdain, are embarrased by, or are frustrated by the limitations of our God-given flesh. I love abstraction, but I am glad God made us and our world concrete. I am glad Jesus came in the concrete for us.

  2. Linny O'Hara said

    That you for that beautiful meditation for Mass! And what a fine lesson. Instead of getting upset about the external distractions around us, embrace them, bring them all in as part of your Mass experience, and, in that way, your entire experience becomes sanctified… your meditation becomes deeper…your heart soften…you spirit enlarged.

    And good point, Bill! I, too, am soooo very thankful that our precious GOD came to us in concrete form. What an incredible blessing!

  3. Jeff Tan said

    Excellent point about matter! Two sweet words about that: the Incarnation and the Eucharist! šŸ™‚

  4. Pamela Ruigh said

    I hope if and when I get that “new body” it won’t be the same as the earthly body. Even a perfect body is not the best. I prefer, even though it is somewhat heretical, to believe that we get a spiritual body that is not subject to gravity and that this body will be beyond time and space and able to be more universal and not limited just to the spot anchored in a reality of gravity, space, and time.
    Perhaps being subject to gravity is a product of original sin. Matter is just energy vibrating at a slower rate. Speed up the molecules and eventually you move to spirit. So conceivably, a purified matter, perhaps after a stint in purgation, will be beyond time, space and gravity.

  5. Henry Ocier said

    I do hope I’ll cross that finish line in our appointed time. My mentor always spoke of the external aspect of our worship. He used to say it is our faith that will bring us to that reality.

  6. Ann ( Murray) said

    During Mass on the feast of the Assumption the priest spoke of how Mary was taken up body and soul into Heaven. He went on to say that we too will be raised up, body and soul, in a way we cannot now comprehend.In one of the Eucharistic prayers we are reminded of how God will raise our mortal bodies and make them like His own in glory. We will be beautiful indeed.

  7. john said

    As with all sins, the sins of the flesh are more truely sins of our concupiscience. How bravely our fathers from St. Paul to St. Dominic fought to stamp out the error of metaphysical dualism.

  8. Juan said

    I think that your description of Holy Communion as “Pushing through crowds to have a piece of bread stuck in our mouths” was very unfortunate. Communion for catholics is not just a piece of bread stuck in our mouths but receiving the real body, blood, soul and divinity of Our Lord Jesuschrist, the Son of God, the King of the Universe. We need to have his body and blood as often as possible in order to increase His Grace in us, i.e., to increase His very Life in us. Or to put in simple words: to plug ourselves to Him (like to electric light), to make our souls brighter and stainless, just to resemble Him and live forever with Him. If we don’t take his body and blood there’s no life in us, and our soul will be in darkness…That’s the catholic experience…

  9. Bob O'Connell said

    Mass Tourism:

    I enjoy reading about (a) a sardine-packed church on Mykonos, (b) a soul that changed his or her mind and “came back” (c) Communion as “an essential part of our lives” and (d) respecting matter “because God chose to make it.” Thank you.

  10. Christine Pryce said

    I was led to this lovely piece of writing entirely by a series of what non-spiritual people would call coincidences, bt which have given me a really moving reassurance during a very long dark night of the soul, which may be of interest? My Google homepage gave my Saint of the Day as the Blessed Christina. my name being Christine, I clicked onto the full website for more detail. It said that the Blessed Christinas birth name was Matthia. My sons name is Matthias.She was called to a life of cloistered prayer and devotion. I have recently been struggling with an undeniable need to withdraw, which contrary to the advice of all arond me does not feel pathological or unhealthy. The website prompted a link to a Directory of Saints and ltimately to this website where I entirely randomly? was attracted to the Mass Tourism heading, where the first article is this piece on a Mass on Mykonos on 8th Aug – which is also my birthday. My main conflict in life has always been a preoccpation wth the sins of the flesh and a deep seated feeling that the body is not inherently sinful – my life has been a gradual coming to terms with the truth that the physical can be beautiful without being sinful, when we are mature enough to reject ugliness in our soul rather than always look for the ugliness of the body – whther that presents as shallow selfhatred and vanity, or selfdestructive rejection of physicality out of fear and disgust. This peice of writing could not have fallen into my path at a more appropriate or useful moment. Talk about someone Up there trying to tell me something! – I know now in my heart that i have a place in Gods heart and that its ok to be quiet and withdrawn for a while – and while im quiet God will get his message to me online if necessary!

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