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Exploring Christian Liturgy and Rituals: A Pilgrim's Guide

Burton Axxe

Member
Time of past OR future Camino
April-May 2023
I’m best described as a lapsed Christian. I grew up in a North American baptist tradition and walked away in my late 20s. I’m hoping that my upcoming (first) Camino will allow me to re-connect, if not with my previous beliefs, at least with something more mystical and transcendent than the norms of my life.

For those reasons, I look forward to the masses, blessings, and other liturgical church-based ‘events’ that surround the Camino. The problem is, while I know my theology and church history well, I have little grasp as to how Mass and other liturgical events are conducted. As a pilgrim, can someone offer a primer as to what I’m expected to do/say during these events?
 
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Well, the Catholic Mass is a topic in itself, and very off-topic on the forum for several reasons. I would advise you to ask in a different forum.

As a non-Catholic Christian pilgrim though, the main thing is that you should generally refrain from receiving material Communion unless you believe in the Real Presence of Christ in Eucharist, and you are in a sufficient state of Sacramental Grace. This advice more or less is what's given to pilgrims on their arrival at the Cathedral in Santiago.

None of this prevents Spiritual Communion during Mass, and indeed this is straightforwardly encouraged.
 
My suggestion is to go into a local Catholic Church where you live. There should be some form of a mass booklet available. Not sure about Japan? Go to a mass or two in your native language while home. Follow the Roman Catholic rite. You may also find other Christian Celebrations in the larger towns.

In English (USA) consider

There are differences in the translations between countries.

Go online to research the translations in Spain.

Alsoif you are traveling during liturgical seasons (not ordinary time) such as Lent,Easter, Advent, Christmas there are changes from normal time. This is particularly true of Holy Week. So when you go may also impact the celebrations.

When all else fails follow the crowd there will be many non Catholics worshiping! all will be welcomed…
 
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My husband and I are not Catholic, but try to never miss an opportunity to attend Mass on the Camino-- especially Pilgrim Mass. Just go. If you don't understand Spanish that is fine. Stand up and sit down with the others. Sing or hum along as you are able with the music. If you are not Catholic, don't take communion, but stand in front of the priest with your arms crossed which is the sign to ask for a blessing. Often at the end Pilgrims will be called up for a special blessing in a Pilgrims Mass.

It is simple and usually the church is cool. Use the time for your meditation or prayer as you wish.

As hospitaleros our work often involves taking other pilgrims to evening mass for those who want to attend. Many are hesitant because they don't know what to do so it is nice to go with someone else. At Grañón, we attended every evening and became part of the regular evening congregation which with pilgrims sometimes doubled attendence. It was a lovely and special time.
 
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It's great that you are asking before you go. Welcome to the RC church! It's a big church-- really big. Some traditions differ from place to place and then again, much is constant at every mass. I'm a RC and would be glad to answer questions. May I suggest that you go to a mass near your home before your pilgrimage to see how the mass works. In some ways it's like a protestant (baptist) service, and in other ways it's really different. Here is a website that gives upbeat detail. https://bustedhalo.com/googling-god/mass-class/whats-happening-in-the-mass.

Masses can be long or short. There can be lots of music or none. Daily mass is usually very quick, Sunday is more -- well, more everything. And then there are masses like Easter Vigil, which is very long (and beautiful!)

Everyone is welcome at a blessing! And mass, and at vespers. And you can light always light candle and say a prayer.

One thing to know though, is that a person may not receive communion (the consecrated bread and/or wine), unless that person is catholic (or a few other specific demoninations). You can go up to the altar (along with everyone else), but cross your arms over your chest and you will receive a blessing and not communion. (A blessing here is when the priest or person giving out communion will say a quick prayer and make the sign of the cross on your forehead.)

Lastly,-- as all of this will be in Spanish, may I suggest you find a Spanish mass website on your phone that has the prayers in Spanish so you can read along.
 
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You may have difficulty finding a mass to attend. On the Frances in May 2019, I did encounter evening Pilgrim masses in the larger cities and Roncessvalles. Sunday mass was a different story. The only one I remember finding was in Puente de la Reina. I was waiting for some clothing I forgot in Pamplona to be delivered in the van that carries pilgrim packs. The van was due at 11:00 and there was a mass at 11:00 in the church next to the albergue where my stuff was going to be dropped off. Many of the small towns you might stay in do not have priests, so unless you happen to encounter a priest walking the Camino, it may be difficult to find a mass. Also, many of the towns where there was a mass, it was not until noon. Once you get into a daily routine, you just get up and go and hope that you will find a mass down the road instead of waiting all morning for mass. Everyone's Camino experience is different, but I was surprised by the difficulty in finding a mass to attend.
 
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We attended pilgrim Mass in the evening at Roncesvalles, Los Arcos, Grañón, Viana, and Burgos. There may be others and I am sure there are. Our Pilgrim Mass in Estella was only once a week, but was in the evening at San Miguel. Especially in the parroquial albergues there may be a listing of times and locations posted as we had in Zamora. In Canfranc Pueblo and Caldazilla de los Herminillos Mass was only once every 2 weeks in town. Maybe check with the hospitalero.
 
I don't remember attending any Catholic masses before my first camino but I did attend a few along the Way. My Spanish is so so. For parts of the services I would try to follow what was being said but at times I would ease out and just listen to the music of the language and pretend that I was at an old Latin mass (where no one else understood what was being said either).
 
The focus is on reducing the risk of failure through being well prepared. 2nd ed.
Catholic priest here.

1. You are welcome into any open Catholic Church to pray. (I often found that churches in Spain were locked when not in use for Mass, except in the largest towns.)
2. If there are candles available, anyone may light one and offer a prayer, presuming they leave an offering to cover the cost of the candle and a little extra gift for the parish.
3. During Mass, stand, sit, and kneel (or sit when others kneel if you prefer) as others do. No one is watching you. Be at peace.
4. If you don’t speak, Spanish, feel free to offer your own prayer intentions during Mass, do deep breathing exercises, or any other spiritual practice that doesn’t require movement. The churches are often old and beautiful, and are intended to be an aid to the spirit of your prayer.
5. If you have a smart phone and Wifi, you can open up the webpage that has the day’s readings for most Catholic churches in the world. Sometimes (not too often) there will be a local feast with different readings, but if you don’t know Spanish, you won’t know that anyway. Readings can be found at https://bible.usccb.org/daily-bible-reading and will be accurate for your needs 95% of the time. The readings start when people sit down for the first time after Mass has started. Feel free to read along in English.
6. Please do not carry on conversations, even quiet ones, during Mass. If your phone rings, move outside before answering it, although it would be best if you simply turned the ringer off before entering the church.
7. If, at any time during the Mass, they ask for pilgrims, peregrinos, to stand or come forward, feel free to participate. Most everyone presumes the goodwill of pilgrims in process, and could care less if you are Catholic or not. Let the blessings overflow.
8. Offer goodwill, and expect to receive it.
 
My husband and I are not Catholic, but try to never miss an opportunity to attend Mass on the Camino-- especially Pilgrim Mass. Just go. If you don't understand Spanish that is fine. Stand up and sit down with the others. Sing or hum along as you are able with the music. If you are not Catholic, don't take communion, but stand in front of the priest with your arms crossed which is the sign to ask for a blessing. Often at the end Pilgrims will be called up for a special blessing in a Pilgrims Mass.

It is simple and usually the church is cool. Use the time for your meditation or prayer as you wish.

As hospitaleros our work often involves taking other pilgrims to evening mass for those who want to attend. Many are hesitant because they don't know what to do so it is nice to go with someone else. At Grañón, we attended every evening and became part of the regular evening congregation which with pilgrims sometimes doubled attendence. It was a lovely and special time.
That is perfect advice. We have done 3 caminos. We go to pilgrim mass whenever we can. And we are not Catholic.
 
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The only thing I would add to an otherwise comprehensive list of things to do is that you may find that the congregation will exchange a sign of peace with those around them at some point in the service. In earlier times this might have been a polite embrace, but now is going to be a double-handed handclasp, ie not a handshake. I normally say 'peace be with you' or if I am responding 'and also with you'.

I was born and raised in a Catholic family, but have not practiced for many years. I do like to attend Mass when I can on the Camino and when I reach SDC. I find it one of the more touching moments of the liturgy.
 
I am not Catholic.

I attended Mass as often as possible on my second and subsequent caminos. Calmed my spirit quite a bit.

I had a booklet outlining the service with English on side Spanish the other.

Every now and then parishioners would hiss no reading.

I’d quickly show them what I was reading.

They’d smile then leave me be.

Buen camino.
 
OP here.

Thanks for the helpful and informative comments thus far.

Living in rural Japan, there is little chance for me to observe RC liturgy. I’m more than familiar with Buddhist and Shinto practices but do not want to look like a complete fool when partaking in mass on the Camino.
 
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Living in rural Japan, there is little chance for me to observe RC liturgy
If you wish to do so, you can watch the live broadcast from the Cathedral of Santiago. Mass at 9:30, 12:00 and 19:30 are usually broadcast every day.


I‘m sure that you can find broadcasts from other churches in Spain. Google for this: misa domingo directo site:.es
 
I’m best described as a lapsed Christian. I grew up in a North American baptist tradition and walked away in my late 20s. I’m hoping that my upcoming (first) Camino will allow me to re-connect, if not with my previous beliefs, at least with something more mystical and transcendent than the norms of my life.

For those reasons, I look forward to the masses, blessings, and other liturgical church-based ‘events’ that surround the Camino. The problem is, while I know my theology and church history well, I have little grasp as to how Mass and other liturgical events are conducted. As a pilgrim, can someone offer a primer as to what I’m expected to do/say during these events?
Apart from all the good advice others have already shared, you might find this document useful. It's a bilingual mass guide. On the left, you can see what the priest would be saying in Spanish; and the English translation is on the right.
https://docs.misas.org/docs/descarga/missa_es_en.pdf
 
I am a lapsed Presbyterian, however I attended several masses on the Camino. While I did not understand what was going on I felt welcome and being unfamiliar with Catholic ritual was not a problem. No one expected us to be familiar and in at least two of them the priest asked all the pilgrims to come forward for a blessing. I could see us non Catholic pilgrims hesitating but in each case the priest made us feel at ease and this added a great deal to the experience. Just go with the flow Burton Axxe.
 
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… My suggestion is to go into a local Catholic Church where you live. There should be some form of a mass booklet available. Not sure about Japan? Go to a mass or two in your native language while home. Follow the Roman Catholic rite. You may also find other Christian Celebrations in the larger towns.
But the way it's done n one country might not be the way it's done in others. I recommend folks with Burton's concern just sit (stand/kneel) behind everyone else and try to do what they do. (Or just watch. I am not Roman Catholic, but most of the misa is consistent with my beliefs. So I do and say most of it, but for one or two of the sayings, I just remain silent.)
 
Catholic priest here. (much good advice skipped)
I'm surprised you omitted the suggestion for people not R.C. to not partake of the Eucharist. I overheard some very angry muttering when someone who isn't got in line at a funeral mass.
 
OP here.

Thanks for the helpful and informative comments thus far.

Living in rural Japan, there is little chance for me to observe RC liturgy. I’m more than familiar with Buddhist and Shinto practices but do not want to look like a complete fool when partaking in mass on the Camino.
Actually, the RC Church has made quite a few inroads in rural Japan (I say it from first-hand knowledge of living and visiting there!). In fact, at Mass in one of the smaller churches in Japan, the priest would be a valuable resource for your questions. In Fukui, we were often a small group of less than a dozen at the English-language Mass.
 
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I’m not Roman Catholic. I’m technically Church of England (belief in God apparently optional); but I do attend Mass on the Camino and find the cadence of much of the service familiar. I do speak Spanish, so that helps.

I once assisted at Mass in O’Cebrerio; which was memorable.

Somewhere in the resources section on here is a dual-language (Spanish/English) Mass ‘script’ which might be useful.
 
It
Catholic priest here.

1. You are welcome into any open Catholic Church to pray. (I often found that churches in Spain were locked when not in use for Mass, except in the largest towns.)
2. If there are candles available, anyone may light one and offer a prayer, presuming they leave an offering to cover the cost of the candle and a little extra gift for the parish.
3. During Mass, stand, sit, and kneel (or sit when others kneel if you prefer) as others do. No one is watching you. Be at peace.
4. If you don’t speak, Spanish, feel free to offer your own prayer intentions during Mass, do deep breathing exercises, or any other spiritual practice that doesn’t require movement. The churches are often old and beautiful, and are intended to be an aid to the spirit of your prayer.
5. If you have a smart phone and Wifi, you can open up the webpage that has the day’s readings for most Catholic churches in the world. Sometimes (not too often) there will be a local feast with different readings, but if you don’t know Spanish, you won’t know that anyway. Readings can be found at https://bible.usccb.org/daily-bible-reading and will be accurate for your needs 95% of the time. The readings start when people sit down for the first time after Mass has started. Feel free to read along in English.
6. Please do not carry on conversations, even quiet ones, during Mass. If your phone rings, move outside before answering it, although it would be best if you simply turned the ringer off before entering the church.
7. If, at any time during the Mass, they ask for pilgrims, peregrinos, to stand or come forward, feel free to participate. Most everyone presumes the goodwill of pilgrims in process, and could care less if you are Catholic or not. Let the blessings overflow.
8. Offer goodwill, and expect to receive it.
It’s a pleasure to read this. Clearly many are welcoming of participation and less hung-up on the technicalities than others.
 
BTW , the crossing of the arms when " in line " for Holy Communion to indicate you do not want to receive Holy Communion is not at all a widespread " custom " in many catholic churches in Western Europe. Ok, might be the case in some churches on the Francés but not common at all.
Different when the priest calls the pilgrims to come forward for a general blessing.
Otherwise, just keep sitting in your chair and do not get in line.
 
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I confess I did not read this entire post, so maybe someone else posted this, but here is the Mass in Spanish.
 

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Catholic Mass is not just for the Camino! Seek out Mass at your own local Catholic church to help you remember the peace that you found on the Camino.

-Paul
As the BBC would have to say these days ‘other religions, or none, are also available’

To quote Alistair Campbell’s advice to Tony Blair (I know I’m going to have to wipe this iPhone) ‘We don’t do God’

Rule 2.
 
“Cross my heart and hope to die if what I’m saying is a lie”.

The song of the unforgiven. Unshriven. “Father, it’s been a few reincarnations since my last confession”.
The crossed-arms seems to be generally recognized in English Catholic Churches and in my occasional experience in Spain but I cannot speak to any universal acceptance. While the concept of transubstantiation is easy for most pagans for others who might choke on it the advice is stay in your seat during the communion
 
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I have little grasp as to how Mass and other liturgical events are conducted. As a pilgrim, can someone offer a primer as to what I’m expected to do/say during these events?
How is Mass conducted - a non controversial outline

Firstly, in some places Mass also has a name derived from the Greek, Eucharist which, being translated, means Thanksgiving.

And Mass / Eucharist is conducted in Roman Catholic and Anglican / Episcopalian and Lutheran churches.

With some minor exceptions the language is that of the place (English, French, Italian, Spanish, whatever)

On a Sunday the service has four main parts:
  • Gathering - we apologise for mistakes since we last met and say a song from down the ages
  • Readings/Teaching/Prayers - read a psalm and three Bible passages set down for the day, hear a sermon/homily, we say a statement of faith (creed) and offers prayers for the church and the world
  • Eucharist and Communion - consecrate the bread and wine, say the Our Father/Lord's Prayer, receive the consecrated bread and wine (in times of communicable disease this is often not done)
  • Sending out - final prayer, blessing and dismissal
And, of course, with musicians present, several songs may be interspersed.

A weekday Eucharist usually has a lighter 'weight' - two readings, short homily (if any) and one or no songs.

Other liturgical events is harder to cover. I would take this to cover the three main "offices" during the day. These are Morning Prayer (Matins), Evening Prayer (Evensong) and Night Prayer (Compline). Apart from some hostels, I have not encountered these on camino. And then they are usually in a form devised by the leader and so easy (in my experience) to follow.

As to what are you expected to say?
My suggestion is listen.
Or as one of the Gospels say "mark, learn and inwardly digest".

So, @Burton Axxe, I say to you kia kaha, kia māia, kia mana'wa'nui (take care, be strong, confident and patient)
 
How is Mass conducted - a non controversial outline

Firstly, in some places Mass also has a name derived from the Greek, Eucharist which, being translated, means Thanksgiving.

And Mass / Eucharist is conducted in Roman Catholic and Anglican / Episcopalian and Lutheran churches.

With some minor exceptions the language is that of the place (English, French, Italian, Spanish, whatever)

On a Sunday the service has four main parts:
  • Gathering - we apologise for mistakes since we last met and say a song from down the ages
  • Readings/Teaching/Prayers - read a psalm and three Bible passages set down for the day, hear a sermon/homily, we say a statement of faith (creed) and offers prayers for the church and the world
  • Eucharist and Communion - consecrate the bread and wine, say the Our Father/Lord's Prayer, receive the consecrated bread and wine (in times of communicable disease this is often not done)
  • Sending out - final prayer, blessing and dismissal
And, of course, with musicians present, several songs may be interspersed.

A weekday Eucharist usually has a lighter 'weight' - two readings, short homily (if any) and one or no songs.

Other liturgical events is harder to cover. I would take this to cover the three main "offices" during the day. These are Morning Prayer (Matins), Evening Prayer (Evensong) and Night Prayer (Compline). Apart from some hostels, I have not encountered these on camino. And then they are usually in a form devised by the leader and so easy (in my experience) to follow.

As to what are you expected to say?
My suggestion is listen.
Or as one of the Gospels say "mark, learn and inwardly digest".

So, @Burton Axxe, I say to you kia kaha, kia māia, kia mana'wa'nui (take care, be strong, confident and patient)
Very helpful and clear. Thanks.
 
The only thing I would add to an otherwise comprehensive list of things to do is that you may find that the congregation will exchange a sign of peace with those around them at some point in the service. In earlier times this might have been a polite embrace, but now is going to be a double-handed handclasp, ie not a handshake. I normally say 'peace be with you' or if I am responding 'and also with you'.
I try to say "la paz sea contigo" (peace be with you) in my best Spanish.
 
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My husband and I are not Catholic, but try to never miss an opportunity to attend Mass on the Camino-- especially Pilgrim Mass. Just go. If you don't understand Spanish that is fine. Stand up and sit down with the others. Sing or hum along as you are able with the music. If you are not Catholic, don't take communion, but stand in front of the priest with your arms crossed which is the sign to ask for a blessing. Often at the end Pilgrims will be called up for a special blessing in a Pilgrims Mass.

It is simple and usually the church is cool. Use the time for your meditation or prayer as you wish.

As hospitaleros our work often involves taking other pilgrims to evening mass for those who want to attend. Many are hesitant because they don't know what to do so it is nice to go with someone else. At Grañón, we attended every evening and became part of the regular evening congregation which with pilgrims sometimes doubled attendence. It was a lovely and special time.
Someone asked me the name of the churches in both Sarria and Viana that offer Pilgrim Mass.
I could lead them to each one, but don't know the names.
Does anyone here know the names of those churches?
Thanks
 
Someone asked me the name of the churches in both Sarria and Viana that offer Pilgrim Mass.
I could lead them to each one, but don't know the names.
Does anyone here know the names of those churches?
Thanks
Santa Maria in Viana. I don't know if there priest currently does pilgrim mass. I heard a rumor the one who was doing that in 2016 had passed on. Not sure about Sarria as we did not stay there.
 

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