The mass to an atheist


A meaningful morning at St. Peter’s

Mass. The word means nothing to someone like me.  It’s a piece of someone else’s life. It’s something I doubt I’ll ever be able to touch. Religion itself is something that I have never been able to touch. As an atheist, I was understandably apprehensive to attend mass in St. Peter’s basilica. My legs shook and the pit in my stomach was eating me alive. We had a choice whether or not to attend mass and I chose to attend. I wanted to see the inside of the church. I wanted to experience its beauty. I decided that the mass itself would mean nothing to me, but I also knew it would mean everything to the people I loved. Almost all my friends are Catholic and a part of me felt that going to this mass would allow me to experience and cherish the biggest piece of their world. Mass. To me it’s just a word. To them it’s their world.

I internally pouted to myself at the prospect of having to wear a dress that covered my shoulders and knees. It would be hot and it irked me to be modest. When I wrote this down, it made me feel like I was a petulant child again pouting at my grandmother as she forced me into a frilly dress on an early Sunday morning.

We left around six thirty in the morning on our first Sunday in Italy. If I’m honest, I began to question my own resolve to go. Why am I doing this? I don’t love their God. I don’t believe their doctrine. Why am I doing this? These were the questions that raced through my mind with each bump on the road. I blame love, beauty, and my own stubbornness. I wanted to show my love and dedication to my friends and I wanted to see the beauty of the church. I’m a history major, after all. And if you know me, you know I am endlessly stubborn for better or for worse.

The mass was in Italian, so I cannot say much on the content. Even if I had understood the priest, I wouldn’t have truly understood. To me, the content of the mass didn’t quite matter. As I sat, seemingly alone in a room full of those who are said to be loved eternally, I watched. I watched the Catholics with open eyes. I wanted to try to understand. I think I understood a fraction of everything. I sat alone, but everyone was together. Everyone had an invisible force holding them. I couldn’t understand the mass. I couldn’t feel what they felt, but I saw it. I saw it in the contentness of their faces. I saw it in the weeping woman in the front row. I saw it in the stillness of the children. I could see that they felt something. That they felt loved and peaceful. I saw it when they bowed and they took their daily bread. I refused a blessing. I think I refused it because I felt as if I took the blessing that I would contaminate it. So I sat and bowed my head and pondered everything I believed.

I am an atheist. Despite my attempts to love a God, I am sure that I am an atheist and I doubt that’ll ever change. I don’t know if their God is real or if they are simply giving reference to life’s great gifts, but I have found that it doesn’t quite matter. Because it is real to them. If it wasn’t, mass would have been empty in the sense that their attention would be anywhere else, that they would have remained unmoved by the words they  could not understand, but it was so full. It was full of them and this love that they have for each other and their God. They believe that He is real and after Sunday’s mass it seems to me that that is all that really matters. Because whether He lives or is dead, whether he exists or not, their belief in him fills them with a peace that I have long  dismissed as impossible. Mass doesn’t mean much to me, but today it meant more than I can ever express. 


  1. Dear Ms. Stephens,
    I read your article on attending the Catholic Mass. I felt moved at your words and what you experienced. To me, the most important thing for you to know is how much God truly loves us! And yes, that is everyone. Because He is our creator and our life and our love. God is pure love something us humans have a difficult time with until we learn to Trust Him. Many years ago I experienced His love, I was unsure of the Lord and very alone and afraid. All at once the most wonderful encompassing love surrounded my whole being. Then I knew I was not alone and that God does exist. Learn from my mistakes, your journey is Spiritual and it is a lifetime in learning. God will give you everything you ask for, but you need to trust Him and take that big step into the precipice of turning to the Lord Jesus, the Father will help guide you to the Son. Wish you the best.


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