User-agent: * Allow: / Trenton Butcher Block: Where Mass isn't Boring

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Commentary on national and local events from the standpoint of a Trenton city resident and state worker.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Where Mass isn't Boring

Our Lady of Guadaloupe is the patron saint of Mexico.  Certainly this would be an odd choice for a stained glass window in circa 1900 Trenton.  Over 100 years later, this choice has become extremely relevant at Immaculate Conception on Chestnut Ave.

After a couple years of blowing off Sunday mass, I decided to begin participating in the Catholic church again.  As anyone who isn't fanatical about Catholicism knows, mass at most places is boring.  What you usually get on Sunday is a church that is three-quarters empty and where the average age of a congregant is about 70 or 80.  Wow, you can hang out with a few people that really need the product the priest is selling - a trip to heaven.

Such is the case at St. Joachim's on Bayard Street.  They have a nice Romanesque sanctuary, which is a real rarity - most churches built before World War II were Gothic in design.  Very small and homey.  But the problem is that the parishioners have been dropping off like flies and the number of grey heads in the pews has dropped off noticeably since I stopped going a few years ago.  Also, the priests are even older than the congregants, so you got the 90 year olds preaching to the 70 year olds.  Anyone up for a senior citizen pot luck supper?  Not me.

On Christmas Day, I got up late and went to 12:00 mass instead of 11:00. In Trenton this means you have to pick your language, and that language will be something other than English.  Now let's see, do you want Polish or Spanish, or perhaps Korean.  At first I thought that hanging out with the foreigners for Sunday worship would be something akin to going for root canal therapy.

For me, the choice was fairly easy.  While the Poles look like me, I don't understand one lick of Polish, so I went with Immaculate Conception on Chestnut Ave. for Spanish mass.  When I went there I noticed a few things, the first being that the people who picked out the stained glass windows over a century ago made an appropriate choice for today which they would not have imagined at the time the windows were installed.

Yep.  There she was in the middle position on the church's North side.  Our Lady of Guadalupe, patron saint of Mexico, which is now located in a church full of Mexicans and Guatemalans.  There was another notable thing about this congregation.  The pews were full- a packed house in a large Gothic church, and they were full of people in their 20s, 30s and 40s with children in tow.  What do you know, a live congregation.

Now, a you may know, I started a new job on in the economics and statistics section at the Labor Department.  Where my old job involved writing about the economy, my new job involves being a resource person for our statistics.  As a statistical expert, I know a few things about the Hispanic population which explains what is going on at Imaculate.  For one thing, Hispanics have an extremely high birth rate.  While non-Hispanic whites in the state now have a birth rate below that needed to replace losses due to death and outmigration, the Hispanic population is growing faster than either Blacks or Asians, and most of the growth is due to natural increase rather than immigration.  Yes it is true they breed like rabbits, or at least the Irish Americans I remember from my childhood growing up in 1960s Hamilton.  Families of 4, 5 aand 6 kids are common. 

Just as important, a greater proportiion of Hispanics attend Sunday worship services than Blacks, Whites or Asians.  While church attendance has fallen dramatically among low income whites and blacks in the last 30 years, attendance among Hispanics remains uniformly high among Hispanics regardless of educational attainment or income level.

Not only do these people take the church's prohibition against contraception and abortion seriously, they continue to remain faithful, even if they have little income or education.

If you want to see a packed Catholic church with a good cantor and choir, Immaculate Conception at 12:00 is a must-see.

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