Mass in St Paul’s Cathedral at the Vatican is an otherworldly experience. Straight from the hotel, we drop our bags, throw on our wrinkled Sunday best, and slip in just in time for the final service at 17:45. We are a hushed, small crowd of pilgrims huddled on humble wooden pews, surrounded by absolute magnificence.
My eyes are hypnotized by the altar – a throne sits on a golden plume of smoke or clouds, floating under a mosaic of stained glass with a dove at the center. As the choir begins to sing, the evening sun shines through the dove, casting a massive beam of light over our heads. Dust lingers in the sunbeam and the notes linger in the air, then rise into the domed ceiling.
Mass, ever mysterious to me, is mystical through the Bishop’s deep and melodious voice, reverberating through this massive cathedral in Latin and Italian. I look around the congregation of collared priests, nuns in modest habits, even a sprinkling of monks.
This is where priests and nuns go to church, I think.
“Wow” doesn’t quite cut it.
After the service, the Bishop is gracious enough to allow the crowd to take photos of the altar for a few minutes before closing up. I look at Sal, who shakes his head. We forgot our camera.
We come back the next morning and the queue is an endless snake of camera-studded tourists. It’s a totally different experience in the cathedral. The altar is darkened and roped off, the air is buzzing with loud voices and peppered with camera flashes instead of melodious Latin and wafting incense.
We mail a postcard or two from the Vatican post office. At the Vatican gift shop, I pick up a silver dove necklace to remind me of that stained glass, shining with mystery and loveliness.
Besides, maybe the Pope blesses these necklaces personally. You never know.