A few weeks ago, Girasoli asked me if I go to Mass when I'm in Venice. Thanks to her for this blog topic!
Yes, I do go when I’m there, almost everyday. I’m not Catholic and really, I know very little about Catholicism although I’m learning a lot as I research these churches. I admit that my motives weren’t the highest when I went for the first time – I just wanted to be in the Basilica di San Marco after hours so that I could sit down and take the whole place in without being stuck in that crowded, roped-off “tourist herd” line that runs through that cathedral.
But then I discovered that I really enjoy the service. I like the music and the incense and the part where everyone shakes hands and wishes each other peace. At first, I wasn’t sure if I should be going or not - I always sat on the back row and tried to be invisible, and I never went up for the communion part, thank goodness. Then I found a copy of this “Memo for Tourists” in one of the churches (it's also published on the Patriarch of Venice website) which basically says it’s fine for non-Catholics to attend Mass as long as we act right and are dressed properly, turn off our cell phones, and don’t receive Communion. So I’m more relaxed about going now.
I do have a kinda funny, kinda embarrassing story to tell. One afternoon I went into the Basilica and it seemed that Mass was starting over in the chapel of the Madonna Nikopeia. It wasn’t a time when Mass usually happens, but I thought it might be some special holiday Mass so I went over and joined in. There were lots of people there, all very dressed up. I sat there for probably 10 minutes or so, daydreaming and enjoying the music, and all of a sudden, I looked up at the altar and saw a BRIDE!
Well, I was mortified. It’s supposed to be good luck to see an Italian bride, but I have a feeling that the luck doesn’t happen if you crash the poor girl’s wedding. So I quietly crept out of the chapel and then when I got to the front door of the Basilica, I was locked inside! At that point, I was struggling not to laugh out loud and I know my face was bright red. Fortunately I found a security guard who let me out – he was very nice about it and was laughing at me too.
There are a couple of churches in Venice with services in English – San Zulian has Mass in English (9:30 am daily) and there are Anglican services at St. George’s, the British church. I’ve never been to either of these because to tell you the truth, I think that one reason I enjoy Mass so much is the fact that I can’t understand a word they are saying so it ends up being a non-verbal experience for me. It’s sacred but it’s more personal, if that makes any sense. I love these churches so much, of course, and I just think the entire ritual is very beautiful. Would I enjoy it as much if I were in a modern American church with a priest speaking English? Probably not but maybe I should give it a try sometime.
Most of the time, I go to Mass in the Basilica because it’s my favorite building in the world, but I’ve been to a few other places too. In December, I went to a Sunday evening Mass in the Frari that was great fun – it was so wonderful to sit in front of that Titian for an hour, plus the Frari has this young, hip, and handsome priest with great vibes; I really liked him a lot. I went to Mass in the Scalzi one night and that was nice too – there was a singer and the acoustics were just amazing in that church. And I love to pop into some of the smaller parish churches like San Canciano where it's usually just a handful of neighborhood ladies, the priest, and me. There are a bunch of other places that I’d like to go – I want to hear the Gregorian chants at San Giorgio Maggiore some time, and Latin Mass at San Simeon Piccolo, and on and on.
I’ve got another brochure from the Patriarch office that lists the Mass schedules for all active churches in Venice. Some churches only celebrate Mass on Sundays while others have daily schedules. Of the 150 churches in Venice, 83 still celebrate Mass on a regular basis. 68 of these are in the historic center, and the rest are on the lagoon islands.
Now this doesn’t mean that all of the other churches are deconsecrated, it just means that they don’t have Mass regularly. Some churches are open to visitors year-round but only celebrate Mass a few times a year. Mass is also celebrated at a few non-church locations like the San Lorenzo home for the elderly next door to the mysteriously closed church.
This Mass schedule doesn’t seem to be published on the web anywhere so if there’s a church you’re interested in, leave me a comment and I’ll give you its schedule.
Oh, and about the photo at the top. If you want to go to Mass in the Basilica, you don’t have to stand in line in front with the crowds, you just go to that door on the left side of the church (from the Piazzetta dei Leoncini) and tell the guy you are going to Mass. He’ll let you right in. This beautiful entrance is a late 13th century work called "Porta dei Fiori."
They celebrate Mass seven times a day in the Basilica (7, 8, 9, 10, 11, Noon, and 6:45) on weekdays. The Sunday schedule is slightly different; here it is on the official website. I’ve never made it to one of the early morning services, but I really like the Noon one because the lights are always on and you can see the mosaics so well, but sometimes the tourists tromping through are kinda loud. The 6:45 evening Mass is nice because the place is closed.
Thanks Girasoli for the question...I didn't realize the answer would be so long!