The Ascension Catholic Church is located in 2950 North Harbor City Blvd Melbourne Florida. The close proximity of the church from my home enabled me make a visit to the church last Sunday for the morning mass at 9.30 am. My neighbor who is a member of the church had earlier invited me to visit the church with him on Wednesday evening. He further informed me of the church’s dressing code and even suggested that I accompany him to the church. However, since I wanted to get more exposure I declined this offer. Instead, we resolved to attend the Sunday service since it had higher attendance from the congregation (Ascension Catholic Community1).
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The Ascension Catholic Church is a member of the Diocese of Orlando that consists of other churches within Florida. The church is located in a serene environment that makes it an ideal location for worship. The actual church building has a sitting capacity of approximately one thousand two hundred people. On the right at the entrance, I dipped my finger and made a sign of the cross on my forehead in a holy water font. My neighbor friend informed me that the father had blessed the water and this is used as reminder of baptism. It further signifies respect as one enters into the house of God amongst Catholic faithful. The same routine is repeated as faithful exit the church (Ascension Catholic Community1).
History of the church and nature of worshippers
I was welcomed into the church by members of the welcome team who usher in new parishioners and orient them into the church. This greatly uplifted my spirits and I felt appreciated and recognized by the church. The congregation at Ascension Catholic Church varies widely representing all ethnicities and age groups of the community. The church has therefore created several masses to cater for all groups of the congregation. The church has further created special categories of the congregation ranging from pre- schoolchildren to junior high schools and teenagers. The adult population consists of special interest outreach groups that cater for disadvantaged members of the society such as the deaf (Ascension Catholic Community1).
The deaf ministry for instance, holds special meetings with those with hearing impairments to encourage and nurture them spiritually. In addition, the job seeker ministry consoles those who have lost employment while also helping them in searching for other alternative sources of income. The Vietnamese community on the other hand, helps immigrants to settle comfortably in America. There is also a community of Hispanic Americans and a different one for Philippines at the church (Ascension Catholic Community1).
The Boy Scout movement however, seeks to develop the physical fitness and moral characters of young men in the congregation. Retirees also have their unique group through which they share ideas and life experiences. Female members of the congregation sponsor days of recollection and other social programs and events that benefit the community. The bereavement ministry helps families cope with death of loved ones while also supporting funeral arrangements. The church also collaborates with the community of hope to provide shelter to the impoverished families to build homes. The church also runs a scholarship fund for bright children and uses volunteers to steer most of its daily activities. This further exemplifies the kind and caring nature of most worshippers at the church. For instance, the transportation ministry transports the sick and elderly to church services and hospital visits (Ascension Catholic Community1).
Description of the church and significance of the symbols used
At the front of the church at the pulpit, there was the bible. However, my friend corrected me that the pulpit was actually known as a lectern and the lectionary as the Catholics refer to it contains parts of the Bible that the father uses to conduct mass. There were different statues in different positions within the church. These statues represented different saints. Moreover, the saints, believed to be in heaven overlook upon the faithful and guide them in their daily lives. For one to become a saint, they have to live exemplary lives while on earth and present good examples to others. There was also a statue of Mary holding her baby, Jesus Christ (Ascension Catholic Community1).
In front of the statue, there were lit candles that are a symbol of prayer. I also noticed 14 pictures all round the walls of the church. These Stations of the Cross tell the story of the suffering and eventual death of Jesus at the hand of Romans. These stations guide Catholic faithful in prayer during the lent period that precedes the Easter festival. At the front of the church, hanging from above there was a cross with a figure on it. This crucifix I was informed represented Jesus crucification on the cross. Some faithful bowed to the crucifix as they entered the church as a sign of respect and adoration for Jesus (Ascension Catholic Community1).
At the middle front of the church, an altar covered in cloth with candles around it is the main figure. On the left of the altar, there is a baptismal font where baptismal rites take place on occasional basis. In addition, there was a cabinet containing three vessels of oil. One is for blessing and strengthening those preparing for Baptism, another for the sick and the third is used in giving sacraments to the faithful. The tabernacle is used to keep holy Eucharist used in communion. The lamp hanging above this small place further represents Jesus presence in inside the special house. Therefore, the catholic take the tabernacle to be the holiest place in the church. The Pascal candle is a symbol of Jesus resurrection and is therefore replaced every Easter. Finally, the canopy hanging above the altar represents the time Jewish were wandering in the desert. Moreover, the canopy serves to remind Catholics of their journey with the Lord (Ascension Catholic Community1).
The actual service and its significance
We all stood up as an introductory song was sung as the priest and ministers entered and proceeded to the altar. The purpose of this opening song was to deepen our unity as the Mass began. After a greeting from the Father in form of a short prayer, we went back to our seats. A group confession of sins followed by singing a hymn before the Father closed the first session with an opening prayer that concludes the introductory rites to every mass(Ascension Catholic Community1).
In the liturgy, we celebrated God’s word by listening to his message from the Bible. This celebration is essential to deepen our faith and thank God for the gift of life. A first reading came from the Old Testament to embrace the role of Jesus as a link between the past and present. This was concluded with a reflective psalm that also created an atmosphere of prayer. The second reading came from the book of Mathews to motivate us in facing the challenges of the modern world. The reading reflected our current challenge of electing a new president in the coming weeks and encouraged us to have faith in God’s guidance to make the correct choice (Ascension Catholic Community1).
A gospel reading from the book of John formed the gospel reading for the Sunday and marked the climax of the liturgy of the word. The sermon taught us that by proclaiming the gospel, we welcome Christ amongst us. Listening to the Gospel proclaimed further reminded us and identified us with the first faithful who heard these teachings from Jesus himself. At the end of the reading, the father proclaimed the gospel of the lord to which we affirmed. After reciting the Apostles Creed, individuals presented their own prayers to the Lord from the altar (Ascension Catholic Community1).
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Worshippers then proceeded to give their offerings through a collection basket that went around. All types of gifts were also presented to the altar from a procession that included children. The father blessed these gifts and asked Jesus to accept them on our behalf.
The father later conducted a different thanksgiving prayer requesting the Lord through his Holy Spirit to transform the gifts into his body and blood. This epiclesis recalled the last supper when Jesus shared the last meal with his disciples before his eventual betrayal. In a moment of silence, the church remembered the sacrifice of Jesus (Ascension Catholic Community1).
The short meditation is crucial to keep his memory by believing in his death, resurrection, and eventual ascension. This memorial further challenges Christians to be ready to make sacrifices as Jesus did while remembering all those who have passed on. Afterwards, church attendants proceed to partake of the holy sacrament that represents Christ’s body while the wine represents his blood that he spilt to save humanity. Public announcements followed before the priest concluded the service (Ascension Catholic Community1).
The service was generally enjoyable except for some of the prayers that I was not accustomed to reciting. The visit was a revelation and I learnt many aspects of the Catholic Church. This has consequently changed my perception on Catholics and the presence of statues in their church. I fully understand the symbolism of these and fully appreciate their beliefs. Furthermore, the priest was lively and used real life experiences in relating the sermon to our daily life experiences. I also found the choir extremely wonderful by the hymns they sung and the dancing by little children from the Sunday school. Moreover, the congregation was friendly and very hospitable to visitors (Ascension Catholic Community1).
What needs to be improved
The church should expand the sitting capacity to accommodate more faithful. I noticed some worshippers stranded outside because of the limited seats available. The parking lot should also be expanded to accommodate more worshippers’ cars. However, these seem not to hinder the congregation visiting the church since all masses are always full (Ascension Catholic Community1).
I really enjoyed my visit to Ascension Catholic Church. Apart from the spiritual nourishment, I gained valuable insight into Catholic history and beliefs. My interaction with the friendly congregation further encouraged me to make regular visits to the church. Finally, I might just make more visits to the church in future to build on this new learning and spiritual experience. This will enable me to break the routine monotony from my church occasionally.
Ascension Catholic Community, 2012. Web. 15th October 2012. <www.ascensioncatholic.net>