As more people trickled in, I watched many of the incoming congregants dipping their fingers into what I later found out to be the holy water font, making the sign of the cross, and bowing their heads to the figure of Jesus on the cross. I wondered if people had noticed that I hadn’t done the same. But before I had time to really worry about others’ perceptions of my unfamiliar face and presence, we all stood up as Father Murray walked in from another entrance into the chapel. I was very nervous, yet intrigued and excited for my first experience of Catholic Mass.
Father Murray also began with bowing to the figure of Jesus on the cross, and started chanting a few prayers, highlighted by “The Lord be with you.” The rest of the opening prayers revolved around asking for God’s mercy, forgiveness, and reconciliation. I immediately felt more comfortable, being highly familiar with this phrase “The Lord be with you”, given the Arabic phrase Muslims often say to one another, “Allah Ma’ak,” which literally translates to “May God be with you.”
As the proceedings continued, however, there were instances in which the congregation would reply to Father Murray’s words in unison or bow. I was again concerned whether others around me noticed that I hadn’t done the same. However, I didn’t ponder too long as the priest introduced the next prayer, a “Prayer for Persecuted Christians.” Father Murray cited that it is important to pray for all those around the world who face persecution for what they believe. With the recent murder of three young Muslims at Chapel Hill in North Carolina, and the strong possibility of it being a hate crime, I was consoled to know that the three victims and the Muslim community at large had the support and supplications of other communities.
As soon as Father Murray finished this specific prayer, a young lady from the congregation stood and walked to the front. She introduced the Book of Genesis as the Bible verses she was about to read and began right away. These verses she read (Genesis 2:18-25) revolved around the belief of the creation of Eve from one of Adam’s ribs, and Adam responding “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman’ for she was taken out of man” (Genesis 2:23). Although the creation of Eve in the Islamic faith is not explicitly mentioned, the verses that the woman read still resonated with me to a certain extent. Allah states in the Qur’an, “O mankind, fear your Lord, who created you from one soul and created from it its mate and dispersed from both of them many men and women” (Qur’an 4:1). Another verse in the Qur’an states “It is He who created you from one soul and created from it its mate that he may dwell in security with her” (Qur’an 7:189). Thus, the Qur’an highlights that men and women were created from the same essence, a concept I was reminded of upon hearing the young woman reading verses from the Book of Genesis, even though the two faiths differ in the exact creation of Eve.
Towards the end of the Mass, Father Murray asked the congregants to greet each other with peace. The man next to me, turned to me, shook my hand, and said “May peace be with you.” I was amazed. I replied with the same greeting. The lady in front of me turned around and did the exact same thing – “May peace be with you.” As I was continuously greeted with peace and offered those around me peace, I couldn’t help but reflect on this wonderful moment. I found such comfort. Muslims around the world, regardless of their language or culture, are familiar with this universal greeting, “Salaam Alaikum,” which translates to “May peace be with you.” In fact, it is highly encouraged for Muslims to always greet each other and bid farewell with this “Salaam Alaikum.” This notion of greeting the other with peace is so ingrained within me that I sometimes, by habit, say “Salaam Alaikum” to my non-Muslim friends, leaving them confused until I explain the concept. These greetings at my first ever Mass left a lasting impression on me, as I left the chapel and bid Father Murray on my way out with “May peace be with you”.