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Recently on a slightly alcohol-fuelled night out I had a moment of madness and invited one of my agnostic friends along to evening prayer at Plymouth Cathedral.
We often have vigorous discussions about religion but I must admit I was sceptical that she would actually come, or, whether if she did, she would enjoy it. The next day she mentioned it and said she’d love to come along and give it a go.
I was pretty worried that this was a bad move, but she came along one Sunday for Vespers and was emotionally overwhelmed by the experience. I was amazed at how much it had impacted on her. The atmosphere of being in the cathedral, combined with the incense, organ and welcome she received from the two sisters sitting behind us all contributed to her positive experience.
She cannot explain the reason for the emotion she experienced; it was unexpected, out of the blue. I have told her that what she described was similar to how I felt in Lourdes when I felt the closest I have ever felt to God. I am delighted that she is keen to come again.
I have only recently discovered praying the office myself (only morning and evening prayer) but I enjoy it even more praying in a group. The group at the cathedral is small, but recently I was at a vocations meeting at Arundel Cathedral and there were about 26 of us chanting Vespers together; roughly 10 clergy, 6 seminarians and 8 "discerners". It was a beautiful experience.
It is sad that it seems a lot of Catholics attend church on Sunday (if you’re lucky) but do little extra. Perhaps as part of the New Evangelisation we should encourage people from all walks of life to experience prayer in other ways. It may be that a short 30 minutes or so of praying the office either to music or chanted could inspire not only churchgoers, but others too.
I think this is because it feels like more of a spiritual experience than Mass which can lack the atmosphere of chanted prayer. Chanted prayer has the ability to enhance the emotions and awaken the spirit whereas if you are not used to it/do not fully understand it Mass can feel quite disjointed, confusing, and therefore boring.
My friend has spoken so highly of her experience, and how it has changed her perception of church, prayer and the Christian faith that now three of my other friends are keen to try it. Taking friends to mass has never been as successful as this!