Putting Flesh on the Word “Catholic” — Easter Mass in Bali, Indonesia

In this most-populated Muslim country in the world we arrived at St Francis Xavier Church at about 7:45 AM for what we were told was to be an 8 AM Easter Sunday Mass.

As we walked up the steps and were greeted by smiles and many “Happy Easter”s a man in his 40’s volunteered that Mass began at 9 AM. With three young boys in tow, I must say, I did not relish the thought of having to try to keep them quiet for an hour and 15 minutes.

We entered a large and lovely interior with a life size Crucifix behind the altar. Statues of Our Lady, St Joseph and St Francis Xavier were situated in the side altars and naves. A large and life-like Stations of the Cross adorned the walls above the pews. We were delighted with the beauty and reverence of this wonderful Church.

We also noticed that the Church was about 20% full 75 minutes before the start of Mass. Many, if not most, of the congregation was kneeling in silent prayer. Some, clearly, saying the Rosary. It surely seemed that the reverence of the church caused our three little men to remain calm and quiet. The people were well dressed and many men wore traditional Balinese garb (ankle length robe, fancy shirt and headdress).

Just before Mass began, a full choir started singing lovely hymns in the local language. The entire congregation joined in and it was very moving. Songs during Mass were lively and all participated. Many of the hymns were in Latin, i.e. the Sanctus, Agnes Dei etc. I can honestly say I have never heard a louder “Alleluia” in my life. Oh, that people back home sung with such vigor at Mass. I was reminded of that line from st. Augustine: “He who sings prays twice.”

Three priests concelebrated the Mass in the local language. As we turned around (we were in the 4th row) to shake hands I noticed the entire Church was jammed packed, with seating outside and — we later learned — also in the basement. I would estimate the crowd at about 1,200 people.

Mass was almost two hours long. At the end of Mass just before the final blessing, the three priests came down the altar steps and all the children (from babes-in-arms to about 15 years old) came up to be blessed by the priests. They made a sign of the cross on each forehead. It was quite special. This procession took almost 15 minutes and no one bolted for the exits.

In the cab back to the hotel, we discussed Mass with our three boys. They all enjoyed it and agreed that while it was in a different language they all understood what went on at Mass. It was a great opportunity for all of us to appreciate the Catholicity of our Holy Faith.

It was a Blessed Easter and Mass in Bali certainly was a blessing indeed.

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