At the Mass's opening, Father Felix Shabi's voice sounded from behind the red curtain concealing the Sanctuary. "In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit..." The curtain hung from a frame, painted -- like the rest of the church -- with a sweet, homespun piety. A Paschal lamb at the center, surrounded by angels in the Fra Angelico mode. After the introductory prayer, the congregation broke into song -- a chant, in Chaldean and full of minor intervals -- and the curtain opened to reveal Shabi, dressed in red robes, standing before the altar with his back to the people. He faced a stained-glass cross, upon which hung a Corpus, and around which painted angels hovered, surrounded by clouds and sky. Streams flowed from the foot of the cross, giving life to the surrounding earth, and bringing forth grapes and wheat. A chalice and host stood amid the fruit of the earth.
The readings, taken from Genesis and Corinthians, were presented by a young man and a young woman. Later in the Mass, they offered prayers. (The man: "On the day of your second coming, we will arise before you and welcome you...." The woman: "Let us seek mercy and forgiveness from God, the Lord of all, and let us grant pardon to our neighbor....") Youth spoke up again from the choir, singing modern songs ("My Jesus, my Savior, Lord there is none like you...") that sounded a little less modern accompanied by classical guitar.
Shabi intoned much of the Mass (in both English and Chaldean). But the Gospel, in which Jesus exhorted the disciples to be like little children, warned against leading little ones astray, and compared lost "little ones" to strayed sheep -- was spoken. In his homily, Shabi said the child "follows the head of the family.... We are all God's children.... If we are looking to be somebody higher than our brothers...we have to cut out this idea." He cautioned parents about the example they set for children. And he encouraged us to seek out lost sheep: "Why does Jesus speak about sheep? The sheep live in a society -- there are no separate sheep. When the shepherd takes them out, they stay together.... I feel happy when I see somebody from our church looking for people, bringing them to confession or for Mass. We have to imitate Jesus."
At the sign of peace, Shabi first turned to the people and made the sign of the cross. Then he gently clapped his open hands around the hand of a Servant -- wishing him Christ's peace as he did so. The Servant descended to the four acolytes and clapped his hands around theirs. Then the acolytes rushed along the center aisle, clapping their hands around the hands of the congregants at the ends of the pews, who then turned and passed the sign along to their neighbors.
"Whoever has not received baptism let him leave," intoned the Servant as the priest prepared to consecrate the bread and wine. Reverence and silence were requested. Many prayers surrounded the consecration -- prayers of praise and thanksgiving, prayers for forgiveness, prayers for worthy reception. After the consecration, Shabi moved around the altar and faced the people. Bending -- hunched -- over the altar, his motions deliberate, Shabi broke the bread and dipped the corner of one piece into the cup, staining it purple, "Let the venerable body be marked with the life-giving body of our Lord Jesus Christ.... Let the holy body be signed with the expiating blood of our Lord Jesus Christ...." The Servant spoke: "The Cherubim and Seraphim...are standing by the altar with respect and worship. They watch the priest consecrating and breaking the body of Christ for the remission of offenses."
Later, once again with his back to the people, he presented the stained host by elevating it slightly and then stepping aside and bowing -- the host never moving as he did so. The final blessing quoted the Gospel "Amen, amen, I say to you, any one who eats my body and drinks my blood dwells in me and I in him, and I shall raise him up on the last day."
What happens when we die?
"When we die," says Father Shabi, "we will go immediately to the last judgment. But, in fact, today is not the last judgment...we are living in our time, not God's time.... If you are a good man, you will go to heaven; if you are a bad man, you will go to hell.... But there is no pure man. The Bible says that even the righteous man makes seven sins a day. So we have to go to Purgatory to purify our sins. Then, at the last judgment, Jesus will lead us to heaven. If we are bad people, we will never see heaven, even though we are Christians."
1627 Jamacha Way, El Cajon
Denomination: Chaldean Catholic
Founded locally: 1973
Senior pastor: Father Michael J. Bazzi (Cathedral is also seat of Bishop Sarhad Yawsip)
Congregation size: Together with St. Michael's, St. Peter's serves the 25,000 Chaldeans in San Diego County
Staff size: 3
Sunday school enrollment: various levels of school, but 600 children on Saturdays
Annual budget: n/a
Weekly giving: n/a
Singles program: no
Dress: semi-dressy -- some jeans, but many dresses and button-down shirts
Diversity: almost entirely Chaldean
Sunday worship: English and Chaldean, 9:30 a.m.; sung Mass in Chaldean, 11:15 a.m.
Length of reviewed service: 1 hour, 20 minutes