"There are two groups of people who attend Old Catholic churches. The first are those who are not happy with the Roman Catholic Church and the second group of people were not attending any church previously," Father Jerome Kwasek commented. The Old Catholic Church separated from the Roman Catholic Church after the Reformation in 1517.
Father Kwasek seems to be the right man to collect Roman Catholic Church runaways. Last Sunday, I watched Father Kwasek listen as a visitor named John asked question after question. Father Kwasek paused before each answer, considered the question, and then methodically explained his position. The exchange was much like a father explaining geometry to his son for the first time.
For the first two-years, Kwasek conducted the Mass in his home. Six months ago the church got permission to hold the Mass at the First Methodist Church located in Mission Valley. "The First Methodist church is perfect. They may not recognize it, but the building was designed for Catholic Mass. For example, there is a high altar, which is separated from the people and it faces the wall," Father Kwasek said.
Last Sunday, seven people attended the Mass. We sat in the choir area, a few yards from the high altar. A window measuring about 20 feet high looks into a landscaped garden, just behind the altar, in the front center of the church. The massive sanctuary is white, adding to the vast feeling of the building. The walls angle inward and meet at an arch in the center of the four-story-high building. Fourteen chandeliers, each six feet in width, hang about 25 feet from the ceiling. A four-story stained-glass window is wedged between layers of the pipe organ at the back of the sanctuary.
The altar bore numerous items used throughout the ceremony. A chalice veil covered the Communion elements. Six candles lit the high altar, and the crucifix stood in the middle, representing the seventh candle. The Mass utilized our senses, as we said prayers, performed hand-gestures, listened to the ringing of bells, smelled incense, and were sprinkled with water.
After service, Father Kwasek explained the traditional items he wore during Mass that most Roman Catholic priests no longer use. These items include the amice, which is a white head covering that hangs around the priest's neck. A maniple is a band worn around the left arm. The chasuble is an ornate garment, covering the priest's chest like a vest. A cincture is a white cord wrapped around the waist.
"[Old Catholic] Mass is orthodox; it is very traditional. If you enter into an Old Catholic church you will find a Tridentine Mass in English or Latin and the high altar is facing the wall, not the congregation. You will also find all of the vestments throughout the year. In comparison, a Roman Catholic Church's liturgy will be folksy and neighborly. For example, they have the Kiss of Peace. The Kiss of Peace asks the congregation to exchange a sign of peace, which typically is a handshake or embrace."
I spoke with Kara, a young woman who began attending Mass three weeks ago. She falls into the group of people who are not happy with the Roman Catholic Church. "When I wanted to get married outside, no priest would do it for me. And now that I am five months pregnant, the [Roman Catholic] church will not recognize my marriage." Kara drives from Poway each week to attend the Mass.
Kara remarked, "The liturgy is based on the original Latin. I like that it is closer to the source. But I was so trained when I attended [Roman Catholic] Mass that I had to relearn a lot of the liturgy. Instead of saying, 'And also with you,' we say, 'And with thy spirit.' You have to remember a lot of 'thy' and 'thou's."
Father Kwasek spoke about some of the differences between the Old Catholic and Roman Catholic Church. He told me, "Old Catholics don't hold vows of celibacy." Father Kwasek boasted that he has been married 30 years to the same wife, Marlyne. Further, he explained, "the Old Catholic church preserves many of the traditions and practices that the Roman Catholic Church changed....
"I can accept [the Papal Infallibility] because the Roman, Protestant, and Orthodox theologians have been going back and forth on this issue for 2000 years with no clear outcome. In the meantime, citing Mark Twain, 'I can't prove nor disprove these claims,' so I'll go along with them just in case. As for Mary, who would want to upset a Jewish mother in heaven in the first place?"
I asked Father Kwasek what happens to people after they die. He answered, "In Hebrews it tells us, 'It is appointed a person once to die, and after this comes judgment.' There are three places people go after they die. The first is heaven, with God, for those who believe in Jesus. It is because Jesus is God and through his redemption we have an antidote [to sin]. The second place people go is purgatory. When people are going through the judgment for their sin after death, there will be a temporary period of time of sorrow. This period may be short or it may be thousands of years. This is a period of purging. Lastly, God sends no one to hell. God gives everyone 70 years to figure out that He loves them and He is God. Hell is for those who decide to rebel and reject God."
2111 Camino del Rio South, San Diego
Denomination: Old Catholic
Founded locally: 2002
Senior pastor: Father Jerome Kwasek
Congregation size: 7
Staff size: 1
Sunday school enrollment: 0
Annual budget: $500
Weekly giving: $5
Singles program: no
Dress: casual to business casual
Sunday worship: 4 p.m.
Length of reviewed service: 1 hour