La Bella and I went to hear the Durufle Requiem last night at a local Catholic church. We’ve sung this piece before, as well as I don’t know how many other masses. We probably know most of the Latin words by heart, but neither of us have been to a mass before.

It was pretty impressive. Lots of characters in the drama, and people going all over the place doing all kinds of things, mostly things that made no sense at all to me. Hands here, hands there, bowing, kissing, praying, saluting.

There were responsive chants and standing up, sitting down, kneeling, and prayers and things to which we didn’t quite know the words.

The priest, decked out in metallic copper fleurs de lis, gave the homily smoothly in English and Spanish, sort of casually alternating. I was amazed at how much I was able to follow, at least since it was interspersed with Enlgish translations. I was mystified by “mancha,” which came up a lot. I thought immediately of “la manche,” or sleeve in French, but it didn’t seem to fit. Why could people not go to heaven if they had sleeves, after all?

It means “stain.”

The homily was about purgatory, which is a good choice, because it’s mysterious to us Protestants. In fact, I don’t think we have purgatory at all, and I appreciated the clear and simple explanation of the concept. Is it possible to believe that Catholics go to purgatory — where they are blessed to find time meaningless — and that Protestants do not? If we end up in Purgatory, will that mean that we have to suffer until we are cleansed of all the Protestant heresies we accepted?

Or, if the Catholics don’t go to Purgatory, will they feel guilty and think they should have dealt with all their sins on earth so they wouldn’t have to feel bad in Heaven? Or will feeling bad even be an option?

There was a guy who seemed to be the coach of the altar boys. He was always herding them hither and thither, or sitting with them looking stern, as though he’d make them do laps if they dropped the Bible or got the cloths in the wrong order or something.

There was a lot of stuff done with physical objects. Sometimes the priest looked like a bartender or something, and there was much kissing of things and wrapping them and unwrapping them. The incense was a whole big schlemozzle of its own. Really, it was quite fascinating.

I admit that it didn’t seem particularly connected with worship or with God, but I am not Catholic, so I didn’t know what was going on.

The experience will, I think, enrich my experience of singing masses. And the music was beautiful.