I just returned from a mildly pluralistic holiday getaway in Nauvoo, Illinois, which my husband and I were interested in visiting because it’s a Mormon historical site–the last city Mormons established during Joseph Smith’s lifetime, and the place where some of Mormonism’s most distinctive doctrines and rites were introduced. (My husband and I were both raised LDS.) Most of the reconstructed buildings in historic Nauvoo are owned by the LDS Church; a few years back, that community also rebuilt the Nauvoo Temple, which was first constructed in the 1840s and once again now occupies a very high-profile place on the skyline overlooking the Mississippi River.
However, certain Nauvoo sites associated with Smith himself are owned not by the LDS Church but by the much less well known Community of Christ, Mormonism’s second-largest denomination, which in recent decades has undergone something of what I would call a “Protestantization.” The sites owned by Community of Christ include Smith’s two homes; his “red brick store,” where the LDS Church’s women’s organization was founded and where key esoteric rites were introduced; and Smith’s grave. During the couple of days we spent in Nauvoo, my husband and I stayed in a home in the Community of Christ-owned portion of the historic village; the home had been built in the 1840s to serve as a hotel.
On the block adjoining the Nauvoo Temple, sharing the skyline with it, is a Catholic church, Sts. Peter and Paul. Not being welcome to worship in the LDS temple, I decided to attend Saturday night Mass at their next door neighbor’s. (Although never Catholic, I served in the 1990s as a volunteer in a Catholic mission, doing community development work in the Dominican Republic, the same country where I had been a Mormon missionary a few years earlier.) The sanctuary was painted pink and filled with Victorian statuary in pastel colors of the kind that immediately makes me think: German immigrants. The pre-Vatican II altar was still in place behind the post-Vatican II table.
There was a curious moment at the end of the Prayers of the People, when the priest announced that they were now going to recite the prayer to St. Michael for religious freedom–which everyone but me, it seemed, proceeded to do from memory. The prayer didn’t overtly mention religious freedom: it was a traditional-sounding petition calling on the archangel to stamp down the forces of evil. I wondered: Was this prayer a local custom? Or is this a practice that the bishops have been promoting nationally in the wake of the controversy over religious exceptions under Obamacare? Can any Catholic readers enlighten me?