Drawing In: How the Hygge Brought Me Back to Mass
By Elizabeth Carroll
We humans are always searching for the Way. The 90s had Feng Shui. The 2000s had The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Now we have a new lifestyle fad that comes from Denmark and is called Hygge, pronounced HOO-ga, which essentially means coziness. Picture a group of friends wearing soft sweaters sipping spiced wine while chatting and laughing amidst candlelight and you have Hygge. The Danish desire for coziness makes sense when you consider the weather in Denmark. Winters are primal, dark, and cold. To stave off depression, the Danes have cultivated a Hygge lifestyle where they delight in the simple pleasures of a warm and cozy living space. Hygge and the adjective form, Hyggelig, connote hot herbal tea served to you by your mother while sitting next to a roaring fire.
We can all use some Hygge in our lives. Hygge is a restorative respite from the 24 hour news cycle and social media smorgasbord. Does Hygge go beyond Nordic patterned sweaters, naps, and Glog? How might it translate into our spiritual lives? Upon reflection I suddenly realized the Hygge of the Catholic Mass and how strongly I rely upon it during my otherwise busy and hectic life as a mother, wife, and teacher. I wonder if it was the Hygge, the coziness, that brought me back to the Church. For me, Hygge is at the heart of the Catholic Mass.
In my view, the Catholic Mass is abounding with Hygge, beginning with the Eucharist. In the Mass we see how a simple act of sharing bread and wine among friends and strangers can be turned into a beautiful and sacred ritual illuminated by candles and singing. Jesus urges us to savor the daily things and delight in the company of others by sharing food and drink, even by becoming food and drink. The simplicity of the intimate sharing of a meal is a salve for so many of our troubles, including depression and anxiety. While the Danes struggle with the darkness of the winter, we Catholics struggle with the darkness of the world or doubts about our faith. Thankfully, we have a Hygge place to turn to, the Church, just as the Danes turn to their cozy family rooms. We gather together to sing familiar songs and chants in this safe and warm place where all are welcome. The Hygge of the Mass allows us to be vulnerable enough to sing and kneel in public. It is in this raw and undeniably comfortable state that we can draw closer to God and one another.
Another example of Hygge in the Mass is when we turn to our neighbors and wish them peace. This is my favorite part of the liturgy. “Peace be with you” were Christ’s first words to the disciples after the Resurrection. Often we enter the Church in a negative mind frame and wondering if we will find acceptance and love. As we not only greet each other, but wish peace, smiles emerge on our faces as a feeling of calm and Hygge (coziness) exudes from us all. You can actually see shoulders relax and arms get uncrossed. In this intimate moment with friends, neighbors, and strangers I feel God’s presence. The Hygge of this part of the Mass has even moved me to tears as I wonder at those around me feeling what I feel; connection. Certainly, the Hygge during the Sign of Peace and the Eucharist is so palpable that it feels like a warm blanket and cup of steaming hot tea that we can take with us when we leave the church. The Hyggelig mood is exactly what I think Jesus wanted to give us; a truly sustaining peace. We must take this peace with us into the frantic and chaotic world.
Many of us seek a closeness with and understanding of the Divine, but are unable or unwilling to retreat from the world or join a religious order. We live in the world may have others in our care that require our focus and attention. But the Mass allows us all to withdraw from the world for at least one hour per week. We can draw in, united in our common purpose and experience a kind of Hygge with God.
Ultimately, the Hygge of the Catholic Mass keeps me coming back because it encourages my soul to breathe and my mind to focus. Having a hyggelig place to worship is essential, at least for me, for developing an intimate relationship with Jesus. Intimacy requires a closeness and a quietness not easily found in our world. Cozy is exactly how I feel and desire to feel at church. I want stillness and candles and Gregorian chants. And I don’t think I’m alone in my desire for quiet and peace. I am truly thankful that the Mass gives me this experience of God’s tenderness and peace.