Since Christmas I have been pondering the statement someone made about Evangelical church services being so much livelier and upbeat than Catholic mass. Some Fundamentalists seem to dismiss Catholic worship as “too serious, too ceremonious.” They do not grasp that the Catholic mass is not a “service” at all nor (as many Protestant services) a gathering of like-minded Christians meant to inspire them in their Christian walk, to make them feel good and uplifted. Yes, both Catholics and Protestants go to worship God, but Catholics attend church for a vastly different reason than do Evangelicals. Here is my attempt to explain Catholic mass:
The Catholic Mass
Daily at a Catholic solemn celebration of the mass, God’s children are summoned to bow and worship before the Emperor, the Creator of the infinite universe. The magnificent, glorious sacrament, especially on the Lord’s Day, displayed in the rites and liturgy is a miracle so full of awe that it should awaken in us a holy dread.
In His mercy, Christ provided an earthly place where our disguises, our veil of hidden sin, is exposed that we may face our demons. Our brokenness should be felt and at the same time assuaged. God’s special presence in the Tabernacle is a place of solace for the deepest yearnings of the human soul. A place where we can mysteriously transcend our physical life here and enter an epic heroic spiritual battle to make us saints. Yet, in the company of the Blessed Trinity and so great a cloud of witnesses, we face ourselves and our fallenness in a state of rapturous grace and thanksgiving.
Within the walls of a Catholic church, Christians meet their own Gethsemane.
Weary from a world of loneliness, abuse, pride, violence, hatred, greed, gluttony, Relativism, deception; filled with agonizing regrets of things we have done and things we failed to do, revulsion at our wretched secrets, the lustful pornographic images bombarding our eyes at every glance both from the technology we allow in our home and outside it, Catholics escape to mass searching for the antidote to the sickness of sin. Exhausted by wickedness and in desperation to receive God’s love, mercy and forgiveness, we flee to Christ in His Sanctuary, we dip our hands into the holy water, cross ourselves and humbly submit, bowing before God.
At the beginning in the Penitential Rite, we are encouraged to do the unthinkable in today’s culture, to boldly, courageously confront that no pilgrim has a happy ending to his earthly story, for all roads lead to physical death.We admit aloud that we have sinned against God and plead for His mercy. We face humanity’s iniquity and it’s life of disappointment and suffering. As the tax collector looking up to heaven beat his breast, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner,” we kneel before the unspotted victim, the One Mediator, the loving advocate and high priest who intercedes before the Father for us crying, “Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis!” (Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.)
Statues, paintings and stained-glass windows with Jesus, Mary and the saints stand with their arms outstretched reminding us that all is not lost--the broken reed He will not break. Catholics behold the suffering Savior on each crucifix and are reminded that by His stripes we are healed. And in the cosmic struggle, we find peace and thanksgiving. We learn to rejoice, even in the deepest sufferings knowing that He too understands our weakness and pain. Forgiveness, peace and joy are the ultimate destiny for those who gather within His protection and follow the way of the cross.
The Catholic Church stands as a beacon and bulwark, a refuge for the bruised and bleeding hearts struggling for their eternal souls and those of their loved ones.
After receiving God’s forgiveness we praise and worship Him in the Gloria. Then we begin the Liturgy of the Word which not only includes the written Word but the spoken Gospel through the Homily. Protestants are unaware how saturated the mass is in both spoken and sung scripture.
Then the Eucharistic Celebration : the breadth and length and height and depth of the mass is a staggering reality of faith that few Catholics themselves are able to comprehend.
The word Eucharist, the source and summit of all Catholic worship, means “thanksgiving” and Catholics should be keenly aware that it is within the protection of His loving, merciful Sacred Heart, we find ourselves humbly contrite, repentant and forgiven.
Catholics enter the Holy Communion--not symbolically but sacramentally--with Christ into His Passion and become one with Him in the Mystery of Salvation. Through the Eucharistic celebration of the bread and wine, St. Paul reminded us that we are proclaiming “the Lord's death until he comes.” I Cor. 11:26. Therefore, Catholics are brought into a timeless celebration that reveals the Alpha, the beginning and genesis, through the Omega, the end of all things. Our earthly existence is caught up and time itself vanishes as we, with the host of heaven-- the saints and angels and archangels--join in the magnificent, glorious adoration of the Trinity.
The Liturgy of the Eucharist brings us near, to witness the Last Supper, His Gethsemane, His suffering, and the Lord’s death on the cross, that one final sacrifice of Jesus Christ. With our spiritual eyes we behold the perfect Son of God spreading out His arms to engulf the tragedy of sin and absorb its everlasting consequences for us. There, we are with Him succoring Him through the eyes of the church, His mother and ever virgin Mary and we are in Him in an unfathomable mystery.
The transformation we experience in each mass should be one that brings freedom from the constraining skin of sin. We glory in the shedding of our wickedness and then are able to more fully absorb His mighty power and love. That is what brings us to the summit of Thanksgiving.
We die with Christ that His Soul will sanctify us, His Cross will save us, the blood and water flowing from His side will wash away our sins and we will, as He be resurrected as a New Man.
As Jesus broke Himself on the cross and we partake of that heavenly manna, the fractured body of Christ, we become part of His suffering and death. We too become broken to our own wills, our own rights and desires. With Him abiding within us through the Eucharist, we rise from receiving the body, blood, soul and divinity of our Lord off of our knees as Princes of the Kingdom, Knights of His Table Like little Christs, in the newness of a resurrected life, we go out into the world carrying His salvation message to become the light and salt of the world. We bring hope and our prayers intercede for those in darkness.
If our spiritual eyes could be opened in a Catholic church, we would see a hospital for those trying to survive the war of sin. Some sitting in the pews like zombies are spiritually oblivious to the war, others understand that they are part of a terrible combat being waged for their souls--clashing in a struggle for eternal life or eternal death. This is the place where the feeble, impotent, cowardly find courage to reach for the sword of the spirit.
But here the victory is assured and with each humble repentance and submission to God, there is utter euphoria. “I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.” Luke 15:7. When the battle for an individual soul rages, the Catholic Church is right there with the host of heaven--angels and archangels battling along with the heavenly saints for each person. Then when the priests blesses us in the name of the Trinity, we each should experience the everlasting peace that passes all understanding. For the war has been won at the Cross.
This is the Catholic mass. It is not for inspiration but for transformation.