Catholic bloggers are motivated, driven and called to do what we do to share the fullness of the Christian faith with everyone (in other words, to fulfill The Great Commission). Converts have a unique viewpoint, looking back at our pre-Catholic Christian past and comparing that to what we know now – the “fullness” of the Christian faith (not a “subset”) and nothing but it (the truth).
The source and summit of that faith is The Most Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and the Blessed Sacrament (the Eucharist). The Mass is so much more than a “worship service” and the Eucharist so much more than “a community meal.” Who knew?!
Renée Lin is a 2003 convert from the Evangelical world and a new blogger. Her love and excitement for the Mass is abundantly evident in her 13 part series on it. Renée explores the Mass in a unique way, as if you – her Protestant friend – were accompanying her. She shows you… what you would be surprised to find (and not find), how scriptural it is, the beauty and sheer awe of the Mass. Her writing is engaging and full of wit.
Below is a quick tour of the series with small snippets from each piece. I love the titles too, they are a hoot!
We kneel just as Jesus knelt to pray in the Garden of Gethsemane (Lk 22:41). We stand at different times during the Mass to show respect, during the processional and before the Gospel is read, for example. We sit down because we’re tired.
So basically Mass will be more of a workout than what you’re used to on Sunday morning, but well worth it, I think. I hope you’ll stick with me! Next post we’ll talk about why you might need to bring a handkerchief or two.
I used to think it was the music – maybe I just got emotional when the music swelled…. But then I attended a Mass where the music was provided by a band, complete with two saxophones and a drummer with a very heavy hand. Their rendition of the Gloria was reminiscent of a one-man band with a kazoo. But when we began to sing:
For You alone are the Holy One, You alone are the Lord,
You alone are the Most High, Jesus Christ?
I dissolved into tears, hoping all the while that no one would think that I was crying because the band was that bad. No, I was crying because the Mass is that good.
There seems to be a great deal of repetition going on in the heavenly worship! Notice, too – worship quite clearly is corporate. St. John reports that certain worshipers all cry out the same thing at the same time. Had he visited a charismatic Heaven, he would not have been able to report much more than “There was quite a cacophony when the Lamb received the scroll!” As it is, he knows exactly what the worshipers said, because they cried out in unison. They responded as one.
In a Protestant worship service, things generally end with the sermon. It is the pinnacle; it is the final word — a quick altar call and you’re outta there. When Protestants broke away from the Church, they took the Liturgy of the Word with them — the hymns, the prayers, the sermon — and relegated Holy Communion to an afterthought. If the Protestant worship service is a body, the sermon is the heart, and the Lord’s Supper is the appendix — it’s there, Protestants know God made it, but they’re not sure exactly what it’s for. From a Catholic perspective, the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist are inseparable. The Liturgy of the Eucharist is the response to the Liturgy of the Word, a response for which the Protestant “altar call” is a paltry substitute.
To say that I was apprehensive when I attended my first Mass would be something of an understatement. I had read all the books I could find on Catholicism. I had no access to EWTN, so I couldn’t check out the Mass from the safety of an armchair in my living room. I had no Catholic friends who could enlighten or accompany me. I finally just had to GO and see for myself. One Sunday morning I dropped the kids off at their Baptist Sunday school, and I drove over to the nearest Catholic parish, with furrowed brow. All my life I had heard about liberal Catholic priests pooh-poohing orthodox doctrines like the Resurrection and the Second Coming. I really didn’t want to be there when the earth split open in a convulsion of divine retribution and swallowed up the heathen. I sat in the seat nearest the exit.
Let’s talk about a few of the things that may be distracting you when you come to Mass with me. I’ve been babbling on about the wonders of the Mass, but I’ve noticed that you can’t concentrate; you keep staring at the larger-than-life crucifix we’ve got strategically positioned right behind the altar. I know what you’re thinking — He’s RISEN!
If it makes you feel any better — we know! The Catholic Church has been proclaiming the literal death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ to the ends of the earth for 2000 years! And what’s the point of proclaiming Him if He is not risen? If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain! (1 Cor 15:14).
If you’re a Protestant who’s been taught that nothing you do can jeopardize your salvation, of course these repeated pleas for mercy seem useless and sad. If you’ve been told that all the sins you will ever commit were forgiven when you prayed the sinner’s prayer, then this Catholic groveling is offensive. So what if that pesky Lord’s Prayer says “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us”? So what if Jesus admonished his listeners “whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.” So what if the unforgiving servant was not forgiven, but was delivered to the jailers till he should pay all his debt? So what if 1 John tells us “IF we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness”? So what if 2 Peter tells us that we have been cleansed of our PAST sins? So what if “Lord, have mercy!” was the cry of the tax collector, the one Jesus said went home justified”
Protestants probably feel more at home in one segment of the Mass than in any other. They may be suspicious when we praise God in song (Don’t sing along, Martha! When they come to the part about Mary you might accidentally sing that, too!). They may feel uncomfortable when we pray “” (Don’t Catholics know that all our sins, past, present and future, are under the Blood??? What’s with all the servile cringing???). They may get miffed when it is explained to them that no, they can’t go forward for Holy Communion (I’ve been in churches all across America, and no one ANYWHERE has EVER told me that I can’t take communion!!!). But when the priest announces:
“The peace of the Lord be with you always.”
And we respond:
“And with your spirit!”
the Protestant is finally on familiar ground. It’s a meet-and-greet!
Well, actually, no — it’s not, but I can’t blame you for thinking that….
When I became Catholic, I was overwhelmed by the joy of constant celebration in the Church. To my delight, Christmas and Easter were not just one day to look forward to, but rather entire seasons in which to meditate upon the Incarnation and the Resurrection. No longer did I suffer through the euphemistically entitled “holiday season” — Advent was emphasized as a time of preparation not only for the coming of the Christ Child to us in the past, but also for the soon coming again of Christ the King of Glory. Lent with its communal fasting and abstinence only served to heighten the meaning of the Suffering, Death and incredible, unfathomable Resurrection of the Lord. Solemnities like the Most Holy Trinity or Corpus Christi emphasized how real these theological concepts are to Catholics and how important their contemplation. I reveled in the seemingly constant celebration.
Now that would have gotten the attention of most Protestants; after all, we’re not just talking about Christ born of the Virgin — we’re calling the Virgin Mother of God. That’s like waving a red Marian handkerchief in front of an already irritable Protestant bull.
I’m so glad you’ve stuck with me this far for the Mass. As you’ve seen, in some ways it’s like your Protestant worship service, because Protestants, when they separated themselves from Catholicism, took certain elements of the Mass with them. We share the music, the Scripture reading, and the preaching. At some of your worship services you also offer Holy Communion. That is where we part ways. Holy Communion, or the Eucharist as we call it, is not an addendum to an otherwise complete Sunday morning service. Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist is the entire point of the Mass.
As we come to the climax of our worship service, I think you can see that our emphasis and yours coincide — Jesus Christ is the entire focus of the Mass, just as He is the entire focus of your Protestant worship service. This is a great point of agreement between Catholics and Protestants. And yet, ironically, we have just come to our biggest point of disagreement. The fact that Catholics believe that Jesus is really present, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity, in the Holy Eucharist strikes many Protestants as odd. Not grossly offensive — more of a small, peculiar irritant than a major provocation. It’s weird, all this Body and Blood stuff, you admit, but there are other Catholic doctrines a lot more objectionable. Actually, from the Catholic perspective, you’re wrong about that. The Real Presence is the watershed doctrine separating Catholics and Protestants — not “faith ALONE,” not “once-saved/always-saved,” not Mary’s place in the divine scheme of things, not the Pope’s authority or infallibility…. It’s Christ Jesus in the Holy Eucharist. A Catholic who believes that Jesus is really present in the Eucharist can wholeheartedly confess with the likes of Flannery O’Connor that the Eucharist “is the center of existence for me; all the rest of life is expendable.” It’s THAT important.
As I was saying, some sermons are better left unpreached, and some connections better left unmade, at least from an Evangelical Sunday-morning-sermon point of view. But if you ever get weary of what’s being left unsaid, come on over!
We “go there” every time we have Mass.
If you are Protestant and want to understand where we Catholics are coming from, read this! Renée relates well to where you are at. It may look like a lot of reading, but it’s not really – and trust me, it will be a lot of fun!
For your convenience, here is a numbered list so that you can read them 1-at-a-time:
- Tourists At Mass
- I’m Sniffling As Quietly As I Can
- Liturgy – You Say It Like It’s A Bad Thing
- The Divine Proposal
- CSI: Vatican
- Catholic Guilt
- How Beautiful on the Mountains
- Extraordinary Ordinary
- Where’s Mary?
- Christ the King
- Because He Said So
- Go There!
Follow Renée at Forget The Roads.