No, this isn’t a physics post. It’s about church and its purpose. Metaphysics would be a more accurate subject designation. However, this will function as a very basic apologetic. Why? I’ve mentioned more than once that I listen to or read debates on Protestantism vs Catholicism. There is a fundamental misunderstanding many Protestants have of Catholic worship, and that is the purpose or focus of the Mass. Those Protestants who aren’t converts, that is, those who’ve never been to a Mass, tend to imagine the oddest things about the Catholic church service.
Namely, they believe the Mass is done with a focus on and in consecration of Mary. I don’t know who started this rumor, but I’ve heard it enough times now to know it’s not the belief of one dishonest but ardent Protestant. To give these Protestants the benefit of the doubt, they may have been witness to a video of nuns praying the rosary in a chapel, which repeats a number of Hail Mary’s, and mistaken it for a Mass. It is not.
First off, let me explain why I ended up going to Catholic Masses in the first place:
1. We had at one time been members of an LCMS congregation, but God had led us away from the Lutheran church after moving;
2. However, I longed for the liturgical service because taking the Lord’s Communion wasn’t the same in churches where the elements were unconsecrated and the grape juice had replaced the wine;
3. For a couple of years, I could find no other job than one that required me to work on Sundays, and the Catholic church is the only one I knew of in my community where I could go to church on Saturday evenings, as well as every other day of the week. Obviously, only the Saturday and Sunday services are considered appropriate for meeting the Sabbath requirement, but, the fact is, they offer the elements seven days a week, and all around the world, too. That’s not to mention the little chapels for prayer they often keep open twenty-four/seven;
4. To reiterate this last point in a simple statement: the Catholic church makes themselves available to people in a way that Protestant denominations do not.
Yes, but why do Protestants assume the Mass is about Mary? Better question: Why didn’t I believe that? The answer is simple. I went to Lutheran services for years, so I understood the purpose of the liturgical service — one that had sprung directly from Catholicism. Also, during my years of constant reading, I had studied the Roman Catholic catechism and the “apocryphal”* books. I knew Catholics weren’t allowed to worship Mary; that is considered idolatry. More than that, the entire liturgical service leads to the crux, as it were: taking the body and blood of Jesus Christ. That is what a Mass is. That’s what it has always been. The congregants pray and repent and praise God, thereby preparing their hearts to receive Jesus in the Eucharist. Whether the congregants do this quietly on their knees while the priest prays and does most of the movement, or kneel and stand along with the priest, depends on the service being a traditional Latin rite or conversely a post-Vatican II Mass. But either way, the movement of the Mass still leads to accepting the sacrifice of Jesus. Never Mary. Ever. In fact, her name might be mentioned once (twice at the most) in the service, and only in a list of other saints who stand as witnesses who’ve gone before us. Interestingly enough, many traditional Catholics reject the modern Mass, but not because it has a focus on Mary (or doesn’t). No, they reject the modern service because the priest interacts more with the congregants than with Jesus, even down to blessing the elements and then allowing Eucharistic ministers from the congregation to pass them to the people. Protestants are so out of touch with Catholics that they don’t know Catholic infighting is about audience participation. But over Mary? Perish the thought. Their church authorities have determined repeatedly that Mary is important because she said yes to God and became the mother of our savior. Her act of obedience should lead us to Jesus, always.
To reiterate what the Mass is about, I’ll quickly detail the order of it. Confession and repentance. Praising God. Bible readings (one each from the Old Testament, the epistles, and the gospels; if you follow the weekly readings and not just the Sunday ones, you will read the entire Bible in two years). The homily, based on the Bible readings. Affirmation of faith in the creed. Communal prayer. Offertory. Eucharistic service: involves the Lord’s Prayer, the people blessing each other, the priest blessing the sacraments, and then the people partaking of the elements. Final kneeling, contemplation, and prayers. The priest carries the cross out into the world, and the people follow, bearing the gospel in their hearts.
This last part is very important as a distinction between Catholic and Protestant churches. Church is for renewal of Christians so they are spiritually ready to carry the gospel into the rest of their week. Are they successful at this? Not always; they are, after all, just people. They follow rituals that begin to lose their meaning after a while, and they forget the reason the priest is carrying the cross out of the church with the people at his heels. In fact, there are a number of Catholics who ditch the Mass just as soon as they’ve taken the elements. That is the sad reality. But the complacency of people doesn’t change the content and meaning of the Mass.
Many Protestant church services have been so long removed from the traditional Mass that they’ve forgotten that its focus was always the spiritual renewal of the people, primarily by partaking of the body and blood of Jesus Christ. In fact, many Protestant churches rarely make the Lord’s Supper available to the congregants at all. The focus of the Protestant service is on either the sermon, the praise and worship time, or the altar call. In many churches, the singing and homily are meant to lead to the altar call as the crux. Why? Their focus is on spreading the gospel in the church rather than renewing the spirit of the people so they can spread the gospel during the week. I remember the days in youth group when we were pressured to invite non-Christians to church in order for them to be saved. We were not considered “good” Christians unless we did this. To avoid the potential for Christians to be left spiritually empty, Protestants have Sunday Schools and Bible studies. See, I’m not knocking their model. The corporate service has a different purpose; that’s all (and granted, their are 1000s of Protestant churches, but a good many of them have the above model). I just wish Protestants would try to understand the Catholic service before writing articles slandering it.
*I put that in quotes because some of the books Protestants consider to be apocrypha, Catholics consider to be part of the Canon. Catholics use the word “apocrypha” only for books outside the Canon, generally pseudepigraphal books. That is, they are known to be stories that couldn’t have been written by the purported author during the time he would have been writing.