Catholic Guilt

One part of the liturgy that seems to get under Protestants’ skin is the Penitential Rite – the first thing we do at Mass. In it we pray the ancient Kyrie Eleison:

Lord, have mercy!

Christ, have mercy!

Lord, have mercy!

Now, forget the fact that this hearkens back to several verses in the Old Testament (Ps 4:1, 51:1, 123:3; Is 33:2), as well as numerous verses in the New Testament (Mt 9:27, 15:22, 20:30; Mk 10:47; Lk 17:13). It goes against the Protestant grain, if said Protestant is of the “all my sins – past, present and future – are already forgiven” persuasion. The reasoning is as follows: All sin is equally damning; therefore, if I die without asking forgiveness for all my sins I can’t enter Heaven; I’m not living a sinless life but I KNOW THAT I KNOW THAT I KNOW that my salvation is GUARANTEED – therefore, when I accepted Christ ALL my sins, past, present and future, were forgiven – Simple Logic.

Of course, to a Catholic this theology fails on several points – all sin is not equally damning (1 Jn 5:16-17); if I die without MORTAL sin I can and will enter Heaven after being purified (Heb 12:14, Lk 12:58-59, 1 Cor 3:11-15, Heb 12:29); it is only by God’s grace, on which I constantly rely, (Acts 15:11, Eph 2:8, 2 Tim 1:9, 2 Jn 1:3, 2 Tim 1:2, Jude 1:2) that I may hope to die in His friendship, that is, in a state of grace. Catholics have taken the words of St. Jude to heart:

But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life.

And that, for the Catholic, is where the Kyrie comes in.

Lord, have mercy!

Christ, have mercy!

Lord, have mercy!

To Evangelicals, the frequent repetition of those three words – Lord, have mercy! – amounts to servile cringing. Mass appears to them to be an hour-long parade of Catholic Guilt. If only Catholics could hear the Good News! Jesus wants to grant us assurance of salvation! Christians don’t have to keep asking Him to forgive us!

But those Catholics keep praying:

Lord, have mercy! Christ, have mercy! Lord, have mercy!

May Almighty God have mercy on us, forgive us our sins, and bring us to everlasting life

Lord Jesus Christ, Only Begotten Son, Lord God, Lamb of God, Son of the Father, You take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us; You take away the sins of the world, receive our prayer; You are seated at the right hand of the Father, have mercy on us.

Lamb of God, You take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us!

Lamb of God, You take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us!

Lamb of God, You take away the sins of the world, grant us peace!

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?

Not to mention that the cry of “Lord, have mercy” isn’t confined to pleas for forgiveness. The Canaanite woman begged “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me!” – not because she sought forgiveness. She just wanted her daughter to be healed. We Catholics stand in need of healing, and we know it. A pair of New Testament blind men cried out, “Have mercy on us, Son of David!” – not because they wanted forgiveness. They just wanted to see. We Catholics need divine light just as badly, even worse, than those blind men needed their sight. To see Thee more clearly, to love Thee more dearly, to follow Thee more nearly, Lord! And so Catholics continue to cry out with the beggars:

Lord, have mercy! Christ, have mercy! Lord, have mercy!

Luke 18, which contains the story of yet another blind man, is full of tales of persistence in the face of resistance: the widow who will not stop pounding on the judge’s door, the tax collector who beats his breast till he leaves justified, the mothers who bring their children to Jesus in spite of rebuke, and dear Bartimaeus – who won’t take “no” for an answer:

And he called out, saying, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Those who led the way were sternly telling him to be quiet; but he kept crying out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” And Jesus stopped and commanded that he be brought to Him; and when he came near, He questioned him, “What do you want Me to do for you?” And he said, “Lord, I want to regain my sight!” And Jesus said to him, “Receive your sight; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and began following Him, glorifying God; and when all the people saw it, they gave praise to God.

Catholics realize that Heaven has been promised us. We also realize – we’re not there yet! The road is dark, and we might fall…. And Catholics keep praying:

Lord, have mercy! Christ, have mercy! Lord, have mercy!

On the memorial of St. Elizabeth of Hungary

Deo omnis gloria!


1 comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: