Here are links to my series on the Mass
Tourists At Mass
One of my fondest hopes after I became Catholic was that I could induce somebody, anybody really, to come along with me to Mass, so that I could introduce them to the treasures that I had found there. All my Protestant life I had heard tales about the soul-numbing liturgy, semi-pagan rituals and man-made doctrines on parade at the local Catholic parish every Sunday morning; the truth could not have been much farther from the rumors. Unfortunately, all the Protestants I knew had also heard those rumors all their lives, and they put great stock in them, and so could not be persuaded to accompany me to what they were sure must be an occasion of great divine displeasure. I can’t really blame them – at the first Mass I attended, I (no joke) made darn certain that I sat in the seat nearest the exit, just in case….
I’m Sniffling As Quietly As I Can
One thing you’re going to have to get used to if you want to start coming to Mass with me – I’m bringing a box of tissues. I don’t know if you’ll need them; you might – but I know for a fact that I’ll need them. I’ve been Catholic for 9-1/2 years now, and I’ve cried at every Mass.
Liturgy – You Say It Like It’s A Bad Thing
If you come to Mass with me, I won’t be surprised if you complain that we Catholics recite a lot of things from memory, leaving you at a disadvantage. The written prayers and liturgical responses we use are generally a sticking point with Protestants, and are one of their big objections to the Catholic form of worship. Written prayers are bogus! When I was in high school, my best friend’s father, a deacon in the Church of Christ, waited until all heads were bowed and eyes were closed before he pulled a prepared prayer out of his pocket and read it aloud. His daughter was scandalized (she had peeked). Many Protestants would look askance at reading a prayer; they believe that anything written down is “canned” and therefore insincere – true worship is spontaneous. That would certainly be news to Jesus….
The Divine Proposal
You will notice if you accompany me to Mass that some of our singing and a lot of our liturgy is responsorial, that is, we have a leader who sings or prays one part, and we in the pews “answer” with the other part. That’s why it can be difficult to participate in the Mass if you’re new; you’re never sure when to come in (don’t worry – you’ll pick it up. My family did!). Why all this “proposal” and response?
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.
Many Protestants approach a visit to a Catholic parish as if it were an episode of CSI: Vatican – Crucifixes, Secret prayers and Incense. They come prepared to do a post-mortem on the dead rituals – and the theme song for this spin-off? Won’t Get Fooled Again!
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!
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.
How Beautiful on the Mountains
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 “Lord, have mercy!” (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!
I suppose by now you’ve noticed that the priest is wearing a green chasuble, the fancy poncho-like thing he wears over his white vestments. If you come back next Sunday, he’ll have on a different outfit, because he dresses according to the liturgical season. Next Sunday will be the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Universal King, and the priest will wear white or gold. The Church calendar has different seasons, and we will soon be entering a new season, so the colors we use at Mass will change. Until Advent begins, we are celebrating what we call Ordinary Time.
It wasn’t till I got home after my first Mass that something very strange occurred to me: I hadn’t heard a word about Mary in the Mass. Wait a minute…. I thought Catholics were all about Mary! I thought one of our main Protestant objections to the Mass was that Catholics worshipped Mary! If that was the case, why hadn’t I heard anything about her that morning at Mass?
Christ the King
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.
Because He Said So
So here we are, on our knees singing the Agnus Dei:
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!
You, my Evangelical friend, recognize this as the most solemn point of the Mass, as we kneel to ask Jesus to “only say the word” and our souls shall be healed. In a moment we will rise to go forward and receive our Lord in Holy Communion.
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.
We’ve spent the past month exploring the Mass from the perspective of an understandably apprehensive Evangelical. We’ve looked at the practices (genuflection, the sign of the Cross), the sacramentals (the crucifix, holy water, incense), the Church calendar, the liturgy and the prayers. I hope that by now you can see how Christ-centered and Biblical the Mass actually is. There is Biblical and historical justification for every aspect of the Mass. But the one thing we haven’t talked about is actually the thing that Protestants really get into, the thing most Protestants get up and go to church for on Sunday morning, the sine qua non of the Protestant service – the homily, or as Protestants would say, the sermon.