Mass is Boring?!

catholic-mass-questions

It is something that many Catholics hear often from others: “Mass is boring”. Their reasons for feeling this way are varied: the Homily, music, tradition, to the movements of the Mass themselves, bore them. If there is something we Catholics know how to argue about and disagree on it is the Mass. I have no desire to jump into the “Liturgy wars”. I have plenty of my own opinions that are my own and not universal and I am no fan of Marty Haugen or Dan Schutte music, but those fights accomplish little and continue to muddy the waters for those Catholics who really do not understand the Mass. In fact, I would argue that the number one problem for those Catholics who are bored at Mass is that they just don’t understand what exactly is going on during the Liturgy. In my mind, it is impossible to be bored at Mass if you truly grasp what is unfolding. So, I want to briefly explain the Mass from a theological understanding without getting too deep, so that I bore people who do not share my love of reading Church documents and the Summa.

When God created the Heaven’s and the earth, he made everything in a free act of love. This action, referred to in theological terms as exitus, is God sharing of Himself. In this sharing, God intended that His creatures would return to Him in love and worship through charity and faith. This is referred to as reditus. This essentially means that the created order is meant to return to God. Theological terms can be fun, right?! The first thing for us to keep in mind is that we were created to return to God in love and admiration. This is what we were made for. God wanted to share Himself with us and wants us to return to Him in that love. Pretty simple!

Now, how exactly does God want us to return to Him? Yes, there is a clear answer. He desires our worship through the only acceptable sacrifice, namely Christ’s Crucifixion and our obedience. On the night He was betrayed, Our Lord began a new Passover, so that His body (yes, His actual body) could be left with the Church that was to be founded by Him and led by Peter. Jesus was fulfilling His mission as High Priest in that He would become the new Paschal Lamb that had been sacrificed through the Levitical priesthood. He did this through the establishment of the Holy Eucharist and by His Paschal Mystery. He was the new sacrifice and he made a total act of obedience to the Father that we are to emulate. In fact, His sacrifice transcended the previous sacrifices of the Jews because Christ being both God and man he entered into the veil of the Holy of Holies. Meaning, he brought the sacrifice of Himself before the Father in Heaven for His people. Pretty amazing stuff! The Old Law had a prescribed liturgical form and sacrificial ritual that had been commanded by God, beginning with Abraham. Christ completed that ritual through His own Crucifixion and established the New Law, which is what most of us are familiar with in the Catholic Church.

How is this connected to the Mass? Well, the Mass as we know it today was formed over centuries of tradition. The Holy Eucharist has been celebrated from the very beginning of the Church, as is evidenced by the writings of the Early Church Fathers. The actual rites have undergone changes here and there, but the reality has been the same. The purpose of the Mass has always been the same. First, we are living what St. Thomas Aquinas called the virtue of religion. When we go to Mass we fulfill our purpose in life to give right worship to God. Remember how I explained reditus? The Mass is our return in love to the Most Holy Trinity. Second, we offer sacrifice. The Mass is often referred to as The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and that is because Christ commanded that we offer sacrifice to the Father through the Holy Eucharist. Third, we are entering into communion with the actually body of Christ through our reception of the Holy Eucharist. Let’s look at each of these points individually.

First, by virtue of our Baptism and entry into the visible structure of the Church (membership in the Church) we are called to worship and glorify God. The largest action of charity we make in our lives is to attend Mass. It is there that we return to the Father in thanksgiving for all He has given us and seek reparation for our sins (we do this in the Sacrament of Penance too). This is also why the Mass is not about us. That’s right, the Mass is not about me or you. It is not a time for the choir to perform a concert, for me gain recognition for my working in the parish, or for the priest to dazzle an “audience”. The Mass is entirely about the Mystical Body gathering together to praise God, offer sacrifice, and move deeper into communion with Him. This is even more crucial in understanding when we realize who precisely is presiding over the Mass and who is present with us during the Liturgy.

Second, the Mass is the sacrifice offered by Christ on Calvary. No, we do not re-crucify Christ. Rather, we offer the glorified Body of Christ present in the Heavenly sanctuary, which is made present on our altars. The priest offers the sacrifice in the two forms of bread and wine. That is because in the Old Law, sacrifice was bloodless flesh separate from the blood. In a sacrificial understanding they must be separate. This does not mean only receiving the precious Body is invalid. The flesh contains the blood and Christ’s body, blood, soul, and divinity in its entirety. It just must be separate during the sacrificial portion of the Mass. Now there are differing schools of thought on my next point, but I am Thomistic in my school of Theology. Thomists would say that it is Christ Himself presiding over the Mass and offering sacrifice to God. That’s right, Jesus Christ Himself offers our Mass. He offers Himself to the Father along with the Mystical Body of Christ, through the visible ordained priest. Mass isn’t so boring anymore, is it?! Not only that, by virtue of the reality of Heaven reaching our altars, the Church Triumphant, the souls and angels in Heaven are also present. There is an invisible company of witnesses present at every single Mass. It’s incredible!

Third, Christ left His body, under the guise of bread so that we may reach out and touch His body that was broken for us. We enter into an intimate union with Christ that unites us body and soul to Him every single time we receive Holy Communion. He is physically with us for the 15 minutes or so it takes for our body to digest the consecrated host. Christ loves us so much that He wants nothing more than to be united with every aspect of what makes us human. So when someone asks you if you have a personal relationship with Christ you can reply that you have the most intimate relationship with Him by virtue of the Holy Eucharist. This is one of the key issues that separates us from our Protestant brethren. Our churches house the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ. The King of the Universe dwells in our Tabernacles and waits for each one of us. That is how He always wanted it to be and that is why He left us His body in the Holy Eucharist.

This, in a very short blog post, is what we participate in when we go to Mass. The Mass is not where we are entertained. The Mass is where we enter into the presence of Jesus Christ. It is where we offer our love and devotion to the God who made us and died for us. It is where Christ reaches down and physically touches us in our brokenness. It is where we can unite our own sufferings to His. The Mass is quite literally the most important thing that we do in our lives. The next time you are at Mass meditate on what is actually going on. Approach the Holy Eucharist as if you were bowing down before the King of Kings, because that is precisely what you are doing. It is quite impossible to be bored at Mass when you know what is taking place.

For further reading on this topic, I recommend Scott Hahn’s The Lamb’s Supper and Edward Sri’s A Biblical Walk Through the Mass.

Marveling at the Cathedrals of Europe

This morning I was looking over a fellow blogger’s beautiful website.  She has a section on stained glass and it got me thinking about my time in Europe.  My first trip to Europe was actually to England for a week long training I was leading for the Navy when I was 22.  My friend and I spent the flight drinking mimosas because we could not sleep.  I still cannot seem to sleep on international flights that are overnight.  We took a cab to King’s Cross to get on a train to Lincolnshire.  Even though I was exhausted and had a slight buzz, it was an exciting time. Yes, Catholics enjoy their drink, in moderation (okay a few times for me were not in moderation and that is called gluttony). As we drove through the London streets, I was amazed by the architecture, and the crowds.  London makes New York look sparsely populated.

Yep, I lived two blocks from this amazing cathedral.
Yep, I lived two blocks from this amazing cathedral.
A Christmas performance of Handel's Messiah fit perfectly with the scenery.
A Christmas performance of Handel’s Messiah fit perfectly with the scenery.
Arches and stained glass go so well together.
Arches and stained glass go so well together.
We reached our destination a few hours later: Lincoln, England.  I did not know it then, but I would be moving there 9 months later.  We made our way through the cobblestone streets to our hotel, which was directly across from Lincoln Cathedral.  The cathedral was on top of a hill and stood large over the town.  It is the twin of the National Cathedral in Washington, DC, just a few centuries older.  I was amazed.  It was the first place that I wanted to visit.  I actually was blessed to see Handel’s Messiah performed there while I lived in Lincoln.
The cathedral is in the gothic design.  It has towering arches of stone.  The building itself in the shape of a cross.  It had a stunning rose window, and the entire building is centered on the altar.  The cathedral now belongs to the Anglican Church.  I ended up living in a row house two blocks from the cathedral.  I could walk to it anytime I wanted.  I saw it every single day.  It took my breath away repeatedly.  I can remember driving home in the summer after a long 12 hour shift.  The sun had been up for a couple of hours (England is a lot further north than we are) and there the cathedral shone in the sun.  Giving me enough energy to make the rest of the drive home.
Yorkminster, the first time I ever stood on top of Roman ruins.
Yorkminster, the first time I ever stood on top of Roman ruins.
When I did move to England in 2004, I wanted to see as many churches and cathedrals as possible.  I stood on top of Roman ruins at Yorkminster in York, England.  I visited the chapel in Edinburgh Castle in Edinburgh, Scotland.  For some reason I never made it to St. Paul’s in London.  I wish I had.  I went to St. Patrick’s in Dublin, Ireland.  I have to admit I was a bit disappointed.  The Reformation’s ties to the iconoclastic heresy stripped it of its grandeur.  I did stumble on a beautiful church in an alley in downtown Dublin.  It was  nothing to look at on the outside, but on the inside it was incredible.  It was in the baroque style, with marble pillars, beautiful paintings, and gold. Christ is the King of the Universe after all.
I do have to admit that in many of my travels in Europe I was disappointed by the beauty that was destroyed by the Reformation.  Remember, I hold a Catholic worldview.  The churches of the Netherlands were cold and bare, completely stripped of their former beauty. It was the same in many of England’s churches, except those that were High Church Anglican.
While in Bruges you can see Michelangelo's Madonna and then get the most incredible chocolate you have ever tasted.
While in Bruges you can see Michelangelo’s Madonna and then get the most incredible chocolate you have ever tasted.
I went to Bruges, Belgium a few days after Blessed John Paul II passed away.  It was a time of great sadness for the Church.  I went to the cathedral to see Michelangelo’s Madonna.  It was stunning.  The church itself had high arches, stained glass, artwork, and gold everywhere.  It lifted me up.  It reminded me of Heaven, which is exactly what beauty is supposed to do.  It refreshed me after being so appalled by Amsterdam. The only part of that city I enjoyed, was a sad part, Anne Frank’s house.
My time overseas was  cut short, so I did not make it to Rome.  My husband lived in Spain for a semester, so he was able to go to Fatima, Portugal and Rome.  Two places I would love to visit.  Some day we will make it back to Europe and take our daughter.
The trip that amazed me the most was my trip to Paris.  I had never had much interest in going to France.  I had heard too many horror stories and to be quite honest, I was pretty ignorant of French culture.  I decided to go on a weekend trip with one of my co-workers.  It ended up being one of the best trips I ever took in Europe.  Paris is beautiful.  It is unbelievably so.  The architecture, the Seine, the people.  It is an incredible city.  And you know what?  I never had any issues.  The key is to be humble when you are traveling in someone else’s homeland.  I only know a few words of French, but I used them, and it was appreciated.
I am not much of a shopper.  I would rather go to art museums and churches, than shop.  We went to Notre Dame first.  It was very crowded and somewhat chaotic.  There was not much room for reverence.  They were out of English brochures on the cathedral’s history, so I had to take one in Russian.  It is a gothic cathedral so it is very similar to a lot of the cathedrals that I had been to.  We heard about another church that was nearby called Sainte Chapelle.  We decided to check it out.
Sainte Chapelle, where "wow" can't even come close.
Sainte Chapelle, where “wow” can’t even come close.
When we arrived there was a line.  They only allowed a few people in at a time.  We decided to wait.  It was worth it.  When we went in, we walked up a narrow winding staircase.  If you have been to Europe, you know what I am talking about.  We then entered the sanctuary.  It was bare and open, but all around, in 360 degrees, was floor to ceiling stained glass.  I was in awe.  It is difficult for the senses to even fully discern such glory.  This was something to marvel at.  This is a defining moment for me in my travels.
Human beings are made to marvel and to worship. If we do not find God, we worship false idols like money, power, sex, etc.  When we do not have beauty to admire and marvel at we become empty and bored.  That is why so many American cities are just overwhelming, not beautiful.  Architecture has lost its connection with its roots. Art and architecture are meant to inspire, to show us what it means to be human, to worship, to create with the Creator.
We see this beauty in nature too, but it is incredible to see what man is capable of when his focus is on Christ.  The Catholic Church is the largest protector of the arts in the world.  Why?  Because we understand how beauty brings about conversion.  Marveling at something greater than us, brings us to God’s door.  It reminds us that there is something more than what we see daily.  We need to get outside of ourselves, and beauty lifts us up to new heights.
You would not know it thanks to modern architecture, but Vatican II affirms the necessity and use of sacred art.  Beauty is essential in the worship of Christ.  We are stepping into the Heavenly Liturgy at Mass, not a football game.  The senses need help being transported.  That is one of the purposes of stained glass, statues, candles, incense, gold, paintings, etc.  Not to mention that the Old Testament affirms God’s request for us to use beauty.  The Ark of the Covenant, was beautiful and included statues, gold, etc.,  hence the use of gold in our Tabernacles.  To lift us up.  Mass is a vertical expression, not a horizontal one.
A depiction of the Ark of the Covenant.  Look familiar, fellow Catholics?
A depiction of the Ark of the Covenant. Look familiar, fellow Catholics?
When was the last time you marveled at something?  Are you feeling overburdened by the world?  Make a point of seeking out beauty.  It will leave you refreshed and more focused on Our Lord.