4 years ago

Why The Mass is Like a Dictionary

The Mass

I am not comfortable writing about Catholicism.
It exposes my faith in something that cannot be fully, completely proved. Whenever I voice things about which I’m passionate, someone’s royal highness is always offended, and believe it or not, it’s not enjoyable to have to reexplain and over explain something his or her majesty never read completely. It makes me uncomfortable, and I’m awkward to begin with!
It’s easier to whine write about laundry woes, out-of-diaper experiences, or my pink pants, because those subjects are easy to commiserate over.  However, a time will come when those things will have passed.  So what I’m doing here, in an earnest attempt to be careful, is opening my arms and breathing some fresh air, hoping you’ll breathe it with me.

{My disclaimer, of course, is that I’m writing elementarily. I hope it stirs you to learn more. By learning more, I mean venturing out and reading a book.  Not turning to the nearest Catholic and drilling her with an assumption that she is as educated on Catholicism as the Pope. All too many Catholics were born, raised and privately educated in Catholic schools, who still rely on mainstream media’s reports that Pope Francis is changing Catholic teaching without ever troubling to understand the teachings herself…    Go out in search of the truth for yourself.  It isn’t easy. But when it hits you, you will be transformed.}

I’ve been planning this post since the spring. I’ve been writing it and praying about how to best deliver the message for three weeks. During this period, I’ve felt attacked, distracted, and afraid of opening a can of worms I’m not ready or able to handle.  Know this, as you read this post. Also, know that I -however “masterminded” I may be- am merely an erred human, with a heart and a soul, and a lover of love, just like you. Please be peace-filled in your very welcome responses and know I mean no intentional offense to those of differing faiths.

The Mass.  AKA: Catholic worship.

The complaints are worn out, and always the same.  I’ve heard them over and over and over again. From family, friends, internet commenters, and overheard by strangers in public.  Since I was a little girl whining about going to Mass, I still hear them, the very same complaints, coming from grown adults today (with the same little girly voice).

  • It’s BORING.
  • I don’t GET anything out of it.
  • I dont even know what’s going on.
  • I don’t feel welcome.
  • The music sucks.
  • The priest talks funny.
  • It’s the SAME THING every single week.
  • It’s not relevant.

I could go on and on.  Why? Because I’ve thought all of those things about the Mass, growing up in the church.
Well, it sounds like a pretty crappy church, Carolyn. Why don’t you try out my church? Better yet, if everyone complains, why won’t the Church change how they do things??
Before I took the time to learn what’s actually going on during Mass, before I took the time to understand what the Mass is really about, I tried what I thought were easier routes.  I attended an array of non-Catholic churches during my searching years, and among an ocean of findings, here are 5 things I’ve learned:

{1}

via: Catholic Memes
via: Catholic Memes

No other worship service utilizes the Bible as much as the Catholic Church does.

WELL BUST MY BUTTONS! The ol’ Caths DO read the Bible! As a matter of fact, if you went to Mass every day for three years, you’d hear the Bible, in almost its entirety.  What’s WORSE, the Mass is scripturally based and I’ve been hard pressed to find a non-Catholic church which accounts its every aspect of worship, every thing the pastor does and says, to the Bible –HUH? Yah. Let that brew there for a minute.

My mother is a revert and my father a convert to the Catholic faith. As a family we did not start regularly attending Mass until it was time for my sister and I to receive our first Holy Communion. As a little girl, the somewhat sudden blindsiding of the Catholic culture was annoying to me, and I resisted learning God’s word all the way through high school.  As my parents were learning our faith and changing our family life for the better, I lagged along reluctantly. But just as one may not particularly enjoy learning math or reading, if your daily life includes the presence of those subjects, the basics kind of stick, unbeknownst to you.

So skipping ahead many years, it occurred to me, one day after I’d had a renewal in zeal for my faith, that I knew so much more of the Bible than I’d been accused of not knowing, AND in spite of my adolescent annoyance with it. I’d been drilled by people of my past that Catholics don’t read the bible, but the notion suddenly struck me as completely absurd.

Someone who knows the word of God will recognize the absurdity of the claim that Catholics don’t know the Bible.  Anyone who knows the Bible, will walk into Mass, listen to the words, witness the sacrifice, and go, “Wow.. I know this. I’ve read this.” but these Catholics, they’re not only reading this, they’re… doing this.  Someone who knows the Bible will realize that the Mass points to Revelation. …or better yet, that Revelation points to the Mass. 

But for me, it was years of going to Mass and not listening. It was years of being distracted, being annoyed, looking at everything: the music, the priest, the other people -everything except the Mass itself. When I finally realized this, I realized I’d been basing my complaints about the Catholic Mass upon a house of sand.  I realized I had spent years in Mass, not listening, and not truly looking for Christ –and He was right in front of me the entire time!

It was like going to a wedding and being so annoyed by the bride’s dress, the couple’s choice of music, or the menu choice they served at the reception, that I never looked the couple in the eyes to see that their love for each other completely nullified my approval of the wedding itself.

I knew I had a TON to catch up on.  I quickly realized that Catholics encourage community and fellowship outside of just “going to church on Sundays”.  The Catholic community outside of the Mass itself flourished.  Whatever my personal needs are, the parish I attend, or a neighboring parish offers a vast array of programs: bible studies, mom groups, prayer groups, healing services, volunteer groups, knitting circles, family nights, theology on tap (talking about God over a beer), retreats, singings, dancings, sports— everything I could want to fill my personal needs outside of worship.  I only needed to ask.  I only needed to look.

{2}

The Catholic Church offers Mass every. single. day.

Except Good Friday. But even then, there IS a service, as part of the Easter Triduum.

Correct me if I’m wrong.

I find this absolutely beautiful. Mass is held every day, at varying times, in different parishes. (Parish = town the church is located).  Christian worship should be THE way of life, not a weekend show, penciled in like a t-ball game, or a night at the movies.  I have otherwise been aghast to see some churches closed like a business, for a Christian holiday.  …isn’t that kind of moot if the pinnacle of a Christian holiday is worship?
Shouldn’t the Christian faith be a culture, something lived and breathed throughout our week and ended on a Sunday with worship?  Or begun each day with worship?
This is the trouble, though: many have skewed the definition of  what is “worship” to mere waving of arms in the air, or a walk through the woods, or eating a delicious dessert. While all of these things are gifts to us from our Creator, and we enjoy them with thanksgiving, enjoying them is no more of a worship than taking a vacation to Hawaii or getting a manicure.
True worship involves a sacrifice.
Where is that sacrifice?

{3}

Mass is about Jesus.

Amanda of Worthy of Agape put it excellently:
It’s not about you.
It’s not about you.
Going to Mass is NOT ABOUT YOU. (I use “you” as a general term including myself, so calm thy self.)

I know, blow my mind wide open- heaven forbid the Church not cater to ME while we worship our Creator. But we are, as Kristen Hatten cleverly points out, a Selfie Society, and we think we need to go to Mass so that we can come out feeling warm and fuzzy and justified in wearing the blue maxi dress that we are doing right by our life solely by feeling uplifted or simply by gracing the church doors with our presence.  And if we don’t come out feeling warm and fuzzy, instead being made to feel guilty for our sins, then we assume God must not be present there, so we move on? Pick another church which caters to our finicky feelings, or to our sins of choice?

Going to Mass and expecting to get something out of it might beg the question of who we go to actually worship…
As a culture, I think we’ve lost the true sense of worship and are confusing it with entertainment and self affirmation.
As Fr. Mike Schmitz says, “We are not spectators. We are IN the game.”
We go to participate. We go to partake in worship.

{4}

Worship is more than the music and the fuzzy feelings. So much more. 

Something that I consistently find maddening from non-Catholic services is the announcement of worship, followed by further, more flourishing announcements of worship… without ever actually arriving at the point.

For example:  My boys love Disney Jr’s Jake & The Neverland Pirates. There’s a certain episode where the princesses of the island go to the Queen of Neverland, bringing her gifts. One princess brings her the gift of rainbows, one princess brings her another gift I can’t remember, but the third princess (And maybe I’m mixing up the order of the princesses and their gifts) sings the Queen a special song.
She ratchets the song up to be specially written just for the Queen, but as the song finishes, only the introspect realizes that there was no such song sung.
The song went similar to this:

“I want to sing a special song for you
a song for you,
I’m singing a special song just for youuuu”

I stood in my living room, rocking my infant to sleep, going, “uhhhh… she just sang a song about singing a song.”   I mean, I know it’s just Disney Jr. and the disappointment in hearing a genuine song for the Queen of Neverland was not had by the queen herself, and my boys didn’t notice the faultiness of it all, but there’s something to be said about the fullness the song could’ve contained versus the empty words my boys were transfixed by, simply because the tune sounded catchy.

Another example:  My oldest, Lexington, is a perpetual talker. No surprise for a 4 year old right? But it becomes a problem when it’s time to eat a meal. While his brothers actually eat their food, Lexington is constantly caught up  in talking about eating: 

“I’m going to eat this carrot first.  I’m going to dip in in the ranch, and then I’m going to take 5 more bites.  Then I’m going to eat the chicken.  I might not like it. But if I want a cookie later, I should eat 5 bites of chicken…”

By the time I finally nudge him to actually consume his food, his brothers are already finished with their meal, and Lexington has only accomplished talked about eating.

So many times, I’ve met services which sing very uplifting songs about worship, but leave me thinking the same thing the Pirate Princess’s song did.
waiting to hear the real song.
waiting to eat the meal.

There is more than singing and dancing and tellin Jesus He’s Awesome.  So much more.

The Catholic Mass offers this seemingly elusive “more” and the Catholic church welcomes every one to participate.
Everyone.
We crave for our loved ones to join us in the fullness of worship.
We long to the point of tears to have our brothers and sisters with us in full unity, sharing His Kingdom come.

Music and art without a doubt enhance the Mass (I’ve briefly touched on art and its importance in the church here), but if we were forbidden to sing a single note, if we had to hide underground and have Mass in whispers because it is considered treason and a criminal act by the government, the Mass is still the same. True story.  In fact, this has happened, many, many, many times throughout history, and is still happening.

Matrix Fr. Mike
Probably the crappiest quality Meme I’ve ever made, but whatever.

The funny thing we all like to do is get caught up in the quirks of the priest, or his monotone voice, or that annoying family which always parades in with their 10 children all wearing fedoras and mantillas.  But these things do not affect the worship of the Mass, and if they influence why we are coming or not coming to church on Sunday, we need to think a little deeper about why we’re really coming or not coming.

What is this “deeper” worship which Catholics practice that no one else has? What is this sacrifice??
I’m listening to a talk by Fr. Mike Schmitz on True Worship, and he explains Catholic worship in a way that even I, your cradle Catholic, found revealing. The thing about Catholicism is that when you think you’ve delved pretty deeply spiritually and  intellectually, it goes deeper. There is always more. Below is a FREE iTunes audio I recommend a thousand times.

A THOUSAND TIMES. If you don’t click any of my external links ever (which my blog statistics suggest barely happen anyway), I ask you to click on the three  audio links listed below.

As a mom with various demands and three little hooligans running around the house, for me to listen to these talks, it can take a whole week even though each talk is about 20 minutes long. I listen to small bits of it, start it over, and listen to it later.  But it’s easy because the talks are free, and on iTunes, so I can easily play it on my iPhone as I drive or do various chores throughout my week..

It’s a 3 part series spoken by Fr. Mike Schmitz on Catholic Worship which asks, What is Worship? What is TRUE Worship? Why do we worship? What is at the Heart of this? What does the Bible say? Did Jesus tell us how to worship?

Fr. Mike is so fun to listen to. What pulled me in is that he opens the talk with one of my favorite subjects: Coffee. YESSSSS.

1.  Worship: “True Worship” (scroll to # 100)- Did God, in fact, tell us HOW to worship Him?
2.  Worship: “Instituted, Not Invented” (scroll to # 99)- Where did God leave instructions on how to worship Him?
3.  Worship: “Come Hungry” (scroll to #98)- Realizing that God calls us to Him: How do we respond when we know it’s important, but we just don’t care anymore?

{5}

Mass is like a dictionary.

…or an encyclopedia, or any other large, heavy, seemingly boring and easily ignored book collecting dust on your mantle at home.
I remember, as a little girl reading for school and asking my mom what certain words meant.  Multiple times, she would say, “You don’t know that word? There’s the dictionary, look it up!”
I’d glance at the heavy thing sitting upon the bookshelf and roll my eyes.
The answer was within my grasp all the time.
But instead of exerting the energy to get up, walk across the room and bring myself to the full answer, I remained sitting there because I was cozy.
I skipped over the word I did not understand and continued to read, making up my own variation of the real meaning and feeling somewhat satisfied at my own ingenuity.
Throughout my adolescence, I ignored this annoying book with all the answers, assuming I could figure out the meanings of words solely by contextual evaluation.
And it wasn’t until college, while studying the French language that I actually learned the English language.
See, we were required to own a french dictionary.
I realized there are subtleties and depths to certain words I’d never known.
I realized I’d been misusing, mispronouncing and misinterpreting words my whole life.

That is what the Mass is: a wealth of truth just waiting for you to pick it up and soak up every page.

You have the power to change your life, to change the life of your loved ones, to change the world by your active participation in the Mass.
By sitting there, rolling my eyes at the cheesiest song in the world, or cracking jokes with my husband the entire time, I’m just steeping in my own personal vat of ignorance.
That’s pretty heavy, no?
So when you bust into a Catholic church and everyone seems solemn and unwelcoming, it’s not because they’re elitist and looking at you as an outcast.  They’re busy worshipping and looking to Jesus Christ Himself.
BUT, we so deeply want you here with us, too.

Life is too short for ersatz coffee.  (if you listen to the first talk listed above, you’ll know what that means.  Come onnnn… don’t roll your eyes, like I once have.)

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Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be. World without end, Amen.

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23 comments

  1. Such a beautiful post! Also, Fr. Mike is the best. My husband was at UMD with him as the Chaplain, and when I finally met him in person, I was just amazed. Such liveliness, such holiness.

    Reply
  2. Thank you for writing all these wonderful and true things about the mass – it can be a lot to swallow and tough to be the one to put it out there for others to read and criticize. You are brave and I greatly enjoyed reading how you explained it! Also, thanks for writing about the everyday struggles of a mom of young ones, it’s a world all its own : ) Have a wonderful week!

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  3. I ended up here for the first time after reading Jennifer Fulwiler’s 7 Quick Takes this week and I saw your cute picture:) The title of this post intrigued me and I am so glad I took my mommy time-out to read it! While I don’t disagree with Katie that everything about Jesus really is about each one of us, I think Kristy nailed it in her reply. Keep on writing! I really enjoyed my visit here:)

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  4. Beautifully written, dear cousin. Many very valid points! Next blog should be about the importance of the Eucharist in the mass! Where else can you consume and be one in the body and blood of Christ?

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    1. Hi Hannah! Welcome and thank you for visiting! Oy vey, the Eucharist is a big big biiiiig topic to write about which I fear I would fall very short writing about. Mehhh. But maybe!

      Reply
  5. I totally understand the metaphors you’ve used here. And I will certainly be listening to the podcast as soon as I can (kiddos can slow these things down!) Thanks for posting!

    Reply
  6. This is a great post! I haven’t commented before, but I’ve recently found your blog and have really been enjoying it. Regarding the comments implying that you’re putting down other Christian denominations, I disagree. Of course you are differentiating and stating why you believe in Catholicism’s teachings. However, you don’t do so in a way that implies disrespect. I think one of the many problems with our current attitude towards religion is to imply that in order to be respectful of one another we should all be able to participate in our chosen form of worship but not speak out in favor of it whole heartedly. If you believe in Christianity that’s great and if you attend a specific Church that’s fine too. But it seems that sharing why you believe in your Church’s specific teachings vs. other denominations is viewed negatively. God wants us to be passionate in our faith and your post does a great job of sharing about the Catholic Mass.
    I hope you will continue to share posts focused on religion and faith as you feel called to do so!

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  7. Love this! So well put, and so True. I’m in the process of converting/coming into full communion, and one of the things I love so much about the Catholic church is the mass being said daily. It’s just lovely. Thanks for such a fun-ly written post. =)

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  8. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I think about God’s love for me when the priest begins the consecration prayers. “TAKE THIS, ALL OF YOU, AND EAT OF IT: FOR THIS IS MY BODY WHICH WILL BE GIVEN UP FOR YOU.”
    Not to get all sentimental here, but that’s powerful and moving. I mean I really am not worthy to physically receive God. With all the things I say, do, and think, on a daily basis? I should go to confesstion everyday. For reals. So, for me, a non-devout/lazy Catholic, I realize every Mass that God does love me and his sacrifice was for me. I think C’s point was that Mass is not about entertaining you? So when I say “I don’t like to kneel or I don’t like that song” the correct response should be, “well it’s not all about you Chris”.
    The problem or issue with any religious discussion is that if you truly have believe in your faith, and it is different than someone else’s, then that other person must be wrong. They have to be wrong by definition. I truly believe in all of my beliefs. Political, social, religious, and everything inbetween. The moment your beliefs change then your old beliefs were wrong. It sounds crazy, but it just might be true! So if you agree with me on anything, good for you! If you disagree then you’re wrong! :-) the trick is learning to still love those ppl and get along with them. I’ll always make fun of non-Catholics and liberals but I can still be friends with them. All except for those pro-abortion bastards! I don’t like them :-)

    Reply
  9. Here is it! Your first critic. If something is truly so great then why must you bring something else down to prove that it is great? Bringing up other church practices is and should be irrelevant to your point.
    I disagree with you when you say “it’s not about you”. Saying “its not about you” implies that Jesus’ sacrifice, Jesus’ life had nothing to do with you. YOU are Gods kingdom. Without YOU God is sad and would leave everyone in the pews to seek YOU out. You diminish Gods value of YOU. He loves YOU. He wants YOU. He died for YOU! That’s something I really really wish I had never been taught or thought I understood. I will spend the rest of my life unlearning that. Or by the grace of God one day I will understand how important I am to him.
    This is a fatal error. That many many people do not understand or never even HEAR! They have allegiance to a church or not even church but traditions, a way of life. Believing in allegiance, believing its not about them. Getting so caught up that they forget or are distracted from God and his love for YOU.
    That is all ….for now.
    Love-sister

    Reply
    1. #1: This is my only criticism. (I promise.) Our (Lutheran) worship service uses the Bible just as much as the Mass does… because it is BASED on the Mass (the only difference is that we don’t believe in transubstantiation and we aren’t as big on Mary). The Liturgy of the Hours is also thoroughly Scriptural.

      #4: There’s a joke about contemporary praise music which is that it can be “Jesus is my boyfriend” music because a lot of them, you could sing to your boyfriend without removing any words.

      #5: Word, sister-friend. I find that it takes me a week to get through podcasts because I’m engaged in other things or I’m listening as I go to sleep.

      Reply
      1. Re: #1 Oh doyyyy! I forgot. I love the Liturgy of the Hours. I’ve yet to practice it but have a deep longing to incorporate it into the day with my boys.
        and re,re#4 Hehehe we go to a “contemporary” Mass some Sundays if we just couldn’t get out the door in the morning and now I’m going to catch myself not paying attention and inserting boyfriend into the music XD

        Thank you, as always for visiting, Jen :)

        Reply
    2. Hey Kate,
      Understanding that God loves me, you, us,each person, that he loves and wants each person because He created us, He WILLED us, He LOVED us into existence is the first step toward a beautiful spiritual journey. It is a glorious day in Heaven -I imagine- when God sees that we come to this full realization of our individual, inherent worth as a unique creation. Only after accepting this truth can we step further on our walk with Jesus. But as concerns the Mass, it is understood by our attendance that we already know God loves us. We go to Mass of our free will, not only to be affirmed that He loves us, but first, that we choose, we love HIM, by offering up the sacrificial Lamb, His only son, Jesus Christ. The journey of Christianity starts by realizing that God gave His only son because He so loved the world, but the climb, the adventure, is loving God back. And that’s an entirely other blog post for perhaps another diaaaaa. :)

      Reply
      1. So you expect people to come to mass even though they don’t know that God loves them and get something out of it?
        Isn’t that what this blog is about, getting people to mass? So deflect their reason for not coming to get them to come… for what reason? “Because its not about them?” Shouldn’t the blog have been about Gods love for those people even though they think the priest is weird or mass is incredibly boring? Because they obviously don’t get that God loves them and you just said that they won’t get that from mass.
        I guess my real question is, why did you write this blog? To mock other people/churches or to bring people to know God’s love?
        Just to make clear my tone and it doesn’t get misrepresented, I’m not offended personally because I claim none of the above reasons to be a reason for me. However you do mock your audience by assuming their thoughts. And like we’ve seen before, this approach only drives them further away.

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    3. I think you misunderstand “It’s not about you.” Before being Catholic, I looked for a church that had music that appealed to me, preaching that was lively and entertaining, good programs for children. I was looking for a church to serve ME and my preferences. “It’s not about you” simply means that the Catholic Mass isn’t there to appeal to current trends and musical styles. It’s there because of Jesus. The entire Mass is centered around Christ. And because Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever, the Mass isn’t going to look too different than it did 2,000 years ago.

      Reply
    4. I think she meant the service is not for your entertainment so don’t crab about being bored or.not liking sister susie’s dress etc. The focus is God.

      Reply

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