Guest Post #3 for May's Different Beautiful Church Series:
by Kate Hendrick (stumblingtowardsainthood.com)
The Catholic Mass is beautiful because every component has meaning; it lives and breathes Scripture, it echoes the earlier Church, and I intimately encounter Christ in the Eucharist. Every Part of the Mass Has Significance.
My husband was raised in an evangelical Protestant background. God has blessed me with wonderful in-laws who support our faith journey even though it doesn’t mirror their own. Sometimes, they will even attend Mass with us, and Ben and I will explain what is going on. At one point, my father-in-law asked in surprise,
So everything has a meaning?
As I thought about the answer, it made me realize that every aspect of the Mass is intentional. Every single thing that occurs during the Mass is meant to engage us body and soul as we worship God. Trying to explain everything would take an entire book, but I wanted to highlight just a few things.
From the moment we enter the church, we are engaging our whole selves. We sign ourselves with Holy Water to remind us of our baptismal promises.
What people jokingly call “Catholic Calisthenics” - the sitting, the kneeling, the standing over and over again - actually are very intentional. We sit because it helps us listen. We stand because that’s what you do to respect dignitaries, and none are more important than God. We kneel to humble ourselves before God.
Different parts of the Mass taken place at different locations in the sanctuary. The Liturgy of the Word takes place at the ambo which (from the perspective of the congregation) is on the left side. The Liturgy of the Eucharist centers around the altar which is at the middle. The priest, deacon(s), and altar servers sit on the right when they aren’t doing certain tasks. These help us be physically reminded of what is going on and how we should be participating.
And the list goes on. From the color of the candles to the gestures we so easily overlook, every detail is specifically defined for a beautiful reason.
The Word of God is Proclaimed
Every Christian service should have Scripture as part of it. The Catholic Church is no exception. At every Mass, you hear at least one Psalm, one reading from the Gospels, and at least one reading from somewhere else in the Bible. On Sundays there is an additional reading from the New Testament. On hugely important days, there might be even more Scripture read.
There are also smaller details seeing how Scripture applies to our lives, for example, we say “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed” (cf. Matthew 8:8) before receiving the Eucharist.
Scott Hahn, a highly-respected theologian who came from a Presbyterian background, has an incredible testimony about his first Mass experience and the connections to Scripture, especially the book of Revelation (see below). I’ve been a Catholic almost all my life, but hearing a former Protestant’s perspective on the Mass really blew my mind and helped me notice details I hadn’t before.
The Mass Resembles Liturgies in the Early Christian Church
When we compare how early Christians worshipped to a modern Catholic Mass, there are undeniable connections. I love seeing how the truth of the Christian faith has carried on through the centuries.
Scott Hahn mentioned comparing his studies of the early liturgies to the modern Mass was like going through a checklist. St. Justin Martyr lived around 100-165, and described meeting on Sundays, hearing the Word proclaimed, and sharing in the Eucharistic feast.
Growing up, I had the opportunity to attend a number of Protestant church services. I used to feel jealous of other churches because their services seemed more entertaining. The music was more enthusiastic, people were more vocal during the services, and the service seemed to go by a lot quicker.
Now that I have a better understanding of the Mass, I realize my Sunday worship isn’t about me; it is about God. That isn’t to say that church services should be boring, and I believe there is definitely beautiful fruits being brought forth in those other services. What I do recognize now as an adult, however, is that even if the music sucks and the homily is boring and I get stuck sitting behind Great Auntie Gladys who is wearing two gallons of perfume, it ultimately doesn’t matter. What matters is that I am there glorifying God and am truly in the presence of Christ.
The Eucharist is Celebrated
The Eucharist is an unspeakingly beautiful gift. There is nothing more intimate than receiving Christ’s body and blood which He shed for us. And I get to experience that at every single Catholic Mass. It isn’t just on special occasions or when the priest feels like it. Whether I walk into a Mass at 6:30am on a Tuesday morning where there are only 10 other people or if I show up to a packed Easter Mass, I get to experience Christ Himself present in what appears to just be a host and wine.
Not only am I sharing in this Eucharistic feast with the other people in church during that Mass; I am also celebrating this with all the angels and saints. The Mass is Heaven on Earth, and I am partaking in this wonderful mystery with the entire Body of Christ.
The Eucharist is a return to Calvary; it is a re-presentation of Christ’s sacrifice (it is not a re-sacrifice). We are brought back to that moment where Christ died for us. We are made present to that reality through His presence in the Eucharist.
With the exception of Orthodox Christianity, no other Christian tradition presents this opportunity. While there are communion services that recall the Last Supper, it is only by attending Mass that I can truly receive Christ: body, blood, soul and divinity.
It is a reminder of the central message of Christianity: the priest acting in persona Christi repeats those incredible words “This is my body, given up for you.” And during the Liturgy of the Eucharist, we say “Lord, I am not worthy…” But Christ still offers Himself to us in the form of bread and wine.
The Eucharist is what makes every Mass worth it. It is what draws me to church every Sunday. The grace from this Sacrament are what keep me striving to live a holy, Christian life.
- A blog post explaining the different postures during Mass
- The Catholic Mass and the Book of Revelation
- The Early Christian Church
Kate Hendrick lives in Wisconsin with her husband and works full-time as a process engineer. She discusses the challenges she and other young adults face as they try to live authentically Christian lives on her blog Stumbling Toward Sainthood. You can also find her on Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest.
To read Guest Post #1 in this series: This Year On Good Friday
To read Guest Post #2 in this series: I Do Church Differently Than My Ancestors Did