One of the most common complaints I hear from friends that left Catholicism is, “I just didn’t get anything out of going to Mass.” Many of these friends now attend non-Catholic, Christian churches (if they attend at all). Typically, the services they attend consist of music and a sermon. No kneeling, standing up and sitting back down. No confusing rituals or ancient traditions. Just praise music, a sermon and some fellowship. These days, there might be a video to watch, too. Why complicate matters?
I have absolutely nothing against the old “K.I.S.S.” idea (Keep It Simple, Stupid!), although I don’t like the idea of calling anyone stupid. That’s just rude. But I do like for things to be straightforward and to-the-point. I don’t like to complicate matters. So, why do I like going to Mass when it seemingly complicates a very simple Gospel message? It is because, although the Gospel is simple, it is also very deep and profound. The Mass is also simple yet deep and profound. The Gospel can be accepted by the simplest person, and it can also endlessly occupy and challenge the minds of the greatest theologians and philosophers. In other words, the Gospel is for everyone, and so is the Mass.
The Mass proclaims the simple message to believe in Christ for the salvation of one’s soul. The Mass also reflects 2000 years of deep theological reflection on salvation through Christ. I would like to make an attempt here to explain the basics of the Mass in a way my friends can understand. There is no way I can cover everything here, but the basics are enough for now. All it takes to “get something out of the Mass” is an awareness of a few things.
- The simple message of the Gospel is typically right in front of you when you are seated in a Catholic church. John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.” This is the verse that folks hold up at sporting events on big signs, right? “John 3:16.” A crucifix is simply John 3:16 in “picture form.” When you are in a Catholic church and looking at the crucifix you are “seeing” the reality of John 3:16. That is why Catholics have an image of Christ hanging on the cross. It is also because of 1Corinthians 1:23 which says, “We preach Christ crucified…” Jesus died for you. Take a look. Pretty simple, eh? Yet, so profound!
- The first part of the Mass is the “Liturgy of the Word.” We start with the sign of the cross. That shows we believe in the Holy Trinity (One God, three Persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit). It also shows that we belong to God, not to ourselves.
- We ask God for forgiveness. Ever hear people say, “Catholics don’t go straight to God with their sins?” We do it all the time, at every Mass!
- Next, we read the Bible and preach from it. There is usually a reading from the Old Testament, something from the Psalms, and the New Testament. We stand up during the Gospel reading to reverence the story of Christ’s time here on earth. Over a three year period, a faithfully attending Catholic will hear nearly the entire Bible. Pretty simple, eh? Catholics may not be good at quoting chapter and verse, but we hear God’s Word if we are listening. Very profound!
- The second part of the Mass is the Liturgy of the Eucharist. This is where we as Christians do what Jesus commanded us to do. At the Last Supper, Jesus took bread and wine, blessed it, said “This is my body” and “This is my blood,” and told his followers to eat and drink it. So, that’s what we do. The priest, being ordained by the authority of Christ’s Church, stands in the place of Christ, and Christ’s words make the change happen (“Jesus told his priests, “He who hears you hears me.” Luke 10:16). The bread and wine become Christ’s flesh and blood. This has been the belief of the Church for 2000 years. John chapter 6 shows how important this Eucharist is. Jesus said, “Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood, you have no life in you. If you eat my flesh and drink my blood, you will have eternal life and I will raise you up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink.” (John 6:53-55) Now, if you actually have the glorified Jesus Christ in the flesh right in your presence, it makes sense to show some respect and reverence, right? So, we kneel down in worship. Pretty simple, eh? When we go forward for Communion, we accept Jesus into our hearts and also into our bodies. Jesus wants to occupy every part of our being. Now, that’s what I call Communion! How profound, yet simple to do! Anyone who believes can be fully united with Jesus!
Throughout these major parts of the Mass there are various hymns and prayers, including The Lord’s Prayer (The Our Father). We are supposed to participate with and actively listen to these prayers and enter into the whole process of the Mass, not simply observe it. The Mass is not a show to watch. It is the way Jesus told us he wants to be worshipped. A baptized Christian is part of the priesthood of believers. We are supposed to be joining in with the worship and sacrifice, not watching a performance (1Peter 2:5). Jesus is the High Priest, the earthly priest stands in for him, and we are the “living stones” of the “holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.” There is only one spiritual sacrifice acceptable to God by Jesus Christ; the sacrifice of Christ himself. That’s why we lift him up in the Mass (John 3:14, 12:32). That is also why people bow or genuflect towards the fancy, gold tabernacle in the church. Some of the bread that has been changed into the body of Christ is kept in there.
The Mass is dismissed with an admonition to “Go.” Christians are not supposed to be huddled up in their churches hiding from the world. We are supposed to go to Mass, be nourished by Christ himself, and then take Christ out into the world we live in. That’s not so hard to understand.
Like anything else in life, you get out of the Mass what you put into the Mass. Remember, it is not there to entertain you. It is also not an evangelizing service for recruiting new believers. The Mass is there because it is how Jesus told us he wants believers to worship him and be fed by him. The basics of the Mass do not change with the times. Jesus never changes, and the way he told us to worship never changes. That’s why the Mass is so ancient. It was started by the unchanging Jesus 2000 years ago.
If there are things you don’t understand about the Mass, you can learn. Ask questions, buy books, look up information on Catholic websites, whatever helps you to understand it better. If you ask a question and don’t get a good answer, ask someone else who knows more. Like anything else, once you know the basics, you wonder why it seemed so hard before. The Mass is also very deep and profound. The more I learn about the Mass, the more fascinating it becomes. Every little action and word in the liturgy has deep meaning and purpose.
If you quit going to Mass because you were craving more fellowship, remember that Catholicism has other avenues for socializing. It’s not enough to chat a few minutes before or after Mass. If you really want the social interaction, you can find it in Catholicism. Either find a more social parish or start a small group or event. I recently joined a men’s group in my parish and it is helping me to be more social and involved. You don’t need to leave Catholicism to have fellowship or to have a relationship with Jesus Christ. Just imagine how vibrant and social your local parish and the entire Church would be if all those “former Catholics” saw the light and decided to return home to be fed by Christ himself!