Perspective on Our Place in the Universe

Perspective on Our Place in the Universe
Perspective on Our Place in the Universe
Perspective on Our Place in the Universe
Perspective on Our Place in the Universe
Perspective on Our Place in the Universe
Perspective on Our Place in the Universe
Perspective on Our Place in the Universe
Perspective on Our Place in the Universe
Perspective on Our Place in the Universe
Perspective on Our Place in the Universe
Perspective on Our Place in the Universe
Perspective on Our Place in the Universe

The Misdirected Goal of the Friendly Church

It seems to be an ongoing concern among Catholics that they are not "friendly" enough to visitors during Mass. I once heard a talk by a Catholic speaker in which he recounted an incident when he mistakenly entered a Protestant church while traveling. His first realization that he wasn't in a Catholic church came when people around him in the pews actually said "Hello" to him. The implication was "wow, wouldn't it be great if Catholic churches were like this, too?" A number of local churches have launched initiatives to make their church more "visitor friendly," by expanding the scope of ushers' responsibility during the period while people are gathering for Mass. At one of the two parishes I frequent, the Mass is preceded with an invitation to everyone to "stand up and greet those around you."

This movement towards stranger-friendliness is understandably well-intentioned. We are an evangelistic Church. Our founding mission is to "make disciples of all nations." One would think that Christ's commission, at the very least, should drive us to be ever on the look-out for the potential stranger among us when we gather for Mass, so that we can make that stranger feel welcome. That seems to be a natural and appropriate extension of our evangelistic mission.

I disagree, however. I know that most people's reaction will be to think that I'm calling for Catholics to be unfriendly and stand-offish. I'm not calling for that at all; indeed, I think Catholics should, as an expression of what we possess, be the friendliest people that most people encounter in the course of their day. What I'm making a case for, is that the Mass is not the proper forum for this outward-looking friendliness, and gathering for Mass is not the proper context for the specific evangelization of those who are not already counted among the faithful, or at least participating in a program of catechesis.

The reason is that the objective of visitor-friendliness at Mass misplaces the significance of the Mass and of our own participation in the Mass. The key reality that seems to be lost in the "friendly church" movement is that the Mass is the source and summit of the Christian life. This phrase, "source and summit" means several things, all of which indicate that the Mass is not an entry point to the Christian life. Participating in a Mass is not the appropriate vehicle for someone searching for a religious home to "check out" whether they might like becoming Catholic. For those on the outside looking in, the Mass represents a destination, and not the starting point, of a journey towards Catholicism.

The Mass is the source of Christian evangelization in the truest sense. This is shown in the word "Mass" itself. It comes from the word "missa," which means "sending out." It is the root of the words "dismissal" and "mission." For the faithful, the Mass is the ongoing mystical presence of the Incarnation, the Cross, and the Ascension. In other words, the Mass is what makes manifest to the faithful God's insertion of Himself, in the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, into His own creation. From that insertion, and therefore through the Mass itself, God emanates into the rest of the world in the reality of the Church. This is why the Church's evangelic mission must be seen as deriving from the Mass.

If the Mass is the source of the Christian life, then it is equally the summit. Our ultimate destination is a union with God Himself, to become one with the Father through the Son, participating in the very union that exists eternally between the Father and the Son. While the perfection of our union with God must wait until our earthly death, the Mass is a means by which we are imperfectly elevated into that union here on earth. Furthermore, the imperfection of our participation in that union through the Mass is a limit of our fallen nature, and not of the nature of the Mass. The Mass makes present the perfection of the Son's union with the Father, placing us directly in the presence of the eternal Sacrifice of the Lamb.

The Mass also represents the wedding feast of the Bridegroom, which is Christ, with His bride, which is the Church. The wedding represents the final end of our journey towards perfection and union with God. The true wedding feast is already taking place in eternity, where even now, the faithful throughout history are enjoying their reward. This is not a mystery of faith so much as a metaphysical reality that's just difficult to grasp, but there's no "before and after" in eternity---everything just is. Even that which has a beginning in time, like us, has a full presence in eternity. Thus, our participation at Mass is an earthly participation in the eternal Wedding Feast that is the Church Triumphant's union with God.

That the Church has always seen the Mass as a destination of our journey towards the Christian life, and not the starting point of it, is perhaps more clearly seen when considering the habit of the early Church. This is a time when evangelistic zeal was arguably stronger and the rate of conversion to the Church higher than in any other time in history. In the early Church, it quickly became the norm that those who were still undergoing catechesis were removed from the assembly after what is now called the "Liturgy of the Word" (once called the "Mass of the Catechumens") and not permitted to participate in the "Liturgy of the Eucharist" (once known as the "Mass of the Faithful") until they had been fully initiated into the Christian life through Baptism.

To summarize, the Mass is God's emanation of Himself into the world, and because He is our ultimate destination, it is also that towards which He draws everybody that is destined for salvation. Thus, the Mass is that from which the faithful are sent out, and that to which the faithful must ultimately draw the world in our evangelistic mission. The Mass represents the final home of the Christian spirit, rather than the gateway to the Christian life.

Another issue with the idea making it a focus before and during Mass to welcome strangers is that, while a Catholic church should be welcoming, even for Mass, it should be the welcomeness of home. When a Catholic attends Mass at any parish in the world, he should have a sense of being at home. He should feel that he is welcome the same way a person is always welcome in the childhood home of his parents. His sense of welcome derives, not from the specific acts of greeting and friendliness on the part of members of the assembly, but from his sure knowledge of place and expectation. He knows why he is there, as does everybody else, and he knows what is expected of him. The sense of being home that a Catholic feels in any Catholic church should be so complete that words of welcome and greeting from other members of the assembly are mere superficialities. When a Catholic attends Mass at a parish other than his own, his sense of belonging and of home should be so deep, and should derive so completely from the reality of the Mass in which he's about to participate, that it makes as much sense for him welcome them as it does for them to welcome him.

So, what should a non-Catholic see when he comes to Mass? What should he come away with? I certainly don't think it should be a sense of cold-shouldered clanishness. The non-Catholic who observes a Catholic Mass should not get the idea that Catholics are self-absorbed and unfriendly. Rather, I think the observer of a Catholic Mass should be impressed with a strong, unified sense of purpose among the faithful. Everybody there should be of one mind in their directedness towards the Mystery that's unfolding before them. This sense of purpose and unity is best manifested through ritual and solemnity. That's part of the reason that the Church attaches so much importance to ritual, and why a demeanor of solemnity should pervade the Mass.

Someone watching those gathered in the Church, minutes before the start of the Mass, should have a sense of quiet, interior preparation. There should be a sense of anticipation and expectation, a sense that everybody there is waiting for something. The stranger should get the idea that everybody in the church is eagerly anticipating something that they all know and understand, but that is somehow hidden from the uninitiated. This anticipation should have an "eyes forward" sense of watchfulness.

At the end of the Mass, the stranger should be struck with a sense of joyful dismissal. If the faithful understand what the Mass is, and have fully given themselves over to it, then they should be re-entering the world with a joyful surety of mission, and an abundant desire to spread their joy by proclaiming what they just received. Again, the source of this joy would be completely hidden to the outsider unless it's explained to him. The Christian joy does not derive from fellowship with other Christians or with interactions of friendship. Rather, that fellowship and those friendships should derive their own depth and meaning from the very same source of Christian joy, which is the reality of Christ made present to them, even though hidden in the forms of bread and wine.

It is this joy, accompanied by the ability to completely love each person with a love that drives us to invite that person into the life of union with God, that should drive the non-Catholic or the non-Christian to want to join us. We should be projecting such an overwhelming sense of joy and love for each other that the non-Christian wants what we have. This is how we should evangelize.

This is a bigger point than it might seem at first glance. The Mass, if fully understood and properly experienced by the Catholic, would be that to which the Catholic wishes to invite the world. The Mass isn't just a way for Catholics to gather and celebrate together something that's going to be ours in the next world. It's the very thing that will be ours in the next world, given to us in this world. But if our understanding of the Mass doesn't imbue us with this sense of wonder and value in the Mass; if the way we do Mass doesn't reflect this reality of the Mass, as our momentary participation in that final destination to which each of is is called; if we don' really "believe" the Mass, then we really don't have anything to which we would call those we're evangelizing.

One of the nice things about writing for yourself is that, when you want to go on a tangent, you can do so. There's no teacher, professor, or boss to grade you or edit out your tangential comments. This is my tangent. It's short, expressing my view of a problem, but admittedly without offering a solution. Nonetheless, here it is:

The reflection of the reality of the Mass in the rite used by the Roman Rite of the Church was diminished enormously when the current ordinary form of the Mass was promulgated in 1969. The distinction between the two forms of the Mass is well summed up by the statement "The ancient form of the Mass looks like a Work of God; the modern form of the Mass looks like a work of man."

The Vatican II document that called for a liturgical reform proposed education of the faithful concerning the Divine Liturgy, as the primary means of restoring the faithful to a more active participation in the Mass. This call to education was largely ignored, even while many of the elements of the Mass reflective of that to which the faithful needed to be educated were removed. This process has left the Church in a difficult state.

The Mass is supposed to be the supreme expression of everything that we're about in the world; yet it's difficult to detect in the modern form of the Mass any compelling sense of why someone would want to become Christian. While the ancient form of the Mass at least conveyed a sense that it was tapping into some hidden reality, and making present something deeper than its physical appearances; the modern form seems to mask even the assertion that something deeper is going on, than what is visible to the observer.

It is, I am convinced, a testament to the power of the Holy Spirit, and furthermore a proof of the reality that those drawn to the Catholic Church are drawn on more than just a physical and intellectual level, that the Church continues to bring new adult members in, every year. Just think how powerful our evangelism would be if every member of the Church fully understood what the Mass was, and was reminded of that in the way the Mass was performed every week and every day that they attended Mass.

Consecrated Host Returned (maybe) - reparation still needed

The satanic group in Oklahoma City that was going to perform a so-called "black Mass" has purportedly returned the consecrated Host that they were going to use in the ritual. This occurred after Archbishop Coakley filed a lawsuit requesting the court to order the group to return the fraudulently-obtained Host. The Host was returned via an attorney who represents the head of the group. The attorney presented the Host to a priest, along with a signed paper stating that the group is not in possession of any consecrated Hosts.

It would be understandable if we don't quite take this at face value.

Satan is the father of lies. We should expect that self-proclaimed satanists would use any lie they need to, in order to remain in possession of a consecreated Host for one of their rituals. A couple of points will explain why.

First, there is no way to tell, no test we can perform to establish whether the wafer returned is really a consecrated Host or just a wafer of bread. The Mystery of the Real Presence holds that Jesus is present "under the forms of bread and wine." If the head of the satanist group handed over a wafer of bread to his attorney while keeping possession of a true consecrated Host, nobody would be the wiser.

Second, consider what the purpose of descrating a Host during a "black Mass" is. A true satanist, a satanist of the same tradition that gave rise to the "black Mass," truly believes, as Catholics do, that the Whole Person, the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, is truly present in the Holy Eucharist. The purpose of desecrating the Host is not, as some have indicated, to mock Catholics or our beliefs. The purpose of the "black Mass" is to take advantage of God's willingness to take the form of food for us, to use that to directly desecrate God Himself.

By understanding the true puspose of a "black Mass," we can readily see why a true satanic group would prefer to secretly have a true consecrated Host, even though the public believes they don't.

I've never seen a "black Mass." I wouldn't view one (or a recording of one) if I had the chance. I don't know if acts of defiling and desecrating the Host are an inherent part of the ritual or not. But I do know that Satan hates God so much, that he will inspire those who follow him to do whatever it takes to directly desecrate and defile God in the Holy Eucharist.

Publicly, we can count this as some kind of "victory."

Privately, we should assume that a consecrated Host is still in the hands of this satanic group, and will end up being desecrated at a "black Mass." We should all make acts of reparation for that.

The Experience of God

Near the end of his life, months before he died, in fact, St. Thomas Aquinas, one of the most prolific writers on matters of church, natural philosophy, and theology, stopped writing. When pressed by a friend, he simply said "I can write no more. All I have written is as straw." What could make a person think such a thing, when his writing on certain subjects had been so comprehensive, precise, and insightful?

To understand what St. Thomas might have been experiencing, consider the matter of sight. In fact, consider, the simple sight of the color red.

Suppose there was a man who was born completely blind. He had no optical experiences at all. However, he was a brilliant man and he developed a deep knowledge in a variety of subjects, including physics, optics, biology, neurology, neurophysiology, psychology, and all other sciences that pertain to the ability to see a color. Such a man could explain, perhaps even to the deepest levels of physical and biological reality, exactly how a person sees a color, and what it means to see a color.

However, such a man's knowledge of color would be insignificant compared to that of a three-year-old who can see and identify the color red. That's because color, for all of the science that can be brought to bear on understanding it, is fundamentally an experiential phenomenon. That's not to say that all the science isn't every bit as "true" as the experience; but the experience is the real thing, and everything one can say about it is just that--about it. It isn't the thing itself.

God is Love. Love is personal, relational, and experiential. Love is expressive as doing, and to know love, one has to experience the act. No matter how much one knows and understands about God, that knowledge and understanding can never in it itself constitute knowledge of God. Furthermore, since God is infinite, the spirit's experience of God is limitless, while the human mind's capacity for understanding God is limited. The distinction between understanding everything about color and experiencing color is a small one, when held against the difference between knowing about God and knowing God.

Perhaps St. Thomas was given the gift of experiencing just the slightest glimps of what it means to know God, without the mediation of prayer, before the end of his life. Such a glimps, however slight, would be enough to make him feel as if everything he's written was worthless.

Consider how great that must have been, if St. Thomas did, indeed, receive such a gift!

Even through the mediation of prayer, the saints throughout history have grown to such an ardent love of Jesus that they've readily--even considering themselves privileged!--suffered the most horrifying tortures, including, in some cases, the psychological torture of watching loved ones suffer, all for Him. If the meager experience of God that can be attained in this life is so powerful, then just consider how powerful and consuming our direct experience of God will be when we enter the Eternal Kingdom!

Husbands and Wives, submit to your spouse in everything

Husbands and wives, submit to your spouse in everything possible.

Marriage is the only sacrament based on an order God set in place before the fall. When Adam sinned, separating all of humanity from God, he also caused a separation between himself and his wife. When we are baptized, we enter into a sharing in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and are thus reunited with God, although imperfectly while still in this life. One manifestation of that reunion should be a more perfect union between husbands and wives.

People are imperfect and all are sinners while still on this earth; therefore, husbands and wives must help each other, which may even include admonishing each other from time to time. This should be rare, done with great hesitation, and only to avoid sin.

A husband and wife should lose themselves in each other. In everything except sin, they should submit to each other perfectly.