Monday, September 19, 2011

The Catholic Zone

I completely understand how a Protestant (not so much an Orthodox because their service is just as ornate) would feel coming to a Catholic Mass.  It's like walking into the Twilight Zone.  I felt the same way the first time I attended a missionary Baptist church.

Missionary Baptist, for those of you who don't know, are very similar to southern Baptist.  There worship services are virtually the same.  I've been to a few Southern Baptist services.  Most of them were metropolitan in nature.  Completely different than Catholicism but not like this country missionary Baptist church service.

I do remember that the service started out the same.  There was no communion service (which varies as to frequency with Baptist services), but they did have an altar call.  It was the altar call that made me feel like I violated something.

You see Catholics believe in a public and private confessions.  Our public confessions, however, don't involve standing up in front of the entire congregation and saying we've sinned.  Everyone sins so public confession is where everyone stands and confesses to sinning.  Private confessions is where we specifically lay out our sins and receive guidance.  And unlike Baptists, we believe it's necessary for our salvation.

The strangeness was the preacher asking for people to come forward and a particular person specifically.  What he did wrong was not specified (thank goodness I didn't want to know).  Instead the man cried and begged forgiveness from the entire congregation.  I was worried that this open altar call would somehow turn into everyone coming up to confess because that's essentially how Catholics do things.  And I didn't think it was appropriate to publicly confess because I already felt like I violated this man's seal of confession by being there anyway.  I certainly didn't want to violate my seal. 

It was uncomfortable, but I'm sure that my friend's could explain how they too felt uncomfortable when they first attended a Catholic Mass. I've taken a few Baptist friends to church and have had to explain "The Catholic Zone" to them.  The tabernacle became "Jesus in a box and pretty soon we'll take him out and eat him."  My friend still refers to it as "Jesus in a box."  But in all fairness explaining transubstantiation during Mass to a Baptist is hard to do in a few whispered phrases.

The other strange factor is the ornateness of the Mass.  Most Protestants are utilitarian in their worship services.  They sing, they read the Bible, and they hear a message.  And Catholics do the same darn thing only it's more ornate.  Why?  Why are there men in robes and golden things and cloth all over the altar?

Good questions.

Unlike some Protestants we believe that our flesh, our bodies aren't evil.  I've talked about concupiscence and the soul before, but I should mention that Catholics don't believe that there's anything wrong with our earthly bodies.  To the contrary, we firmly believe that when we are resurrected we believe that that means our souls and our bodies.  There's nothing sinful about our physical selves.  Even Jesus showed up scars and all.

It's in that vein that we worship with our bodies and our souls.  In order to make our bodies fully participate in worship we use the basic 5 senses to do so.

1)Smell- Incense is used in the Mass.  Although it's not so common anymore, I typically only see it used at funerals these days.  I'm kinda glad it's not so common anymore.  Yes, poo on me.  But I'm an allergy sufferer and anytime I'm close to incense I stop looking pretty.  Incense is Biblical.  You find it in Revelations and the Old testament.  It's often described as "sweet smelling."  And it is even if my body can't stand it.

2) Taste- We consume Jesus in two forms body (wafer looking thingy) and wine (blood).  The taste is the same as the wafer and wine, but it's Jesus.  Just a better tasting version. 

3) Sight- Part of the Catholic Zone is the ornateness of the Mass.  Our buildings are typically filled with images and statues.  Our priests wear robes ect.  These are all visual cues to the Glory of God and the sacredness of the space.  Yes, God does like simpleness, but if he came up with the rainbow, well by golly he sure likes beauty too.

4) Feel- There's nothing like genuflecting on cold concrete to wake you up on a lazy Sunday morning.  To physically move to show our worship of God is highly important to a Catholic.  Also the touch of holy water to the face reminds one of ones Baptism and the saving grace of God.

5) Hear- That's the singing and listening part.  But it's also the physical act of speaking out loud responses. 

So I hope this clarifies a few things.  I could go on to explain more details, but suffices to say that the Catholic Zone is meant to be a full body and soul worship experience.  And all the parts of it are meant to be reminders of God, his glory, and our worship of him.  It's ornateness to magnify the Glory of God and the beauty of this world.  It's not pomp and circumstance and showiness, which is what some people believe.  Rather the focus is on God and using all the senses to cue our bodies in the full worship of him.

I think the hard part is the order of things, but once you study it, it makes sense because it's very symbolic. 

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