Monday, November 13, 2006

Why the Mass? (Kevin)

I have recently been researching the early Church and it is fascinating. There is so much to learn and so many people to learn from. I can hardly read one book at a time. I am routinely tempted (successfully) to pause my reading to research a footnote or an author. Sometimes I worry that I will read 75% of thousands of books and 100% of none, but this is how I work!

Teri and I recently had an argument during which she stated (rather accurately) that when we havean issue with what we are learning about the Catholic Church, I head right to my newly found historical resources and look there instead of discussing it with her. I see both folly and wisdom in my reaction. I am driven almost 100% by the need for facts, clear judgement, and decisiveness. Sometimes I don't get that in a discussion, but I almost always do when I am reading history and the Fathers of the Church. The folly is that I neglect to acknowledge the enourmous value there is in hashing through issues with my intelligent, sensitive, and intuitive wife. I am basically missing out on half of the value of the research of these issues and building a Robinson Crusoe story of my own. Anyway, I will try to stop!

What, you ask, does this have to do with the Mass? Well, nothing; you are so intelligent! I felt like I needed to say the above before I got into my Mass post. Here you go...

The biggest immediate change in moving from Protestantism to Catholicism is the Sunday Service. The Catholic Mass is about as different to a typical Protestant service as could be. Why in the world does the Catholic Church insist on hosting a service that is so foreign to the average Christian and not conducive to easy recruitment of non-Christians (and Christians)? The answer is simple, but not shallow: because recruitment is not the purpose of the Mass! What, you ask, is the purpose? First, let me say that you ask such good questions! The purpose of the Mass is to remember Jesus. To remember what he has done for us. To remember what it has been like for the last 2000 years in the Catholic Church. The way the Mass is celebrated has remained consistent since the early Church. Refer to The First Apology of Justin Martyr, written around 150 AD where the following description of the Mass is written:

"And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. Then we all rise together and pray, and, as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people assent, saying Amen; and there is a distribution to each, and a participation of that over which thanks have been given, and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons. And they who are well to do, and willing, give what each thinks fit; and what is collected is deposited with the president, who succours the orphans and widows and those who, through sickness or any other cause, are in want, and those who are in bonds and the strangers sojourning among us, and in a word takes care of all who are in need. But Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Saviour on the same day rose from the dead."

See for the entire apology.

What do Saint Martyr tell us? First, we read the Holy Scripture. Second, we are exhorted (the homily). Third, we pray. Fourth, we receive the Eucharist. Fifth, we give our offering. The celebration of the Mass has been consistent since the Apostles walked the earth.

The attraction of the Mass is obvious once one understands what is happening and for how long it has been happening. In the Mass, the Church is offering back to God the only thing that has ever been pleasing to him - Jesus, the once for all sacrifice. We acknowledge the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist because this is what Jesus taught and what the Apostles passed on to their successors. We long for partaking the Eucharist because, in this, we take on the flesh and blood of Jesus and partake of "true food and true drink."

So, in conclusion, the question should really not be "Why the Mass", but rather be "Why anything else besides the Mass?" What else offers what the Mass offers?

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