The chicken or the egg?

April 26, 2010

The classic debate: Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Christians should be asking the same kind of question…

 The Bible or the Church, which one came first?

My Protestant upbringing taught me that in matters of faith everything, including the structure and ways of the Church, should come from the Bible alone, hence the phrase “Sola Scriptura” or Scripture Alone. Only that which fit into our interpretation of Scripture could be justified as truth or the way of doing things in the church.

Like most independent Protestant pastors, my pastor subscribed to Sola Scripture and based the structure and guidelines of his church on the Bible alone or rather his personal interpretation of the Bible. So for him (and others like him), the Bible came first and from that the Church was born or structured. Consequently my theological beliefs and faith journey were largely based on my own personal interpretation of Scripture and his teachings (which were based largely on my pastor’s interpretation of Scripture).

On the otherhand, the Catholic faith believes and teaches that Jesus first established the Church and gave it His authority to “bind and loose” while promising to protect the Church from the gates of hell (Matthew 16:17-19). It wasn’t until after this that the Bible was inspired and written by members of that Church and more than two centuries later was declared Sacred Scripture by the Church at the Council of Hippo in 393 A.D. During this time the Church was led and grew not under the teachings of the “Bible Alone”  but by the Sacred Traditions protected by the Holy Spirit and passed from one generation of church leaders to the next.

This is why Catholics look to Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition, the teaching Magisterium (authority) of the Church and the Holy Spirit to form their consciences on matters of faith and morals. Doctrinal truth and morality is never a matter of one’s personal interpretation or preferences. Nor is it a matter of one pastor’s interpretation or teaching. 

All four (Tradition, Scripture, the Magisterium and the Holy Spirit) work together to help form our conscience when it comes to the faith. This is because Sacred Tradition and Scripture were both were born of the Church.  Technically, the Bible itself comes from tradition because it was passed down to us by the Church, it was born out of the Church. We accept it as Sacred Scripture because the Church, led by the Spirit, declared it to be so.

Some might ask, what’s the big deal, why does it matter? Well…

If you say that the Church came first then it should have an impact on your faith journey and understanding of the Bible and Tradition.

If the Church really did come first and it had the authority to declare the Bible Sacred Word of God, then shouldn’t it also have that same authority in other matters of faith and morals?  (i.e. Communion, birth control, divorce and re-marriage, baptism, Holy Orders or ordination?)

If you say that it doesn’t matter if the Church came first because the Bible alone is your authority then here are soem questions to consider…

At what point did Jesus take back the words He spoke to Peter? When did Jesus declare the Church no longer had the authority to “bind and loose?” 

When did He say the authority to declare and define doctrinal and moral truth belonged to the Bible alone and our personal interpretation of its words?

And, if the Church, which compiled and canonized the Bible, has no binding authority, then how can you be sure the books of the Bible you read really are the Sacred Scripture? If the Church  has no authority then why should we believe what this group of men, this teaching magisterium of the 4th century, says about these books? For all you know they could have picked the wrong books?

So, which came first, the Church or the Bible?

What do you believe and why?

And what difference does your belief make in your faith journey?

For the Glory of God Alone

April 8, 2010


 A few weeks ago I started a series on the Mass. This is part two on the Introductory Rites. If you want to catch up click here.

When we left off we’d just finished the penitential rite. After the penitential rite we sing the Gloria.

The relationship between the penitential prayer and the Gloria is beautiful. In the penitential rite we’ve confessed our sin and our need for God’s forgiveness. Now with faith in the grace and mercy of God we sing the Gloria with joy and give Him glory because we know we are forgiven!

By the way, like many parts of the Mass, the Gloria is taken from Scripture. The opening line comes from the second chapter of the Gospel of Luke. [And you thought we Catholics didn’t know the Bible or use it in our worship. Just wait until we get to the Liturgy of the Word.]

Here’s the Gloria in its entirety…

Glory to God in the highest and peace to His people on earth.
Lord God, Heavenly King, Almighty God and Father.
We worship you, we give you thanks, we praise you for your glory.
Lord Jesus Christ, only Son of the Father.
Lord God, Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world:
have mercy on us;
You are seated at the right hand of the Father: receive our prayer.
For you alone are the Holy One, you alone are the Lord.
You alone are the most high, Jesus Christ, with the Holy Spirit,
in the glory of God the Father.

If you come to Mass during Advent and Lent you won’t hear the Gloria. These are seasons of penance during which we don’t sing the Gloria, not until Christmas Eve and the Easter Vigil.  When we finally sing the Gloria it’s sung loudly with bells ringing throughout the entire song in celebration of God’s grace, mercy and forgiveness.

While on the topic of muisc…

One thing that was different for me when I left my non-denominational church and started attending Mass was the way I experienced the use of  music for worship. Not only was the style different (until I discovered the Life Teen Mass which incorporates more contemporary music) but so was the placement of music in the service.

In most of the Protestant churches I attended the music was sung at the beginning of the service. We called this our time of  “praise and worship.”  Instead of having us sing worship songs for 15 minutes and then sit down to listen to a man speak for an hour, the Mass engages us in worship the entire time (minus a short homily). Music is incorporated throughout the service as we participate in the different prayers and parts of the liturgy.

Because worship music had always been a big part of  my life it took me a while to get used to this difference but I’ve grown to appreciate and even prefer the way music is used in the Mass.

Music is never the focal point in the Mass which helps to keep it from becoming about the glory of man. You’ll never see a worship band at “center stage” during a Mass. The Eucharist, Jesus, who is the Word made flesh, is the focal point of the Mass. Neither is the use of music designed to entertain and entice people to come to Mass. The music is simply part of the ongoing prayer of the Mass.

 Once we’ve finished singing the Gloria we remain standing for the Opening Prayer.  Before this prayer, the celebrant raises his arms. This isn’t a random act on his part, even this gesture has meaning. It’s linked to the Gloria and the penitential rite.

The priest, standing there with his arms raised, is symbolic of the person who’s been freed from sin through the Resurrection of Jesus. This, of course, is what we’ve just professed and experienced through the penitential rite and the singing of the Gloria. Jesus ascended to heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. Because of the resurrection power we are set free from death and the power of sin. Glory to God in the highest!

The opening prayer is not something the priest makes up based on how he’s feeling that day. It’s related to the liturgical season or the feast day celebrated during this Mass and it’s prayed at every Mass in every Catholic Church on that day. The tradition of this prayer, which is also known as the collect, has been around since the 5th century.

Just from the Introductory Rites you can see begin to see that everything done in the Mass has a purpose. It’s rich in tradition, symbolism and based on Scripture. And, it’s done for the glory of God alone (Soli Deo Gloria).

When you understand the symbolism and how everything has meaning (even the simple gesture of a priest raising his arms in prayer) you realize that the Mass is far from being  “old dead liturgy” as my friend described it. No, the Mass is alive and well and we’ve only just covered the Introductory Rites!

Next up, the Liturgy of the Word.

A man ought to examine himself…

April 6, 2010


A few weeks ago I started a series on the Mass. If you want to catch up click here.

Just like families that get together to share a meal or celebrate a special event have traditions and rituals for the way they do things, our Catholic family has rituals and traditions we practice when we celebrate the Mass together. Ours start with the Introductory Rites. (Rites: Ceremonies surrounding the Sacred Liturgy and the sacraments)

The Mass begins with an entrance song or antiphon prayed by the entire congregation (an antiphon is a prayer, often taken from the Bible). If you drop by a daily Mass you’re more likely to hear the antiphon. Most Sunday Masses begin with a song and the processional which includes an altar server carrying a crucifix and other servers following behind, along with the celebrant (the priest celebrating the Mass).

After the procession, the priest goes to the altar and kisses it. Now don’t worry my Protestant friends, he’s not worshipping the altar and making it an idol. A kiss is a sign of devotion. Just like your favorite aunt who gives you a big kiss on the cheek when she comes to dinner, the priest kisses the altar as a sign of our love and devotion to Christ for His sacrifice.

The celebrant then leads us in making the sign of the cross. Like I mentioned before, this signifies our identity, who we are as the family of God.

Next, he welcomes the family of God gathered for this celebration with a greeting  taken from Scripture. For example: The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all (2 Cor. 13:13). And because the Mass is a liturgy (a work of the people) we participate and respond by saying, and also with you.

What follows is known as the penitential rite.  This is where we humble ourselves before God, acknowledge we’ve sinned and fall short of ever measuring up and that is why we need Jesus. We know we can’t approach God on our own merit so before we enter into corporate worship we take time to confess our faults and ask for forgiveness. Ideally, we’ve spent time before Mass examining our hearts for this penitential rite and preparing ourselves to receive Holy Communion.   

This rite may include a couple of traditions. Sometimes at a special Sunday Mass the priest will sprinkle the congregation with holy water as a reminder of their baptismal promises (to reject sin and follow Jesus) and as a symbol of healing and cleansing. 

More often the celebrant asks us to call to mind our sin in silence and ask for God’s forgiveness. Then he leads and we all pray a prayer. My favorite penitential prayer is called the Confiteor. It goes like this:

I confess to Almighty God and to you my brothers and sisters that I have sinned through my own fault. In my thoughts and in my words, what I have done and in what I have failed to do.  And I ask Blessed Mary, ever virgin, all the angels and saints and you my brothers and sisters to pray for me to the Lord our God.

I’ll say this about many parts of the Mass, but…

I love this tradition and rite. It makes so much sense doesn’t it? I mean here we are, gathered to worship and one of the first things we do is humble ourselves before God and one another and ask our brothers and sisters in Christ to pray for us to overcome our faults. This is the beauty of the Body of Christ isn’t it. And, it’s Scriptural. (If you’re not sure about asking Mary to pray for us, click here for a little perspective.)

If you read my letter to Claire about Confession and mortal sin vs. venial sin then you know that the Bible tells us there are some sins we are to pray about for one another (I John 5:16-17). These venial sins are the very ones we’re confessing in our hearts before we prepare to celebrate the Mass. This penitential rite is also part of what St. Paul reminds us to do before we receive Holy Communion: 

Therefore, whoever eats the bread and drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord.  A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself…But if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgement.  (I Corinthians 11:27-29,31)

These verses explain the Biblical basis for the penitential rite:  Examining our hearts and confessing our sin before recognizing His body and blood and receiving Him in Communion.

These verses also say a lot about Communion and what the early church believed. I must admit that when I was a Protestant and I read those verses in light of what I’d been taught about Communion was faced with several questions, such as… 

If the bread and wine are symbolic and not truly the body and blood of Christ then why does Paul specifically say that taking the bread and wine in an unworthy manner is a sin against the body and blood of Christ? How can you eat bread and drink wine in an unworthy manner? How is it possible to sin against a symbol?

And, if the bread and wine are supposed to be symbolic and not changed into the body and blood of Christ then why would we be judged for not recognizing it as the body of the Lord?  If it’s just a symbol then why would St. Paul risk creating confusion by telling the people to recognize a symbol as the actual body of the Lord?

On the other hand, if it really is the body and blood of Jesus and I take it without confessing my sin, acknowledging His sacrifice and His real presence then St. Paul’s words make sense. I can see how I would be sinning against the actual body and blood of Christ.

Of course those questions and thoughts take me well beyond the scope of the Introductory Rites and this post. They’ll have to be addressed at a later date. But it does make you wonder, what exactly was St. Paul telling us about Holy Communion in these verses?

What is clear is that the Bible says we are to examine our hearts before coming to the Lord’s Table.  There’s no doubt that we Catholics take St. Paul’s words to heart, so much so that it’s a part of our worship at every Mass.

This is all I have time for today. I’ll finish the Introductions tomorrow.

A change of seasons

April 1, 2010

 One thing I love about the Catholic faith is the seasons of the liturgical calendar. I’ve said this before but it bears repeating, especially today, the beginning of the Paschal Triduum.

Paschal Triduum: A period of three days for the most exalted liturgical celebration of the year, beginning with the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday evening and concluding with Vespers on Easter Sunday, recalling the passion, death and resurrection of Christ, along with His Institution of the Holy Eucharist and Holy Orders.

For the last 40 days, the Mass Scripture readings, the prayers and the music have pointed us toward the this triduum celebration. I love this about the Church. There’s no way that Good Friday and Easter can just creep up on you in the Catholic faith.  Instead we’ve been slowing creeping up on it, preparing our hearts and minds through prayer, fasting, going to confession and meditating on Christ’s humility and self-sacrificing love.

And here’s what is so beautiful: We won’t just celebrate Easter for a day and then move on or go back to studying a randomly  selected book of the Bible. We spent 40 days in Lent, a season of repentance and dying to self. For the 50 days following Easter we will celebrate, rejoice and focus on Christ’s resurrection and his time on earth after his resurrection. All the prayers, Scripture readings and music will emphasize this. All of this then leads us to the celebration of Pentecost when He sent His Holy Spirit to lead and guide His Church.

I treasure these seasons and the rhythm of living them with our parish community. I love the preparation and then the joyful celebration. I think we humans are hardwired this way. Just look at the secular world, even they enjoy a change of seasons, reasons to celebrate. It’s so fitting then that God would redeem this part of our human nature and give us a Church that leads us through seasons and celebrations that emphasize the true meaning of life — the grace, salvation and love of God the Father, the Son and Holy Spirit.

So tonight begins the Triduum. We call this Holy Thursday. It’s the night Christ  instituted the Eucharist. He celebrated the Last Supper, consecrated the bread and the wine, and called his 12 disciples to do the same. This is why we also celebrate the institution of Holy Orders today.  

With respect to Holy Orders and the priesthood here’s something to think about…

On the night before He died, Jesus even called Judas to this role of priest. He knew Judas was going to fail him as a priest and betray Him and His Church. The same goes for Peter whom He called to be the rock of the Church and the first pope (click here if you need more Scriptural support for this), except Peter repented. 

It’s interesting to note that the human failings of the disciples didn’t stop Jesus from building His Church and giving us priests to celebrate the Eucharist.  He knew all along there would be faithful priests who would still fall but repent and there would be some unfaithful, unrepentant priests. Maybe we need to have a little more faith and trust that God is in charge of the Church no matter how grieviously some our leaders might fail us.

Tonight my family and I plan to go to the Mass of the Lord’s Supper. This is a beautiful liturgy. After which the priest removes the Blessed Sacrament (the Body of Christ) from the Tabernacle.  The removal of his tangible, physcial presence from the church is symbolic of His death. 

At my parish, Jesus, who is present in the Blessed Sacrament is taken to an auxiliary chapel, reminiscent of the Garden of Gethsemane. Like the first disciples, we are invited to come and pray with Him “in the Garden” until midnight. After that the Blessed Sacrament is removed. Just as Jesus was taken from the Garden by the soldiers and His disciples were left without Him we too are left without the tangible presence of Christ until we celebrate His resurrection at Easter Vigil on Saturday night.

Last year was the first year Claire understood what was going on at this Mass. As the priest took the Body of Christ from the Tabernacle Claire started to cry. She leaned over and whispered, Mommy, I know Jesus lives in my heart but I don’t want Him to leave the Tabernacle tonight.  I imagine the disciples felt the same when the soldiers dragged their beloved Jesus away.

I don’t know if your church celebrates the Paschal Triduum but if you’re looking for a way to recognize these three solemn and holy days I encourage you to check out your local Catholic Church. You are always welcome and I guarantee that if you come with an open heart and mind you will be blessed by this liturgy.

The Dirty “R” Words

March 22, 2010


When I was a Protestant there were two dirty “R” words.

Religion and Ritual.

I can’t move forward with talking about the Mass without at least addressing the ritual word. And while I’m at it I might as well address the religion word.

Let’s start with RELIGION.

As an Evangelical Protestant (of sorts) I can’t tell  you how often I heard people say that it’s not about religion it’s about a relationship with Jesus. I heard it so much that I started saying it myself. I admit that I used it most often when talking to Catholics.

Now let me say this, “it” is always about a relationship with Jesus. BUT, somehow, this little saying has turned religion into a bad word.

There is a negative connotation associated with this word among non-denominational Protestants. We defined religion as being separate from a relationship with Jesus as if those who were religious didn’t really love Jesus. It’s almost like we took pride in the fact that we weren’t “religious” but instead we were in a right relationship with Jesus.

Now, here’s what is interesting to me. Have you looked up the word religion? Do you know what it means?

Religion = Belief in and reverence for a supernatural power recognized as the creator and governor of the universe. A particular integrated system of this expression.

Hmmm, it sounds to me like our shared faith in God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit is indeed a religious belief. And, I bet if I examined your life and the way you express this faith I’d find an integrated system of your faith.  Which appropriately leads me to the next dirty “R” word:


As a non-denominational Protestant I was proud of the fact that I didn’t practice religious rituals, especially archaic, man-made rituals. And, I was more than willing to point out to Catholics that they were caught up in a few of their own.

But, all I had to do was look up the word to realize once again I was being hypocritical.

Ritual = A detailed method or procedure faithfully or regularly followed.

By that definition, my life was full of rituals.

Physical rituals: Like the way I get ready in the morning (I put my contacts in first, then brush my teeth, then put on my makeup, then do my hair) or the way I clean house (first the kitchen, then the bathrooms, next the floors, and finally the dusting).

Psychological rituals: Like the way I make lists and go over lists in my head or prepare for a teaching lecture.

Religious rituals:  Like the way I read my Bible, pray, worship with music and of course the order of worship at my church.

And even relationship rituals: Think about your close intimate relationships and you’ll see rituals in your communication and behavior.

The reality is, rituals are a huge part of life.  But what’s the point or value of these rituals? 

Rituals bring order to life. They bring routine which creates efficiency. More importantly, regularly followed procedures help us to know what to expect. When we know what to expect we’re free to fully engage in what we’re doing in the present without anticipating what comes next. This is especially true when it comes to corporate worship.

Now please don’t tell me that at your church you do not practice rituals (unless of course every Sunday is a free-for-all and there is absolutely no order to what happens in your church service). 

If there is any order in your church then there is ritual. If there is a “method or procedure regularly followed” then there is a ritual.  And, I hate to tell some of you this, but those procedures are man-made. The order of your worship service was created by your pastor or some group of people associated with your church. It is no different from those “religious and ritualistic” Catholics I once criticized and perhaps you still criticize.

Some people snub their noses at repetition and ritual in worship, claiming it’s boring or irrelevant. But I can’t help but wonder if their boredom has more to do with their desire to be entertained than a desire to offer up worship to their creator and the one who should be the love of their life.

If you entertain me, if you keep my mind interested with new distractions then I really don’t have  to do anything. I don’t have to enter into worship and listen closely to the words of the prayers. I don’t have to center myself in Christ, go deeper in my prayer life and listen to the still small voice of the Spirit. I can “feel good, have fun, and enjoy myself” without offering all my heart, all my soul, all my mind and the members of my body as a living sacrifice to God.

Instead of thinking of ritual in corporate worship as boring consider that it is like dancing a waltz with a partner. If you don’t know the steps, if the steps are changed in the middle of the dance then you’re likely to be worried about what comes next. You may look down and focus on your feet and yourself instead of focusing on your partner and the beauty and movement of the dance. But, when you know the dance steps you don’t have to focus on what’s next. Instead you can move freely to the music and focus on your partner as you put your heart into the dance.

I think it’s time we reclaim these two “R” words and take them out of the gutter.

Folks, Christianity is a religion and if Christ is an integral part of your life then you are religious. 

And rituals are a part of who we are as humans. Our God is a God of order and we are created in His image. Don’t snub your nose at rituals in worship. Embrace them because they offer the freedom to fully worship in the present without anticipation, self-consciousness or the need to be entertained.

Sit, Kneel, Stand…Repeat

March 16, 2010
[My last three posts have been about the Mass. This is post #4.]

So we’ve finally made it through the door. Now it’s time to have a seat, right?

Wait, not so fast. Not before we start you on the Catholic Calisthenics program.

You think I’m kidding, but if you’ve been to a Mass then you know we use just about every part of body to worship. Some Protestants don’t know what to with us. And most don’t know what to do when they’re with us. 

We Catholics can’t seem to sit still; we kneel, stand, sit, make the sign of the cross, genuflect, and bow several times in the span of one hour. And it begins before you even get in your pew.

Why you ask?

It’s a lot like the idea I mentioned before: We’re a sensing people and God reaches and teaches us through our senses and not just our spirit.

Not only does God reach us this way but we reach out to Him in this way too. We have bodies. Bodies that are temples of the Holy Spirit. Bodies created to worship and glorify God. As Catholics we do this during Mass by kneeling, standing, sitting, bowing, and genuflecting.

You see, the liturgy is literally “the work of the people.” The entire Mass is our worship. We differ from some “contemporary” churches in that we don’t sing a few songs and then sit down to listen to one person speak. We are called to worship throughout the Mass as we participate in the prayers, the music, the reading of the Word and Communion. We do this not just internally with our hearts and minds but with our bodies as well.    

Our participation starts with genuflecting before we sit in our pew of choice. 

Why do we genuflect?

The simple but not so simple answer:

Catholics believe the consecrated bread is the Body of Christ (Read the Book of John Chapter 6). We call the consecrated bread the Blessed Sacrament, the Eucharist, Jesus. And in every Catholic Church Christ’s Body in this Blessed Sacrament is kept in the tabernacle of the Church.

That means we believe that Christ is present in a tangible and real way. His presence in the Eucharist is different than the presence of Christ we each carry in us because of the Holy Spirit.  Just like our experience of Christ’s presence in heaven is different than our experience of Him while we live on earth. Because we believe in Christ’s real presence in the Blessed Sacrament, when we enter and exit our pews or pass the tabernacle we genuflect out of respect and love for Him.

That’s the simple answer. What’s not so simple for some Protestants who might read this is our belief that the consecrated bread and wine actually are Christ’s body and blood. And, I certainly understand why. 

I’ll go into the Biblical and historical reasons for this belief when we talk about the Liturgy of the Eucharist. For now let me say this…

Some may think this believe is far-fetched and ridiculous and scoff at the idea that Jesus would make himself truly present to us, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity in the substance of bread and wine.

Others may think that God would have no reason to lower himself in such a way. We have no need for such a silly belief in the divine becoming tangible for us humans.

You might be one who looks at the bread and wine and thinks Catholics are crazy for believing this. Afterall, the bread looks like bread. And, the wine looks like wine. It doesn’t look like flesh and blood right?  

If you find yourself scoffing at this belief, consider this…

There were (and still are many)  who thought it was ridiculous to believe that Jesus was indeed God incarnate. They couldn’t conceive that God would lower himself and come to us in human flesh.

There were plenty of people who mocked the disciples for believing He was the Messiah, the Son of God. Afterall, he didn’t look like God, he looked like a man. How could he or anyone else claim that he was divine, holy, the God of the universe.  An impossible, ridiculous, crazy belief right?

Just something to think about.

Ok, back to the Mass.

Once we genuflect, out of love and respect for Jesus and His real presence, we sit down. But, not for long because then we kneel in prayer to prepare our hearts for the Mass. During this time it is common for Catholics to examine their hearts and confess to God any obstacles and sins that have kept them from walking in His love and grace. 

After we kneel and pray we stand for the processional and opening prayer, which starts of course with the sign of the cross. Once again we’re reminded we our children of God, His family, gathered to worship Him.

And now finally, the Mass has begun…

… in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

What’s up with the holy water?

March 12, 2010


I promised in my last post that I’d follow-up on the holy water “thing.”

We’ve probably all watched those movie scenes where the priest throws holy water on the possessed man who then writhes in pain as his skin comes into contact with this substance. Entertaining for some I suppose but its a bit dramatic. And no, it doesn’t happen at Mass. 🙂  Although on some ocassions the congregation gets a good sprinkling (more on that later).

Holy water isn’t some “magical” cure-all Catholics use as it’s often portrayed in the movies or on TV. And it’s not something we place our faith in above or apart from our faith in Jesus. But, as I explained in my last post, it is a daily part of the practice of our faith at church and the sacramental life of the Church.

Catholics believe in sacramentals which are sacred signs that possess a likeness to the sacraments.

 [Note: A sacrament is an outward sign of an inward grace. We celebrate seven sacraments in the Church–Baptism, Reconciliation, Holy Communion, Confirmation, Marriage, Holy Orders and the Anointing of the Sick.]

Holy water is a sacramental.

Jesus, God, became a man and used the things of this earth to communicate the truths of the faith. Because we’re not just “spirit” but we have bodies and we’re a sensing people he gave us tangible sacred signs of the faith for the Sacraments he instituted through his ministry and the Church. (i.e. He used bread and wine for Communion. He was baptized with water.)

The Bible is full of stories about how God used water to cleanse and set His people free (Noah, the parting of the Red Sea, baptism). At a baptism the priest or the deacon prays and blesses the water. Scripture tells how the Spirit hovered over the waters of the earth in Genesis. In a similar way he asks the Spirit to come upon the water.

 It’s important to say that the blessed water is not all of the sudden some magical remedy or potion. But, by faith we trust that the Holy Spirit comes upon the water, thereby making the water a holy sacramental.  

As the priest or deacon baptizes with this water in the name of the Father and Son and Holy Spirit this person is washed of their sin, born again in Christ and given the Holy Spirit (see my last post for Scripture references). The holy water is the sacramental sign of having your sins washed away, of purity and holiness. 

I like how our pastors put it, God takes the ordinary and makes it extraordinary The bread and the wine, the water, the oil, they’re all ordinary things but in God’s economy they become extraordinary. That even goes for us.

We are, in a certain way, like sacramentals – we are ordinary a part from God’s touch of grace but through His Spirit we become sacred signs of the faith for the world to see. We’ll talk about that more when we get into the Liturgy of the Eucharist.

As a Protestant I probably would have shunned the ideas of sacramentals or so I thought. However, our deacons and pastors often anointed people other with oil when we prayed. When I served on a women’s retreat we prayed over the crosses given to the women to wear. We had baptismal fonts and we used bread and grape juice for our symbolic remembrance of the Last Supper.

Although we never called these sacramentals, the idea was very similar. Like holy water, they were material signs and reminders of our faith. And just like Protestants who anoint with oil for different types of blessings and prayers, we use holy water for different blessings. The most common being when we enter the church, which was the focus of my last post. 

Bottom line: When Catholics use holy water it’s as a sacramental sign that points us back to Christ, our baptism, holiness and the forgiveness of sin. This practice is rooted in our faith and trust in what He’s done and is doing for us.

So there you have it. Amy’s unofficial explanation of holy water.

Whew, we’re finally through the church doors (took a while I know). Come back soon. Mass is about to begin…

The Mass: Where to begin?

March 11, 2010


If you read my last post, I just don’t get it, you know I’m embarking on a journey to explain the Mass based on my own studies and personal experience.  

I’ve been struggling with where to begin. There’s just so much one could say. I’ve decided to  start at the beginning. I mean the very beginning–as in when you walk in the doors of the church to go to Mass.

The first thing you’ll notice Catholics doing when they enter the Church is dipping their fingers in water and making the sign of the cross. 

Why do we do this?

Chances are good if you asked the average Catholic you’d get a variety of answers. When Scott and I ask this question of the parents in the Baptism class we teach we even have a few who shrug their shoulders and shake their heads, as if to say, I have no clue.

Besides blessing ourselves, which is the most common answer we hear, the act of dipping our fingers in holy water and making the sign of the cross when we enter the church has great significance.

Let’s start with the water.

Catholics (and some main-line Protestant traditions – like the Methodists) believe that we becomes members of the Body of Christ, the Church, through baptism. While circumcision was the sign and means of initiation into the Old Covenant, baptism is the sign and sacrament of initiation into the New Covenant. 

Just the like Jewish parents brought their infant male children to be circumcised because of their faith in the God of Israel, Catholic parents bring their children to be baptized into Christ, into the New Covenant because of their faith in Jesus –a faith they plan to pass on and raise their children in (Acts 2:38; Acts 16: 13-15; Acts 16:31-33). 

We believe baptism is the beginning of our salvation journey, which is a lifelong journey of faith, love, grace and perseverance. It is through baptism that we…    

…become children of God and  members of His Body (Acts, 3:27; Acts 2: 38-39; Mark 1:9-11).

…are born again (John 3:3; Acts 3:27).

…are washed clean of sin (Acts 2: 37-38; Acts 22: 12-16; 1 Peter 3:18-21) 

…receive the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38; Mark 1:9-11). 

We are baptized into Christ and his Body and washed clean through the water and the word (Ephesians 5:26). The water obviously being the waters of baptism and the word being those words spoken over us in baptism, I baptize you in the name of the Father the Son and the Holy Spirit

You probably already made the connection but just in case, I’ll spell it out.

The holy water we dip our fingers in each time we enter the church represents our initial entrance into the church through baptism.  

The sign of the cross and the words in the  name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit remind us of our baptismal vows (which we affirm at our Confirmation and each time we witness a baptism). It also reminds us of our identity; through baptism we are no longer our own, we now belong to Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. 

Ideally the church has a baptismal fountain near the entrance so people can dip their fingers in the fountain  but that’s not always the case. When there’s no fountain there are usually small dishes of holy water at each entrance.

I have to tell you I love this tradition, this “ritual.” It’s a way of centering myself as I walk into church for worship and prayer. I may have been running around like a mad woman trying to school the girls, clean the house, return phone calls and run errands. But, all that stops when I walk into church and dip my fingers in that water.

I stop. I slow down. I’m reminded, in a tangible way of who I am and to whom I belong (to Christ and His Church). I’m not just entering another place like the grocery store, the mall, the gym. I’m entering a place and space set aside for the purpose of worship; a place where Christ’s presence dwells in a unique way because of the Eucharist.

This is so important because we live in a world that constantly courts us and tells us we should be “more like this or that.” We are bombarded with messages that pull our hearts and minds away from the truth. We are a sensing people, living in a physical world. We need more tangible reminders of our true identity and real home.

And, because so many of the places and spaces we occupy each day are full of all kinds of noise, it is good to shift gears before we enter God’s house for worship and prayer.  For me, this little ritual begins the process of tuning out some of that internal and external noise before Mass begins, before I sit down to pray or even before I go there to practice with the other musicians.

Of course there are times when we hastily make the sign of the cross and splash ourselves with water but that makes this tradition no less meaningful. At those times it just makes us careless in our remembrance.

Now I know there are those who take issue with the idea of “holy water.” I’ll have to get into that in my next post. This post is long enough as it is. It’s important to address though because the idea of sacramentals (which is what holy water is) is relevant to the Mass.

I can tell this little walk through the Mass might take more posts than I thought (obviously, we’ve only just walked through the doors). Actually, that might not be a bad thing. Bear with me and by all means, if I miss something or need to clarify a comment let me know.

“I just don’t get it”

March 10, 2010


When I was in the initial stages of studying the Catholic faith a close Protestant friend said to me, I just don’t get it. That dead old liturgy. It’s meaningless.

She’s not alone.

There are plenty of people (Catholics, ex-Catholics and Protestants alike) who don’t get it. They think the liturgy of the Mass is dead and out-dated. Many Catholics have left the Church in search of worship that feels good, is more simple and some claim more Biblical. 

The interesting thing is, few, if any, who leave the Church ever study the parts of the Mass in an effort to understand the significance of the traditions or the Biblical basis for the liturgy. Instead many (not all) have simply labeled what they don’t understand as meaningless. And that which doesn’t appeal to their feelings or personal preferences is deemed out-dated and irrelevant.

On some level I can’t blame them.

If you were brought up Catholic and no one (starting with your parents) ever taught you the meaning of the Mass then how could you engage and grow in your relationship with Jesus. Of course it’s more than just being taught. If the other six days of the week your parents didn’t live in the grace, love and the life of Jesus received in the Eucharist at Mass on Sunday then it’s likely it would have little to no meaning for you at all. It might just seem like an empty meaningless ritual.

But just because someone never learned or their parents never “lived the Mass” doesn’t mean it’s meaningless. It just means they probably never experienced the depth of the love, grace and purpose of the Mass. 

And just because a Protestant visits a Mass and doesn’t “get it,” it doesn’t mean there’s nothing to get. It just means they don’t know and understand the Mass. And how could they? They weren’t raised Catholic.

So, in an effort to shed light on what it is we Catholics do in Mass and why, I thought I’d write a little about it based on my own studies and my own personal experience.

The first thing you may be wondering…

Why does the Church place such an emphasis on the Mass?

Answer: The Mass is the highest form of prayer for Catholics.

Why? You ask. 

The simple answer…

The Holy Eucharist, which is central to the celebration of the Mass, is the source and summit of our Catholic faith. The Eucharist being of course, Jesus–His Body and Blood, which is given to us as a means of grace and spiritual life through Holy Communion. Consequently, there is no liturgy more powerful or meaningful for Catholics than the Mass.

I know the Eucharist will require much more attention and explanation than that. However, for now, I’ll have to let that simple answer stand.

If you’re one of those who “just doesn’t get it” come back and visit again. I’ll do my best to explain just why the Mass is not a meaningless, out-dated-ritual but instead the most Christ-centered form of worship I’ve ever known.

More to come in future posts…

That explains everything!

March 4, 2010


Scene: The family is sitting around the kitchen/living room island eating dinner. The girls spent the afternoon at their friends’ house and now they’re telling us about their day.

Claire: Dad, I made a New York, New York Super Style Crumble Cake with Grace today.

Scott: [teasing her] Is that really the name Claire or did you make that up?

Claire: Yes Dad, that’s really the name. It’s a New York, New York Super Style Crumble Cake. Really, I mean it, it’s a New York, New York Super Style Crumble Cake.

[For some reason she likes saying this name over and over.]

Ella: May I please say something? And Claire, don’t you say anything because you always interrupt me. [Spoken like the youngest child that she is.]  Hey Dad, your friend, Mr. Jonas is going to Georgia for a meeting.

Scott: Oh yeah, who told you that?

 [Being the the oldest sibling that she is, Claire interrupts. She tries to show off her new vocabulary from CCD–a.k.a Sunday School]

Claire: Maybe her “conscience” told her Dad.

[Frustrated that her dialogue with her dad has been interrupted by her big sister]

Ella: No Claire. Mrs. Jonas told me…And besides, I don’t have a conscience!

Scott: [Looking at me] Well, that pretty much explains everything now doesn’t it. 🙂