Why Can’t We Do Catholicism Well?

Photo Credit: Vicki Wolkins.
Photo Credit: Vicki Wolkins.

The parish wishes to remain anonymous.

Really, it could be any parish, anywhere in North America.

Or thereabouts.

I have to admit, one of the incredible gifts that comes with being a Catholic is being able to participate in the Mass anywhere in the world.

It’s the same. And even if I were to attend an Eastern Rite Mass or a Mass in the Anglican Ordinariate form the basic movements and functions are the same.

The same thing is taking place: Christ is coming amongst us as we participate in, “His death and resurrection.”

That incredible mystical body we’re a part of.

But, as I was saying, this particular parish wishes to remain anonymous. You fill in the blank.

There I sat, on a Sunday morning, after nearly getting lost finding the place, and squishing myself into the tiny pew. But I was there.

As an Evangelical, parts of what a basic Sunday morning service looked like were reflected in the Mass. Rather, I should say, parts of what I did on a Sunday morning as an Evangelical were gleaned from the Mass. Maintained, from history, when Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin separated themselves from the most ancient form of Christian worship.

Elements remained, and that is good.

On a typical Sunday morning, our Evangelical worship service began with singing. In our little community, the worship band is comprised of incredibly talented local musicians—many of them who make a reasonable living off their music on the side—who dedicate their time and talents to playing music for the Church.

These guys are top-notch and it’s hard not to get into it, not to feel excited to sing along with the worship chorus. Hymns like “Come Thou Fount” receive an incredibly thoughtful and delicate treatment. It’s inspiring and you feel moved to gratefulness in a way that all art, especially art done for God, intends.

This is what I reflect on, this particular Sunday morning, as the Mass plods on.

After fifteen minutes of truly artful music our community often comes together in prayer. We pray that God would be amongst us as we hear from the pastor, that He would be in our community and bless our young people and we send them off to Sunday School, and we pray that He would go out to meet our sick and needy.

And then there’s the sermon. This, the pastor has rehearsed. This, as French theologian and convert Louis Bouyer points out, is the centrepiece of the Sunday morning service.

This is where we Evangelicals come to learn and hear from God’s Word.

This kind of thing exists in the Mass but, well, meh.

Meh.

That about sums it up on this particular Sunday morning.

I am visiting this parish that wishes to remain anonymous and I was nearly late and I’ve squished into the pew and, well, meh.

See, I’m an Evangelical convert to Catholicism. I read extensively about the Mass before I ever darkened the door of a Catholic church. Fellow converts like Scott Hahn or Thomas Howard described it with such gusto that I once thought angels from Heaven might be actually visible at the time of the Consecration.

Sometimes, maybe, I’ve seen the flash of a wing or two.

But not on this particular Sunday morning.

Gosh, this Sunday morning? This Sunday morning reminds me of when I accidentally bought steel-toed rubber boots and tried to slog through the mud in the shallow bit of the river. I should’ve guessed by their sheer weight that they were steel-toed but I didn’t. And they were heavy and mud is, well, mud.

A big old muddy Sunday Mass.

I check my watch.

And here’s the thing that many Catholics don’t get.

As an Evangelical, I wasn’t in it for the entertainment.

As Evangelicals we weren’t obligated to show up on a Sunday morning but we did anyway. We did because we craved a personal relationship with God. We craved a chance to worship him through song—sung well—and to hear from His Word—exegized well—and to pray together amongst His people.

And we did it well

But, oh Lord, I’m a Catholic now.

I’m living in the land where half-assed, half-hearted, and half-witted seems to pass as perfectly acceptable. Ouch. Did I say that out loud?

But, seriously, this parish.

As the out-of-key organ drones on, giving the non-committal choir a run for its money, these are the things that cross my mind.

I do my best to wrench my thoughts back to what matters most—to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass—to the beauty in the church’s architecture, the priest’s vestments, the poetry of the liturgy, and these things are all very good. But there’s something to be said about the beautifully vested priest mumbling the prayers or the fact that the liturgical motions—themselves richly endowed with meaning—are performed haltingly, truncated.

Or the homily. Lord, the homily. If a sermon like this were preached in front of my Evangelical congregation the pastor would’ve been taken aside after the service to speak with the Board of Elders.

“That’s unacceptable, Mitch. If you can’t put a little polish into your semons, something to really shed meaning on the Scripture, than we’re going to have to let you go.”

I don’t know why I chose the name ‘Mitch’. Seemed to fit.

At any rate, I shuffled up to receive our Eucharistic Lord and I’m thankful, at least, for this. For the promise that God gives us His real and true flesh. That He won’t leave us. That He’s with us to the ends of the world. And that, somehow, He’s up for enduring even this particularly painful rendition of the Mass.

And this is my take away. This is what I circle back to, again and again.

I’m a Catholic, and that’s great, but why do Catholics settle for so little?

As an Evangelical I wasn’t into the music, the prayers, and the sermon because it was hip and happening. I was into it because it was good.

I was into it because it was done well.

Why can’t we do Catholicism well? Why don’t we demand more from ourselves and from each other?

Why can’t we do Catholicism well? 

Truthfully, there is beauty in Catholicism that my Evangelical roots cannot fathom. A survey of the physical beauty of Catholic churches around the world makes this plainly clear. Not only that, the liturgy with its rich meaning and symbolism is like nothing I’d ever experienced before my conversion. It’s not rocket science. But time and again, in so many of my parish experiences, I’ve run into this exact same wall.

The wall of mediocrity.

The wall of meh.

“Yeah, this seems good enough.”

In the end, the indomitable Peter Kreeft, himself a convert, explains it best. He says we can’t expect Protestants to trade “one fullness for another.”

The Mass is the most beautiful thing on earth, as is the Catholic faith. Of this I’m positive. But we can’t expect anyone—least of all an Evangelical like me—to be attracted to such a blase presentation of our faith, and our Mass.

Am I advocating for pyrotechnics? A rock band to replace the choir? A professionally trained orator for the homily?

By no means.

I’m just wondering, if the Mass is what we say it is why do we put such little effort in? Doesn’t it deserve our very best?

Why can’t we do Catholicism well?

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