Week Ten of my Finding Fingerprints adventure. I’m visiting a different church every week to see all the cool things that God is up to in the various gatherings of believers in Jesus in my community. John 17, baby — Let’s find that unity that Jesus wanted for us!
Sunday #10, Nov. 9, 2014
a large Roman Catholic Church
Message: THE DEDICATION OF THE LATERAN BASILICA
Ez 47:1-2, 8-9, 12 / 1 Cor 3:9c-11, 16-17/Jn 2:13-22
Eight years ago, a local Catholic school allowed my homeschooled son to play football on their team. It was a great experience for him, and I was always grateful that they included him as they did. I spent many hours at the football field, but I’d never been inside the church. When I realized I was 10 weeks into my Finding Fingerprints adventure and hadn’t yet worshipped with Catholic believers, I decided that was the parish to visit.
I failed to pick up a missalette on my way into the sanctuary, and because I don’t attend Mass very often, I found it harder to participate without it. For those of you who haven’t attended a Catholic Mass and don’t know what I’m talking about, the service has a many congregational responses throughout it, and the missalette is a little book that allows you to “follow along” so that you can read the responses at the right times in the service.
I loved the procession that begins the service as the congregation sings a hymn. The reverence shown for the cross of Jesus and the written Word of God (lifted high over the head as they enter) is beautiful. It makes me ask myself, “Do I begin my times of worship by respectfully lifting Jesus’ sacrifice, example and word high and bowing down before Him? Do I begin my days this way? My work? My conversation?”
This particular Mass was to be a celebration of the dedication of the Lateran Basilica in the early 300’s. Huh? This was all new to me, and as the priest shared the story, the reason for our continued celebration of it these many centuries later, I learned a lot. Church history reminded us of the precious gift of worship without persecution, and challenged us to be living out our faith, boldly identifying as followers of Jesus, because God has allowed us the opportunity to live under a government that does not forbid it. We were also challenged to pray for the persecuted church of Jesus Christ in other countries around the world.
The homily (that’s “sermon,” for Protestants!) encouraged believers to care for themselves and their fellowmen in a way that is respectful of the Holy Spirit of God who dwells in us as His temple. The priest reminded us that we easily remember to treat with respect a facility like the sanctuary in which we were sitting, but slow to respect the true temple of God – US, according to His word.
The pace of Mass is particularly of note. I saw God’s fingerprints so clearly in it. Mass is not rushed. The entry procession is slow and dignified. The priest takes time for silence between the various parts of the Mass, allowing reflection on what has come before, and preparation for what is coming next. I never felt that I was being entertained and the folks on the altar were afraid they might lose the “audience” if they waited too long. Instead, the pauses reminded me without words that I was there to worship God; what happened on the altar was designed to aid ME in the activity for which I was present.
Preparation for Communion includes my favorite moment in the Mass. The priest presents the bread and the cup and the congregation says together, “Lord, I am not worthy…” I will admit that this is where I get a little befuddled, because the wording of the response was changed in 2011 and I still identify most strongly with the original wording from the Centurion’s response to Jesus in Matthew 8:8 –
“Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed.”
The new response is, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.”
But either way you say it, for me the ritual is powerful. To acknowledge on a regular basis that I am unworthy to receive the Holy Spirit of God in myself, and to acknowledge that because of the perfect sacrifice of Jesus I have been made holy by Him so that we CAN dwell together…ahh! So rich; so beautiful!
I was raised in the Protestant tradition. When I was 18 years old, I became interested in the Catholic mass through a friend I’d made at work who was a devoted Catholic. She talked with such joy about her church and the celebration of Mass that I wanted to learn more. She spent a precious afternoon explaining things and answering questions, and then took me to daily Mass for the first time. It’s still such a special memory.
A couple of years later, I found myself needing to find a church body with which to worship corporately for just a couple of months before making a move back to my home state. Rather than “church-shopping,” I began attending Mass at the local Roman Catholic parish with another Catholic friend from the office where I now worked.
There was something beautiful to me in the reverence of the Mass. I had differences of doctrine with the Catholic church on some points that meant I didn’t want to pursue joining the church, but I loved worshiping there.
When I married Fred, I married a man who was raised Catholic, but didn’t find a real, personal saving relationship with God in Jesus Christ until he was in his late 40’s, and that was through friendships with Protestant believers. So he chose to stop identifying as a Catholic after that time. His family is still devoted to the Roman Catholic tradition and finds his choice very odd.
Fred doesn’t understand why I love celebrating Mass the way I do. For him, it feels like mindless ritual; for me, it feels like meaning-filled ritual. We have the most interesting conversations in the car on our way home after the various family events that include our attending Mass together!