Don Miller is a prominent Christian writer, the voice of a new generation of Evangelicals.
But wait, I hear you saying, don’t all Christians go to church? Isn’t that kind of a non-negotiable? I mean, how could he not!?
Don says he doesn’t go to church because “it’s not how I learn.” He describes himself as a kinesthetic learner. Most Evangelical church services, however, are auditory. You listen to the Bible, to a sermon and you sing songs. You really don’t do much (except maybe raise your hands…) and the most visual you’re going to get is the stock photos of sunsets, ripples or clapsed hands on the PowerPoint.
Don says that it’s just not how he worships God, learns about God, or connects with other Christians. I think Don has a point here. As an Evangelical, I would have said go to church because this is the best place to do those things. But if they’re not working for, why go? We’re all different, right?
For Catholics, however, it’s a very different story.
Who is the Church Really About?
If you read Don’s article, you will see it’s all about him. I don’t mean that in a negative way. Evangelical church services are about you. They’re all about you worshiping God, you learning about God, and you connecting with other Christians. God is one part of the equation and you are the other.
The Catholic Mass is different.
While the key relationship at a Protestant church service is between you and God, in the Mass it’s between God Himself. The Mass is, first and foremost, an act of God to God by God. It is the re-presentation of the atoning sacrifice of the Son to the Father by the Holy Spirit.
We’re there too but it’s only by participating in that prior action of Christ. We unite ourselves to Christ, and by this are granted “communion in the divine life.” (CCC #1325) So the main relationship going on at Mass is between the persons of the Blessed Trinity… and we’re the gatecrashers. We’re basically the Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughan of divine life — or the Goldilocks to the Trinitarian Three Bears.
That means, however, that the Mass means something whether or not I’m there. St Padre Pio said that,
“It would be easier for the world to survive without the sun than to do without Holy Mass.”
That would be just as true if no one ever attended or prayed the Mass except the priests who offer it.
To really get the difference here, try imagining a Protestant church service without a congregation. It just doesn’t work. It wouldn’t be a church service; it would be a private devotional time… and why go to a church building for that?
Why Go to Mass Then?
But if the Mass doesn’t need me to do its “job”, then why go?
Bear with me here, but I think because the Mass has an objective meaning outside of me, I am actually more dependent on it. If the most important thing is how I worship and grow in God, well I can do that anywhere I am. (God’s always going to be there anywhere because He’s omnipresence.)
But if the most important thing is how I participate in already existing action, then I need to be where that action is. To go back to our metaphors, I can’t crash the wedding unless I’m at the wedding. I can’t eat all the porridge unless I’m in the three bears house.
It also makes me so grateful for my welcome. We might be the gatecrashers but God welcomes us in and seats us besides Him at the great Heavenly Banquet. We might Goldilocks but these three bears of the Holy Trinity are like, EAT ALL THE PORRIDGE!!! AND THEN WE’LL MAKE PANCAKES!!! AND BACON!!! (Hmm, bacon…)
Because the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass doesn’t need us, we need it all the more. Christ will be offered to the Father with or without you. But with all His love, He invites you in and offers you everything He has, even Himself, in the Holy Mass.
As St Paul says,
19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, 20 built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. 21 In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord. (Ephesians 2:19-21)
So go to Mass.
It’s not every day you get to gatecrash the Trinity.
Oh wait… yeah, it is!