I am a Catholic. The reason why I go to mass is pretty simple. I go to mass solely for one reason and one reason only. It is to worship God. I don’t really go for any other reason. That’s pretty much it for me. I go to mass because I know that is the type of worship God has revealed to us that he wants. He has revealed this in shadows to Old Testament Israel, and he has revealed this in clarity to New Testament Israel (the Catholic Church). I go to mass, because the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Israel) demands to be worshiped this way following the death and resurrection of his divine Son Jesus Christ. There is nothing complicated about it. The Holy Mass, also called the Divine Liturgy of the Holy Eucharist, is the way all the members of Israel (Christians) are commanded to worship him, minimally at least once a week on Sundays (Saturday night to Sunday night), and on Holy Days of Obligation.
Sometimes worship of our Lord involves receiving him in the blessed sacrament during Holy Mass. It doesn’t always involve receiving him, because one is not required to receive the sacrament of the Eucharist in Holy Communion except once a year during the Easter season. If I am conscious of mortal sin, I should not receive the sacrament. If I’m unsure about whether a sin is mortal or venial, I should visit a confessor, and discern it with his help. That’s how it works. We can receive the sacrament of Holy Communion with venial sin, but not mortal sin. It’s best practice to remove all sin (both venial along with mortal) through the sacrament of confession/reconciliation, before receiving the Eucharist if that is possible. This is why some parishes provide the sacrament of Confession/Reconciliation immediately before mass. If you can do this, I highly recommend it. If it’s not possible, you can receive Holy Communion with venial sin, but not mortal sin. If you’re like me, and you have a bit of a scrupulous conscience, you might want to visit a confessor priest to determine what common sins in your life are mortal and when. You shouldn’t do this alone. You need the objective assistance of a trained confessor priest. This is what it means to be a good Catholic in the Church, and a good Catholic is visiting the sacrament of confession/reconciliation frequently enough to be working out these problems.
Now as for going to mass, like I said above, it’s all about the worship of God, based on what HE requires, not what I want. What does HE require? God requires a form of worship that involves prayer and praise, as well as instruction in his word, accompanied by physical acts of devotion to him, such as making the sign of the cross, standing for prayer, and falling on one’s knees in submission. This is because God made us to be physical beings, so he expects physical acts of worship. Why else would he give us a body if he didn’t want us to use it in worship of him? Even the Evangelicals recognize this when they raise their hands during songs of worship. While their form of worship is not what God asks of us, it is nevertheless a recognition that God gave us physical bodies and he expects us to use them in our worship of him.
The ancient Jews understood this all too well. They were required to go to the synagogues weekly, read the Scriptures, pray out loud, as well as wear prayer shawls and phylacteries (small boxes with Scripture on their arms and foreheads). These were all signs of the type of worship that God would require later. During certain times of the year, ancient Jews were required to bring sacrifices in the Temple, and this was accompanied by bowing, genuflection, even lying prostrate for certain people whose job it was to worship God daily. All of this pre-shadowed the worship we have now in the Catholic Church.
That’s the key, really. It’s all about worship. If we are followers of the God of Israel, then we must worship the God of Israel, the way the God of Israel wants to be worshiped in this day and age. This brings me to the point of this essay: why do I go to mass?
I go to mass for God, only for God, and for nobody else but God.
I don’t go there to make friends. Though admittedly, I know that might happen. I don’t go there to hang out with other Catholics. Though admittedly, I know that is going to happen. I don’t go there to have “community,” though admittedly, that will be one result. I don’t go there to be entertained. I go to the movie theater for that. I don’t go there to hear good music. I listen to my MP3 player, and go to music concerts, for that. I don’t go there to “get something out of it,” because that misses the point. I’m there to give something to God, not expect something in return. Granted, God may choose to give me something. I might be properly disposed to receive the Eucharist, which is great! Because now I’ve receive the body, blood, soul and divinity of our Lord within me. But that isn’t the reason why I went. God may also choose to give me some important life lesson, either through the reading of Scripture or the homily of my pastor, or both! Again, if that happens, that’s great! But that isn’t the reason why I went. I might hear some good music. That’s nice. But that’s not the reason why I went. I might even make a friend or two. Again, that’s nice. But that’s not the reason why I went. I went to mass for one reason, and one reason only. That is to worship God the way he wants to be worshiped — period. That’s the only reason why I go.
When I was an Evangelical, I went to our chapel on Sundays (and even Wednesdays) for various reasons. The primary reason is because God told us to not forsake the assembly of the faithful (Hebrews 10:25). So even as an Evangelical Protestant, I was cognizant of the necessity of going to chapel fairly regularly, even though I may not have understood why. Like many Evangelicals, I was under the impression that it had something to do with praise and worship, but I was also under the impression that it had to do with fellowship. So my Evangelical understanding of going to chapel centered around worship and fellowship.
Over the years, I discovered what many Evangelicals discover. People are disappointing. They rarely ever live up to your expectations, and sometimes they even do the exact opposite. Let’s face it, people can often be a burden. I hate to admit this, but I lost all faith in humanity in 1992, during the Los Angeles Riots. That’s because I was there. Six days of mayhem, vandalism, theft and violence taught me that when government is powerless, a large number of people are not likely to do the right thing. They are, rather, more likely to do the wrong thing. Now I know that’s an extreme example, but that’s where my head has been for three decades, and when you compound this with having worked in a hospital, closely with law enforcement personnel pretty regularly for an equal amount of time, it leaves one with a pretty sour view of the human race. So to put this into perspective, when I go to worship God during mass, I’m not really expecting much from the people in the pews around me. I’m not there for them, nor do I want to be. I’m there for God, and God alone. If I happen to make a friend, or just have a pleasant experience with a few people, that’s nice, but that isn’t the reason why I came.
The problem with a growing number of Evangelicals is that they’re just too damn smart. You see, my view of worship while I was an Evangelical was not unlike the view of many Evangelicals. The chapel is for worship and fellowship. However, when worship involves just prayer and songs, and the fellowship is with people who are constantly disappointing you, there really is no reason to stick around. After all, you can pray and sing to God anywhere, right? You can pray and sing at home. You can pray and sing in the garden. You can pray and sing in a park. You can pray and sing in the forest. You don’t need a chapel to pray and sing to God. So why go to the chapel at all? When it comes to people, well, like I said above, people are a mess. They’re terribly disappointing, and almost never live up to your expectations. Sometimes they’re mean. And sometimes they’re weird! As a result, many Evangelicals have come to the perfectly logical, and very smart, conclusion that there really is no need to go to chapel. One can worship God anywhere, and when fellowship does more harm to your faith than good, it’s better to just fellowship with your Christian friends and family outside of a chapel setting. Consequently, a number of Evangelicals have taken to the domestic church model, doing prayer, songs and Bible studies in their homes, with their spouse and children alone, abandoning the whole chapel experience. It’s a growing movement, and it’s going to keep getting bigger. Why? Because Evangelicals are just too damn smart, and they’re following a perfectly logical train of thought.
However, while the train of thought is logical, and the person who follows it is intelligent, even the brightest minds can follow a rational line of thinking to the point of total error. When I learned to program computers, way back in the 1980s (I’m dating myself here), we learned a saying to live by. It was “garbage in, garbage out.” Computers are perfectly logical machines, and they’ll always give you the most logical results to whatever data you plug into them. However, if the data you’re putting into them is flawed (garbage), then what you’ll get back is garbage in the form of results. Oh sure, it will be logical garbage, that followed a perfectly logical method of thinking, but it will be garbage nonetheless. This is because the premise that the thinking was based on was garbage. It was some form of an error, or false data, that led the computer to follow a perfectly logical and rational train of thought, producing a totally wrong answer. It’s the same as a student trying to work out a math problem. If he makes an error in the third step, the remaining steps (4, 5, 6, 7), will be wrong, producing a wrong result, because the data he produced in the third step was an error (garbage). Thus, garbage in, garbage out. Wrong data produces the wrong results, even if the thinking is right.
When it comes to the growing number of Evangelicals leaving the chapel behind, it has a lot to do with the erroneous presumption that their Sunday morning chapel time is for the purpose of “worship and fellowship.” The worship part they got right, even though it’s not the type of worship God wants, but nevertheless, he does want worship. So they nailed that one. God wants sacrificial worship in a liturgical way, as demonstrated in both the Old Testament and the Tradition of the early Church. So that’s an important part of the worship model Evangelicals are often unaware of. However, it’s the fellowship part they got wrong. Worship and fellowship are not linked. They can be, as a result of people showing up at the same place during the same time, but fellowship is not the reason why Evangelicals should go to chapel. Nor is it the reason why Catholics should go to mass. It never was, and it never will be. Like I said, it’s nice when it happens, but that is not the reason why we should be going.
I’ve heard a lot of Catholics talk lately, and since I hear a lot of Evangelicals talk too, I’m starting to hear the same error repeated in both circles. It troubles me greatly when I hear Catholics say, “I don’t like going to mass because I don’t get anything out of it.” It troubles me even more when I hear Catholics say, “What’s the point of going to mass when the people are so cold and distant?” Again, garbage in, garbage out. They’re operating on a false presumption. We don’t go to mass for fellowship. It’s nice when it happens, but that’s not the reason why we’re there. We are there to worship the God of Israel in the way he wants us to worship him. The worship God requires is liturgical, orderly, involves both our voices and our bodies, and always centers around a sacrifice. That’s it. We’re not there to be entertained, or to “get something out of it,” or to make friends, or to feel good with a lot of people. Granted, it’s nice when those things happen, but that isn’t the reason why we go in the first place. We go to mass to give God what is rightfully his, and what belongs to him, our worship.
Now, I think understanding this is particularly important in these troubling times we find ourselves. In light of recent revelations concerning the failures of our Church leaders, it is now more important than ever to remember why we Catholics go to mass. We’re not there to see our bishop or priest. We’re not there to watch their “performance” or even to hear the choir sing. We’re not there to make friends or socialize either. It’s nice when these things happen, but they’re not the reason why we go to mass. We are there for God, and for God alone, to give him what rightfully belongs to him. Let us try to remember that.
If you’re Catholic, and some scandal is causing you to miss mass, or the actions of some parishioner is causing you to miss mass, or the quality of music or liturgy is causing you to miss mass, maybe it’s time to stop and reconsider the whole reason why you’re going to mass in the first place. Maybe you’ve got it all wrong. Maybe it’s a case of garbage in, garbage out. Maybe your focus is on other people, rather than to give God what is due to him. If so, I hope you’ll reconsider why you’re going (or not going) to mass. Is it because you mistakenly thought it was all about you? Or are you willing to consider that it’s really all about God, and what you owe to him. Maybe, you should ask yourself a simple question. If you knew you would be the only one showing up to mass besides the priest, and he had to leave afterward so you couldn’t even talk to him, and for whatever reason you couldn’t receive communion that day either, would I still go? If the answer is not a resounding “YES!” there is a problem.