I’m just not getting anything out of it! is a common cry for many who find church boring. For many raised Catholic, feelings of “not being fed” cause some to leave church altogether or at least find another Christian experience. Many go for churches that emphasize popular preachers and modern music—forget liturgy and sacraments.
Much of this boredom stems from ignorance: We simply do not know what church is all about. At least, this has been my experience. The more I have learned about church, the less boring it has been. I have encountered four points in particular that have made me less bored—and much more excited—about Mass:
1. Worship like the first Christians
One of the most fascinating discoveries I’ve come across is the continuity between today’s Mass and the worship of the early Christians. The Mass spans two millennia of Christian history. Eucharist, liturgy, sacrifice—all this formed the core of Christian worship from the beginning.
St. Justin Martyr, an early second-century Christian, illustrates the distinctly Catholic format of worship. On Sunday, Christians first read “the memoirs of the apostles” and “writings of the prophets.” Following the presider’s instruction, “bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings” (First Apology 67).
It’s cool to know that the basic structure of the Mass has been maintained for over 1,900 years. At least. For there is still an earlier document, the Didache, which again highlights the central place of the Eucharist during Sunday worship: “Every Lord’s day,” the document says, “gather yourselves and bread bread” (Didache 14).
This Scripture + Eucharist format is not only ancient but universally present. Wherever the Christian faith spread, Sunday worship would ultimately be anchored in two parts: the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist. West or East, Latin or Greek or Syriac, early Christians practiced their faith in reference to their own culture while always holding firm to this essential form of the Eucharistic liturgy.
Nowadays, however, it’s not uncommon for some Protestant churches to relegate the Eucharist to a place of secondary importance. One reason for this is precisely how some Christians now understand communion, which leads to the next point…
2. The Eucharist is Jesus Christ
Perhaps the reason why church is no longer boring for me is my deeper appreciation of what—or rather, Who—we receive during communion. In the Eucharist, Christ is present. By receiving it, we receive Christ.
A celebration of bread and wine becomes the very means of intimate union with Christ. For some Christians, this is a bizarre claim. The Eucharist is obviously just bread and wine, right? Well, apparently, yes: to the senses, it’s just common food. But Christ often uses the mundane to convey his grace. According to St. Paul, the bread is an actual “sharing in the body of Christ” and the cup of wine is an actual “sharing in the blood of Christ” (1 Cor. 10:16).
Jesus tells us that by receiving the Eucharist, we partake of his own divine life: “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood,” Christ declares, “have eternal life” and “abide in me” (John 6:54-56).
Ah! Suddenly it becomes clear on why the Eucharist was central to early Christian worship. To early Christians, the Lord’s Supper was not just a memorial but the very presence of their Lord. St. Justin Martyr, quoted earlier, goes on to say that the Eucharist is not “common bread and common drink” but is the “flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh” (First Apology 66).
Early Christians were emphatic in their belief that Christ is present in the Eucharist. The second-century bishop St. Ignatius of Antioch goes so far to say that the heretics are those who “do not confess that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ” (Letter to the Smyrnaeans). While this may be a foreign—even shocking—belief to many American Christians, most Christians have historically held a high view of the Eucharist. Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and other ancient Christian traditions believe that the Eucharist is truly Jesus Christ.
So how could church ever be boring, then? By attending Mass, the Lord of the Universe—the great I AM—gives Himself to me. In communion, we are spiritually united to Christ. By receiving the Eucharist, we abide in Christ, and He in us. Fifth-century Christian Cyril of Alexandria puts it beautifully when he compares the person’s reception of communion to “two pieces of wax fused together”—just as “Christ is in him and he is in Christ.”
3. We’re made for liturgical worship
Sometimes, church only feels like going through the motions. Kneel, sit, stand, repeat. In the past, I’ve been externally present, but not always internally so. But I have since realized that the body’s involvement actually deepens the experience of worship.
The fact is, we aren’t disembodied spirits. We aren’t angels. We have bodies, created good by God. We should expect God to relate to us through our bodies.
Think of the Incarnation, after all. You know, God—eternal spirit—assuming a human nature in the person of Jesus Christ. God chose mere matter as the means of our salvation. This incarnational principle extends beyond the person of Christ, particularly in the Sacraments he instituted. The seven Sacraments of the church are none other than material realities that make present the spiritual realities they signify. The Eucharist is the supreme example, but others express it as well. In baptism, initiation into God’s family is accompanied by water. In confession, God’s own forgiveness is conveyed through human ministers.
In a Catholic liturgy, you’re sure to see this sacramental principle on full display. Icons, statues, and other artwork recall important events in the lives of Christ and the saints. Incense fills the room. Vestments signify the ministers’ sacred duties. Candles symbolize the light of Christ. Voices and instruments lead the congregation in prayer. Parishioners cross themselves, genuflect, kneel, bow, prostrate, and so on. And of course water, oil, bread, and wine are used in the celebration of the sacraments.
And then there’s ritual. Our daily lives are full of “rituals”—even if not religious ones. We may have specific routines when we wake up and before we go to bed. We may have habits of doing things at work and school. We should only expect there to be rituals in our spiritual lives as well, especially considering that Christian worship is a communal—and not just individual—phenomenon.
4. We are (ONE BIG) family
Lastly, I have come to appreciate church as the means of bringing all people together. To attend Mass is to be part of something much larger than myself. Of course, there are many ways of connecting with fellow Christians. But none do so like the Eucharist.
The Eucharist connects Christians in all places and in all times. The liturgy is the corporate worship of the Church. It brings together all of Christ’s disciples into one body, God’s family. “We who are many are one body,” says St. Paul, “for we all partake of the one bread” (1 Cor. 10:17). The celebration of the Eucharist is not only communion with God but communion with our fellow Christians, then. It acts as a sign of the church’s unity. It’s what makes the church, well, church.
Today, American society in particular is confronting the challenges of diversity and division. Here the Church is key. The Church, as God’s great gathering, brings all people together. Even at my local parish, I am comforted knowing that I will commune with people from all walks of life. There is not any other institution that so unites me to my fellow brothers and sisters.
This includes those in Heaven as well. Even now, we are united to the saints in Heaven, the great “cloud of witnesses” who cheer us on in our journey of faith (Heb. 12:1). I think we modern Christians lose sight of this, but the faithful in Heaven are as real as we are, and they’re fully part of the church.
These are four insights of the mind that lead to a deeper appreciation of the Mass and our Catholic Faith. When the benefits of the Eucharist are integrated into our lives, the exciting nature of the Catholic faith becomes even more manifest.
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