Those Who Do Not See But Believe

A couple nights ago, I had a dream that I was at church, and after transubstantiation, the host fell to the ground and began to bleed. The amount of blood was great for the size of the host, and eventually the host could not be seen at all because the blood overtook it. Everyone at church saw this, but only some began to believe in the Real Presence thereafter.

Worst, it was mostly the children who did not believe. A group of our friends from church decided to band together and form a new church, leaving behind the rest of the parishioners who did not believe despite seeing the Eucharistic miracle of the bleeding host.

The reality is that I probably had that dream because I read the Pew article that revealed that most Catholics do not believe the core Church teaching that the bread and wine literally become the Body and Blood of Christ.

I don’t know why they don’t believe. I suppose it’s a combination of poor catechesis, priests not talking about the truth in their homilies, and the belief that science is the be-all and end-all and that if something cannot be proven using the scientific method and empirical evidence, it cannot be true.

The dream was something of a wake-up call. I learned that I need to stop trying so hard and rely on God’s grace. Because we are mere human beings, salvation is impossible for us to achieve by ourselves. It is only possible through God.

Going Old School

Before the second Vatican Council, which ended in 1965, the Catholic Mass was said in Latin, no matter where you went in the world. The priest faced the altar, not the people, the music was solemn and usually played on an organ, only boys were allowed to serve at the altar, the intrusive “sign of peace” (bane of all introverts) did not exist, and all women wore veils. There are other differences, but it would take a series of blog posts to go through all of them.

My first time going to a Latin Mass was shortly after the new cathedral in Raleigh opened a few years ago. What struck me most about it was the sheer silence. The same phenomenon occurred when I went to another Latin Mass last week. This one was in a different church (one of the larger ones in the area; essentially a mini-cathedral), but the atmosphere of silence was, if anything, even greater.

The priest spoke so softly that it was hard to hear him, even to follow along with the Latin in the missal. The reverence was unmistakable. You could walk in the doors and immediately know something special was happening. A group of boys from the parish sang a beautiful Gregorian chant at certain parts of the Mass. They were so talented, they should have been given a record deal.

As much as I enjoyed the Mass, I could understand why, back in the old days, people prayed the Rosary the entire time. It was difficult to follow because the language is foreign and it is easy to get distracted. This time, I could focus because the baby wasn’t acting up. He was sitting contentedly on my lap, babbling up at the ceiling in an echoing conversation with God, angels, and saints. (But as cute as it was to me, I’m sure it was annoying to everyone else, so my husband had to get up and walk around with him.)

Communion was received at the altar rail. Those who received knelt, and the host was placed on the tongue. Receiving on the hands while standing is another change occurring after Vatican II, and it’s one of the major hangups many have with the post-1965 Mass (AKA Novus Ordo). During Mass, the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ. The Catholics in favor of the old Mass (“traditional Catholics”) can’t stomach what they believe to be the irreverence of receiving on the hand. The host IS Jesus, and we are unworthy to receive him in the hand, as if the host were just a plain piece of bread. That change, along with others such as increased participation from the people, the priest facing the people, the more contemporary, upbeat music, and yes, that dreaded sign of peace, are what lead many to believe that the Novus Ordo is focused on the people, not on God. 

That changed focus opens the door to more irreverent, and even blasphemous or heretical, Masses. But the way I see it is that any time something beautiful comes down to human beings, it gets messed up. Humans destroy everything they touch; it’s just a fact of life. We do create wonderful things and attempt to improve our planet, but the taint of original sin is in all of us and spreads outward like a cancer. My thought is that to believe that the Novus Ordo is intrinsically bad is an extreme view that can lead to scrupulosity. People can become too concerned with whether small details will cost them salvation. Whether it’s Novus Ordo or traditional, the Mass is still the Mass. Jesus is present in the Eucharist no matter what. In any Mass, small pieces of the host may fall on the ground, unnoticed to all of us. I don’t think it is necessary to get down on the ground after every Mass and scour the floor for tiny pieces. 

Liturgical abuses can happen in any kind of Mass. Any kind of Mass can be celebrated irreverently or reverently. Ultimately, the Holy Trinity makes the Mass what it is, not the people. There is so much more going on during the Mass that us humans are not aware of. True, the realization that Jesus is present in the Body and Blood should make us more reverent, no matter what Mass we attend, but this realization does end up turning more people to the Latin Mass. Again, more education in these matters would greatly help the Church’s people. It is a shame that many Catholics do not know (or do not accept) one of the basic tenets of the faith: that upon transubstantiation, the bread and wine become the Body and Blood.

I could go on forever, but I’ll stop here. Maybe a second post is in order.


When East Meets West…

“…there’s gonna be one hell of a mess.” (Warlock, led by Doro Pesch [1987])

When you hear the word “Catholic,” you most likely think of the Roman (or Western) Catholic Church, headed by Pope Francis in Rome. However, there is also a much smaller segment of the Catholic Church known as the Eastern Rite, whose traditions are flavored with the cultures of the Ukraine, Armenia, Greece, and many other countries, depending on which branch of the Eastern Church you adhere to or visit. The Eastern Church is still led by Pope Francis, but its bishops are different from Roman bishops, and when you walk into an Eastern service, you wonder if you’re even in a Catholic parish at all. The closest thing to compare it to would be an Orthodox service (which I haven’t been to, but that’s what I’ve heard).

My husband has been having a dalliance with the Eastern Church recently, so this past Saturday, we went an afternoon Divine Liturgy (the equivalent of the Mass in the Roman Church). My first (completely honest) impression of the church building itself was that it looked like a ghetto daycare. Some old-looking jungle gyms had been set up out back, and the building looked like it could use a new coat of paint. My second impression was that the interior smelled like cucumbers and incense, and the latter scent only increased as the priest swung his censer all throughout the service. The Eastern Church in general is a tiny community, comprising only about 1.5% of the entire Catholic Church worldwide. Here in North Carolina, the Eastern Church is even tinier. I doubt 50 people would have fit comfortably in the church we visited.

I enjoyed the first homily, which was given by the deacon. He wasn’t afraid to state the absolute truths of the Catholic faith in black and white, something you don’t often encounter in Roman Catholic churches nowadays. I felt like standing up and screaming, “Amen, brother!” at certain points as if I was at a Southern Baptist church, but I was already standing up and trying to keep a handle on my squirming child, who desperately wanted to get down and flail on the floor in his recent attempts to crawl. Instead, he settled for making goo-goo eyes at the baby next to us.

The second homily (apparently not a common occurrence) was given by the priest. He spoke about the Pan-Amazonian Synod that will be held in October. Again, I agreed with his opinion and was glad that he stated it because, again, personal opinion and overt statements of the truth are not frequently heard in the Roman Church, which is a terrible shame. I mean, come on. If you believe that truth is truth, say it. (This is a rant for another time.)

What I didn’t like was that the entire Divine Liturgy, except the homilies, was sung in what I found to be an atonal drone. I nearly fell asleep, and as a result, I didn’t get much out of the service and couldn’t focus (although this may have been partially due to my son’s attempts to wriggle out of my grasp). As I mentioned before, there were so many differences between Eastern and Western Catholic worship that it would take a long time to get used to. Even the saints the East venerates differ from Western saints, and not as much emphasis is placed on the Rosary, which made me sad.

It was a nice visit, but I doubt I return anytime soon. I’m a Roman Catholic through and through. I’m Italian and German. My roots are with Rome. My culture is with Rome. It was nice to try another flavor, but I did not find it to my liking (although I sincerely wish Roman Catholic priests would speak out about Catholicism’s beautiful truths more often).