Wednesday, August 3, 2005

Pew Confessions

The church that I'm currently attending isn't as orthodox as the last one I went to—I sacrificed conservatism for warmth—but I'd guess it's squarely in the mainstream. It has the female lectors, and it uses that cheesy, I'm-OK/You're-OK red prayer book that characterizes the Eucharist as a communal gesture of thanks. But it also has solid homilies, real hymns sung to the accompaniment of a real organ, and a petition for a "culture of life" included in its prayers.

At church last Sunday, the thought struck me that the Roman Catholic Mass, even when done in accordance with contemporary church mores, is so radically different from everything else that goes on in our culture. The general confession, the list of petitions answered with amens, the Nicene Creed—all are things one normally wouldn't dare say in public. Who wants their co-workers, secular friends, or the person sitting next to them on the bus to know they believe that God's eternally begotten son, Jesus Christ, will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead?

Then there's the Eucharist, and how it presents the sacrifice of the Lamb of God—and the newness of life that the crucified Jesus gives to us—as the essential truth of the Christian faith. It's a ritual based entirely around faith—around what, or rather Who, one believes the consecrated host is. What really takes place as the Eucharist is received is invisible to the eye. How stunning the contrast is between that and so much of contemporary life, where only those things that can be seen, measured, and—often—bought have any value.

I once heard a Catholic respond to the question of whether he believed in God, saying something like, "I should hope so. I ate Him this morning." At the time, I thought that was pretty weird. Today, it seems to me that the nature of Catholic worship can well inspire such matter-of-fact certainty of such things—as well as the confidence that enables one to proclaim one's faith without fear.