Mark P. Shea is a popular Catholic writer and speaker. The author of numerous books, his most recent work is The Work of Mercy (Servant) and The Heart of Catholic Prayer (Our Sunday Visitor). Mark contributes numerous articles to many magazines, including his popular column “Connecting the Dots” for the National Catholic Register. Mark is known nationally for his one minute “Words of Encouragement” on Catholic radio. He also maintains the Catholic and Enjoying It blog. He lives in Washington state with his wife, Janet, and their four sons.
A reader writes:
Hello, I am a long time lurker to your blog. Although a Reformed Protestant, my wife and I have been investigating the claims of the Catholic Church for about the past six months or so to discern if it is in fact the one true Church Christ founded. What led us to begin this process are many and would take too long to list out. However I have been advised by several Catholics to begin attending Mass as part of this process, along with the other more theological and historical research that I’ve been doing. So I attended Mass for the first time this week. As a convert from Protestant Evangelicalism I thought you might be interested in hearing about my experience. I wrote down my thoughts later that morning and here’s what I wrote:
The parish I attended is presided over by an FSSP priest. It was a Low Mass at 6:30am this morning and I was there with 5 others. It was entirely in Latin except for the closing Hail Marys and Prayer. We spent most of the 35 minutes on our knees. I did not partake of the Eucharist; I was the only one who didn’t. As I was walking out and around the building on my way to my car the priest poked his head out of a side door and very gently asked if I needed to make a Confession. I’m sure he noticed that I remained seated in the back when everyone else went to take the Eucharist, and his concern for me, enough to make him seek me out (much like Christ does with His people) is much appreciated, and was one of the defining moments for me. I humbly had to say ‘no’ and would have loved to stay and chat with him but I was not sure how long it was going to take me to get to work and was already getting nervous about getting to work on time. I plan to email him later.
The parish itself was beautiful. If I could describe the whole experience in two words they would be “reverent” and “ancient.” Even now, as I write this several hours afterward, it seems very surreal to me, like it happened so long ago, and yet it was just this morning. I can’t imagine Mass would have been very different in 1011 A.D. as it was just now in 2011 A.D. I still have a lot of thoughts and feelings floating around inside and I am waiting to say more until I have had time to process it all. In some ways it felt entirely foreign to me, so utterly unlike what I have always known Christianity to be. This is unsettling. But I can attest by personal experience that sometimes the most defining moments of our lives are highly unsettling. Whether this is one of those moments only time will tell.
To cap it all off, when I arrived at work I received an email from my wife. She said that after our 2 year old son had finished eating breakfast, he sat down on the couch and began looking through his Jesus storybook bible as he does most mornings. The subject line of her email read “weird” and it read:
“is it weird that [our son] is saying “come eat jesus”
he is reading his book and calling jesus to come eat, but all i can think of is the eucharist.”
Out of the mouth of babes…
It sounds like your priest is a fine pastor and shepherd! Consider yourself blessed! Also, you are blessed to have a shot at the Tridentine rite, which is beautiful. So, for that matter, is the Paul VI when done well (I like them both). I’m not an expert on the history of the Mass, but broadly speaking, none of the liturgies of the Church are tremendously different in shape from what Justin Martyr described in the mid-second century in his First Apology:
And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. Then we all rise together and pray, and, as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people assent, saying Amen; and there is a distribution to each, and a participation of that over which thanks have been given, and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons. And they who are well to do, and willing, give what each thinks fit; and what is collected is deposited with the president, who succours the orphans and widows and those who, through sickness or any other cause, are in want, and those who are in bonds and the strangers sojourning among us, and in a word takes care of all who are in need. But Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Saviour on the same day rose from the dead. For He was crucified on the day before that of Saturn (Saturday); and on the day after that of Saturn, which is the day of the Sun, having appeared to His apostles and disciples, He taught them these things, which we have submitted to you also for your consideration.
Indeed, the basic structure of the liturgy is already stamped on the structure of the Book of Revelation. The author tells us “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day” (in other words, “I was at Mass. It was Sunday”). The book then proceeds to a “penitential rite” where Jesus speaks to various Churches and tells them to repent. After that, we proceed to open scrolls—or rather, to try to open scrolls. No one can do it except the Lamb who has been slain. In other words, the meaning of the Old Testament is veiled, as Paul says, until they are read in light of Christ’s fulfillment. In short, we are looking at a Liturgy of the Word. Finally, the book climaxes with The Marriage Feast of the Lamb, a euphemism for the Eucharist in patristic literature.
Since the promulgation of the Paul VI rite there has been much bustle about the Ordinary and Extraordinary Forms and each, alas, have their zealous partisans in a Church that is supposed to be free of partisanship. My recommendation is to be grateful for both since both are promulgated by Holy Church who was given the authority to bind and loose. “Eucharist” means thanksgiving, and you are off to a good start by entering into the liturgy with thanksgiving! If you live in an urban area, you should also take some time to experience the Paul VI rite, as well as some of the other eastern 14 rites of the Church such as Byzantine or Maronite. (The thrilling thing about the Maronite Rite is that the words of consecration are in Aramaic, the actual dialect Jesus spoke at the Last Supper.) You do indeed have a perceptive little one, as well as a very fine wife, to love the Eucharist so! My prayers for you as you continue your journey through Christ our Lord. Amen!