Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Gotta Love St. Justin Martyr - he wrote down a description of 2nd Century Christian worship just in case we got to wondering

Last Supper - Salvadore Dali

One of the primary questions many non-Catholics ask themselves when choosing a church is whether or not the worship style of that faith community is a good fit.
How structured is the service? Do they have old hymns or contemporary music? Do they have altar calls? Can one yell out a hearty “Amen” in the middle of the sermon? Or is worship more reserved? The prospective parishioner considers these things (at least subconsciously) and makes a determination based on personal preference.
As Catholics, our primary goal is to worship God in the way He wants to be worshipped. We adhere to a sacred liturgy that has been passed down through the ages. We simply don’t factor in personal preference.
While in RCIA class a few years ago, I read The Catechism of the Catholic Church. I was struck by the solid teaching on every page, but one passage on the structure of the Mass by St. Justin Martyr was particularly memorable (, chapter 67).
With meticulous precision, this Church Father describes early Christian worship. Moreover, the rubric for worship didn’t just drop out of the sky in 155 A.D. St. Justin Martyr summarizes how the Church had worshipped God from her first days.
Here’s the kicker. Line by line, we see that St. Justin’s description of worship matches the structure of the Catholic Mass. It is, without a doubt, the same worship experience.
In 2010, I took a Liturgy class. We studied the changes to the Liturgy of the Mass over time. Studying the changes to the Mass over a 2000 year spread is a little like studying the changes that occur in rock formations. If I were to study the changes to Protestant worship in the last two hundred years, it would be more like studying the changing trends of the fashion industry.
The Liturgy of the Mass is all a matter of historical record, a record that dates back to just 55 years after the writing of some New Testament books! Even so, why don’t Catholics emphasize personal preference? God made us each unique. Why not let each one approach God on his own terms? What’s wrong with being trendy?
On a very simplistic level, worship begins with communication. When we want to communicate with someone we love, we figure out how they want to be approached, and we pursue them in the manner that they desire.
For example, I don’t like phones. Most people who are close to me know that I prefer to be reached by email. My children text each other. I’ve decided to learn how to text because that’s their mode of communication. My uncle doesn’t text or do email. When I want to communicate with him, I use the phone. Yes, I set aside my personal preferences and just make the call. The emphasis is on the one we seek, not on self.
And this should be our goal when we come together as One Body to worship God. We worship in the manner that pleases Him. Malachi chapter one prophetically described the Mass, saying, “Everywhere they bring sacrifice to my name, and a pure offering.”
What is this perfect offering? It is the Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ. As wonderful as all other forms of worship are, this is the pure and perfect offering.
The Book of Revelation magnifies what happens in the Mass by saying, “Worthy are you. . . for you were slain and with your blood you purchased for God those from every tribe and tongue, people and nation. You made them a kingdom and priests for Our God. . .”
People from every nation come together to present a pure offering, giving to God what He most desires, the perfect Sacrifice of His Beloved Son.  The text of Sacred Scripture in Sunday’s Mass will be the same text in a village in Africa or a cathedral in Paris or a hamlet in Germany. From the first Sign of the Cross to the final prayer, you will worship in the same way that Catholics in every country are worshipping.
We are, quite literally, on the same page. We are, quite literally, worshipping in unison. We are, literally, one Body in Christ.
Throughout the week, private worship can be expressed through personal preference. You can turn up the volume on you inspirational music or pray the Rosary or meditate while playing the piano (or a round of golf or a game of racket ball). But when we worship Him as one – those from every tribe and tongue, people and nation – we do it in the way Christians have worshipped Him for two thousand years, by praying the Mass and offering the Heavenly Father a pure and perfect offering.


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