Visit to a Catholic Church

It truly was catholic in the small ‘c’ sense. There were a variety of ethnic groups and ages all equally at home in the sanctuary and with each other. That’s not where the catholicity ended but that was where it was most notable.

Some churches go out of the way to make visitors feel welcomed. Some go to the extreme of having them stand up, even introduce themselves, and maybe give them the equivalent of a Welcome Wagon gift bag. St. Albert the Great went the opposite way. They didn’t welcome guests with an announcement (I don’t either). They gave no clues as to whether you were in missal or hymnal or where you were in them. They expected people to know when to sit, stand, kneel, etc. I must say most of the 200 plus people there seemed to know all this. The impression I got, and remember I am a long way from touchy-feely, was what I got when I use to go to Grand Isle, Louisiana fishing. Although the major income for that area was tourists, they acted like it didn’t matter to them if you were there or not. Some were visibly hostile. None at St. Albert the Great went to the latter extreme but the air over all was the former.

The service I attended was the Feast of the Family, and I found it ironic that it was led by two men who had taken vows to under no circumstances father a family.  Mary was front in center in prayer and liturgy. Twice they announced that New Years’ Eve and New Years’ Day service celebrated the Solemnity [These are the highest feast days in Catholicism.] of Mary. Mary in effect is the Gospel if not of the Roman Catholic confession than certainly of its practice.

The actual Gospel was confessed in the Nicene Creed, in parts of the liturgy, and when it was read. I did find it odd but extremely accurate when the Gospel Procession took the Gospel Book from front and center at the edge of the circular chancel where it lay closed and moved it away from the congregation where it was opened and read. There was not a hint, whiff, or nod even to the Gospel in the homily. It was pure moralizing which if a person listened to consistently could only convert them to self-righteousness or despair.

You can’t deny that Roman Catholicism does not proclaim a pure Gospel, but I will admit they hide this major failing cleverly. In their worship they don’t do it the way the Catholic Catechism does: the Mass as a Representation of what happened at Calvary. The missal – which contains the official Cannon of the Mass hides it under the guise of a memorial.  The following is from Eucharistic Prayer III on page 85 of the Missal: “We celebrate the memorial of the saving Passion of your Son…we offer you in thanksgiving this holy and living Sacrifice.”

We would say Holy Communion is a memorial and we would say it is a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and we do offer thanks. The Catholic in thanksgiving is offering the sacrifice of Christ’s Body and Blood. There is no doubt that Roman Catholicism still regards the Mass as a propitiatory sacrifice, and therefore it is still an abomination to God and ought to be to any Christian.

They were very clear about Communion being closed to non-Catholics, and just as Missouri regards itself as never having broken fellowship with the WELS or the ELS but recognizes that they have done so with us, so the Roman Catholic has a similar relationship with the Orthodox, Assyrian of the East, and Polish Catholic National church bodies. They say that members of those faiths are to respect the discipline of their churches, but note that according to Roman Catholic discipline they could be communed.

In comparison to the contemporary worship churches I have gone to – four – all different denominations but really the same church, including the WELS, St. Albert the Great was a feast for the eyes and ears. The Gospel was portrayed in statuary, painting, stained glass, and liturgy. There was none of these in the sterile worship spaces of the contemporary. As Scripture says, you become what your worship. No wonder then that the contemporary Christian has an air of sterile, bloodless Christianity about him while the Catholic retains an air of the incarnation about him.

I saw two intrusions of the contemporary at St. Albert’s. First, 7 of 11 Eucharistic distributors were women. Second, the distribution “liturgy” began with them entering the chancel and pumping a squirt of Germ X on their hands and rubbing vigorously. I think the first was by far the deeper incursion, but I’ll bet dollars to donuts it led to the second.

About Rev. Paul R. Harris

Ordained pastor of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod
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