“The Catholic Mass” by Bishop Athanasius Schneider

Bishop Athanasius Schneider’s book “The Catholic Mass” is an incredible testament to the beauty and symbolism of the Catholic Mass. While some might argue that Bishop Schneider is longing for a past that has passed, I believe that he does a wonderful job of showing how the Catholic Mass has always been intended as the sacred union of the human and divine, the temporal and the eternal, the physical and the spiritual. Though he definitely has a strong preference for the Traditional Latin Mass over the Novus Ordo, many of his assertions can be applied to the new rite just as easily as they can be applied to the old.

Bishop Schneider advocates for the importance of beauty. The Catholic Mass is meant to be beautiful. Beauty, as one of the transcendentals, has the power to draw man to Truth and Goodness. It is intimately linked with man’s desire for truth, and his desire to be good. Since we live in a world that seems to be pride itself in its ability to create ugliness, it should come as no surprise that we also live in a world that embraces relativism in matters pertaining to both truth and goodness. The world tries to convince us that what is true for you might not be true for me, and what is good for you might not be good for me. The Catholic Mass should remind us that we as human persons are naturally drawn to the true, good, and beautiful. To do that, the Mass must be beautiful itself. But as long as we keep choosing ugly architecture, ugly vestments, and ugly music, man’s search for God will be hindered. And the Catholic Mass should never be a hindrance in man’s search for God.

Bishop Schneider advocates for the importance of history. One of my favorite things about this book was that Bishop Schneider backed up all of his assertions with history. Curious when Catholics began receiving Holy Communion on the hand? This book will tell you when and why the change was made (and why it shouldn’t have been made). I wasn’t convinced of every assertion he made, but I certainly can’t claim that Bishop Schneider doesn’t know his history. The Catholic Mass should be a seamless representation of the Church’s existence, both past and present. When we celebrate the Mass, we should be able to see where we’ve come from, and Mass should not be filled with innovations that make it difficult to recognize as the same Mass that was celebrated by the apostles and early martyrs, as well as the later mystics and theologians. The Catholic Mass should draw us into a Communion of Saints that spans millennia.

Bishop Schneider advocates for the importance of symbolism. Catholicism is so rich in symbolism, and the Mass is just as rich in its sacramentality. Everything is meant to communicate more than just itself to us. Water has the power to forgive sins. Bread and wine can become the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. Chapel veils remind us of the sacredness of the Church, the Bride of Christ. Facing East reminds us of the promise that came with the sunrise on that first Easter morning. Bishop Schneider does an incredible job of reminding us how symbolic the Mass can be, if done well. The Catholic Mass, in any form, is meant to draw man to God, and its rich symbolism has so much power to do that for us.

Finally, Bishop Schneider advocates for the importance of reverence for the sacred. Man satisfies the deepest pull of his nature when he worships God. Man was created for worship. The Catholic Mass is a sacred liturgy, the joining of heaven and earth, the gathering of the entire Church- the Church militant, the Church suffering, and the Church triumphant- for the purpose of worshipping God. Yes, the Mass is where we are filled with God’s life. Yes, we do “get something” when we go to Mass, but that’s not the whole point. We are also meant to give. We are meant to give God praise and worship, to love and adore Him. God does not need anything from us, but we need to worship Him to the best of our ability. It’s what we were made to do, and as Bishop Athanasius Schneider so beautifully demonstrates, the Mass was given to us to help us do just that. So if you’re looking to read something to remind you of your God-given call to worship, this is the book for you.

Sharing the Gospel Isn’t Just for Priests

A few months back, I went out to dinner with a few friends and friends-of-friends. It was a mixed group of both Catholics and non-Catholic Christians, and at some point we got onto the topic of prayer. We began comparing different forms of prayer, but as our conversation continued, one of the mothers present began to appear visibly more agitated. Finally, she just burst out, “Prayer is personal, and we should all just keep it to ourselves. You’re all just being very judge-y towards those of us who aren’t as holy as you!” We were all immediately brought to silence and quickly changed the subject.

The mom’s comment continued to bother me for the rest of the night. Had I been judging her? Definitely not consciously. I didn’t really know that much about her prayer life. I had shared a bit about my spiritual life, but I’d never intended to compare it to others. The conversation had always seemed very positive to me, and I had enjoyed learning about the different approaches to prayer embraced by the different moms.

Once I felt confident that I had never attempted to judge the other moms, I began to consider the other comments. Was prayer just personal? Well, in one sense, of course it was. It was my prayer after all. The prayers I prayed alone were personal, but that didn’t mean that I couldn’t share them. I regularly shared insights I had gained while meditating on the Scriptures. On occasion, I talked with my friends about how my prayer life was improving based on new or altered prayer forms. I shared the books I read, and the reflections I made. My personal prayer was mine, but it was also mine to share.

At the core of this other mom’s argument was the idea that our prayer was meant to be private. It was supposed to be done behind closed doors, and that’s where it was supposed to stay. Prayer was not a public matter. It was not supposed to be shared. It was not meant to be imposed on others.

But I had never intended to impose my faith on the other moms. I was not trying to convert the non-Catholics, or accusing the other Catholics of not being as holy as me. Yes, I want to be holy, but I still think I have a lot of work to do. I didn’t see this dinner as primarily an evangelization opportunity; it had been a socialization event. I had gone to enjoy myself, to share stories, to enjoy communion with other moms. But that still left me wondering: Is faith really meant to be private? Am I not supposed to evangelize?

I have had well-meaning Catholics argue that evangelization is just for the priests. That’s why they give homilies. They are meant to be the great evangelizers, not us. We’re just supposed to practice our faith in private, or inside the church walls at the most. The priests are the ones who are supposed to be spreading the Gospel.

But that’s just not the Gospel truth. That idea is just not biblical. Sure, the Apostles were all priests, but there were also plenty of non-priests who were missionaries and evangelists in their own neighborhoods. There was Stephen, a deacon (and therefore not a priest) who was martyred for proclaiming the faith in the public square and in the synagogue. There was Lydia, a female entrepreneur who also opened her home to the early Church. There were Priscilla and Aquila, a married couple who served as missionaries under St. Paul. Even the male missionaries, who were most likely priests and bishops, were not preaching in churches as you think of them today. They preached in the synagogues, yes, but they were also preaching on the street corners, in peoples’ homes, in the public square. Clearly, no one thought that the faith was meant to be a private matter.

And why should it be? Think about the Gospel message. Jesus Christ came to die and rise again to new life so that we might enjoy eternal life with God in Heaven after we die. This is good news for all people. This is a promise that speaks of eternity. No wonder people wanted to share it. Everyone needs to hear it. And deep in the human heart, everyone wants to hear it. The promise of eternal life and love speaks to the deepest longings of the human heart, something we cannot do on our own, but only through the power of God. So no, preaching the Gospel message is not just for priests at the pulpit. It’s for every Christian who truly believes. Because if you believe in the Good News- the fact that Jesus Christ came, died, and rose so that we might have eternal life- why wouldn’t you want to share it with the world? It’s the best news anyone will ever get.

The Crazy, “Stupid” Love of the Father

When I used to hear the parable of the lost sheep in the Gospel, I always thought I was missing something. I mean, what kind of shepherd is going to leave 99 sheep just to find the stupid one that got itself lost? I thought I didn’t understand something about first century Palestinian shepherds, like maybe they’d get fired for losing one sheep, so it was worth leaving the other sheep to go find the missing one so that the shepherds could hopefully keep their job. Or maybe shepherds always worked in pairs, so while one shepherd went looking for the lost sheep, Jesus’ listeners could assume the other one was watching the rest of the flock. Otherwise, abandoning 99 sheep to find one lost one just doesn’t seem logical. It doesn’t make sense. It’s stupid.

It wasn’t until recently that I learned that Jesus meant for the shepherd to sound stupid. Only a crazy shepherd would have abandoned the rest of his flock to find one lost sheep. The shepherd in the parable really is stupid. Jesus’ listeners would have known that the shepherd’s response was unreasonable. So what was Jesus getting at when He seems to be comparing Himself to the crazy, stupid shepherd?

Jesus is talking about the crazy, “stupid” love of God. God’s love for us is unreasonable. He loves us even when we are still sinners. He loves us even though we are unlovable. He loves us like the crazy shepherd loves his stupid sheep. And we can be pretty dumb.

God’s love is illogical. You do not abandon 99 sheep for the sake of one. That makes no sense. But God’s logic is not like ours. He will always go after the one. He will always seek out the lost and bring them home. The value of one life is endless. The love He has for each one of us is inexhaustible. One sheep is worth the same as 99 because their worth is infinite in the eyes of the Father. And one infinity is the same as ninety-nine. We are loved by an infinite God who can only love us with an infinite love, the kind of love that drives a shepherd to search out the lost sheep, a father to run out and embrace his prodigal son, God Himself to become man and die so that sinners might be offered the gift of eternal life. That is the crazy, “stupid” love of God.

When Jesus shared the parable of the shepherd and his lost sheep, He was looking to shock His listeners. He wanted them to stop and think about His words. He wanted them to pause and wonder, Did I hear that right? And they did. The shepherd’s decision was supposed to sound stupid. That’s what Jesus intended. The love of the Father for His wayward children is shocking. He loves when it doesn’t make sense to love. He loves those who don’t seem like they deserve to be loved. He loves those who abandon Him, those who are lost. That’s what Jesus came to show us- the crazy, “stupid” love of God.

Book Review for Christopher T. Baglow’s “Creation: A Catholic’s Guide to God and the Universe”

One of the most misunderstood relationships in this world is that between faith and reason, religion and science. Many of us know people who assert that their faith in science has made the need to believe in anything else obsolete. Some of us at least know of people who consider science to be Satan’s attempt to lead God’s people astray. The relationship between faith and reason seems to be an either/or to most people. Either you’re religious, or you value science. But in reality, it’s a both/and situation. We need religion and science. As Baglow suggests at the beginning of his book, science explains the how of the universe, and faith provides the why.

Christopher T. Baglow’s book, Creation: A Catholic’s Guide to God and the Universe, does a wonderful job demonstrating how science and religion are supposed to relate to one another. He shows how these areas of study are meant to be complementary, one shining light on the other. Baglow does this by considering a handful of common topics of debate: creation and evolution, the existence of Adam and Eve, the role of sin and suffering in this world, the resurrection of Christ, and the resurrection of all humanity, just to name a few.

If you’re looking for a short book that explains topics relating to science and religion in simple, yet accurate, terms, this is a great book to read. Combining recent scientific findings with sound philosophical and theological insights, Baglow does a wonderful job showing that Truth lies at the center of both faith and reason, and that God, as Truth Himself, is the foundation and Creator of both science and religion.