"I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square. His successor will pick up the shards of a ruined society and slowly help rebuild civilization, as the church has done so often in human history." -Cardinal Francis George

Monday, January 23, 2012

"Catholics are too mechanical"

Here is a comment I left on a great post titled Salvation Pinball & the Devotional Life of Catholics (Part 4 of Becoming Catholic) by Taylor Marshal on Called to Communion.

Great analogies Taylor. You have a knack for explaining things briefly and well.

One on my pet peeves even when I became Reformed was the way low church evangelicals see liturgy/sacraments as mechanical, yet they choose to ignore the dozens of "mechanical" things they do at their Sunday service and during the week. How many times as a Pentecostal did I pray before a meal and not even have my mind on what I was saying? How many times does the worship band play the chorus to Our God is an Awsome God "one more time" in supposed free movement of the Spirit? When it happens every week, it is just as much a "mechanical" liturgical action as the most rigid liturgy. The altar call that happens every service is an obvious replacement for sacraments. It can seem very forced and mechanical after you’ve seen it hundreds of times. And the spontaneous prayers as opposed to the more formal liturgical ones? As far as the potential for being "mechanical", what is the difference between starting out each and every prayer with "Father we just thank you..." and winging it for 10 minutes, and with making the sign of the cross and saying a beautifully written formal prayer? Either way we can be engaged or not, either way we can touch the divine or not. It is up to us whether it is mechanical. And when a dark day comes when we simply don't have the words for prayer and feel empty, those memorized "mechanical" prayers like the Anima Christi or the Act of Contrition come in real handy. We can say the prayer and ask God for the grace to conform to the words. A spontaneous prayer in that dark moment can often simply fizzle for lack of clear vision.

The point of liturgy is not "if" but "which one". The point is for us to get involved with what is happening. Taylor's waltz example is a great one. We can sit back and mock the dancers for turning romance into something cold and informal, or we can learn how to waltz and take romance to the next level. This is why every woman in America loves Downton Abbey right now. They see that a high level of social "liturgy" can produce a higher level of human respect and romance.

Of course we can always decide to mechanically join the dance and not really enter into the experience at all. But I believe this can happen far easier for a non-Catholic low churchman than it can for a Catholic.


  1. Have you ever been to an "open mic" service?

    "There's no agenda, just come up and share what the Holy Spirit has to say."

    Have I heard the craziest things come out of that! I am guilty for having participated in them, too. I "prophesied" over people, claiming that I had a word from God to them. It was awful!

  2. Totally off topic David, but apparently in less than 24 hours there is going to be Aurora Borealis visible from Minnesota:


    Sounds like something you don't want to miss.

  3. Thx for the tip Nick!

    Andre, yeah I started out as a Pentecostal, so ive seen all sorts of shenanigans. The worst was when the "bad boys" from teen challenge would come to my college and give their "testimony". They would recount their drug and sex escapades for 10 minutes while all the girls goo-gooed over them.