The following article originally appeared at thiscatholicfamily.com.
I’ve heard the following statements, or some variation, from friends and acquaintances over the years:
“Mass is too long.”
“Catholics always look bored.”
“You guys just do the same things over and over.”
But … is Mass really too long? Are Catholics all super bored? Is doing the same thing over and over again really that bad of a thing? Let’s find out.
If we are defining boring as not having stage lights, or Hillsongy-music worthy of YouTube sharing, or mega video projectors, then, yes, okay … you have a point. But all that stuff just deals with the appearance of things. You have to be willing to go beyond the surface to understand just how exciting Mass actually is.
Case in point: no one looks at the Mona Lisa and thinks its boring because it’s just a picture of some lady. You might not totally understand it, but you know it’s something special. Likewise, you might not understand symphonies. But you probably can at least admit you don’t understand them, rather than jumping immediately to the conclusion that they are boring. Mass is kind of like that. You might not understand it, but it is anything but boring.
And, historically speaking, time has shown that all that flashy stuff in church doesn’t actually help retain people anyway. In fact, here’s a link to an article about someone who left the church after growing up in the “make Christianity relevant” movement of the past few decades. The author makes a good point that if Christians aren’t even convinced the basic truths of our faith are “not boring,” no one else is going to want in, or want to stay. She was so saturated with relevance and excitement, that once she grew out of buying into the Christian marketing package, she left, having never learned the legitimacy of Christianity’s claim to Truth. And Truth is what makes people stay. Truth is what people live their lives for.
One of the benefits (and sometimes frustrations) of Catholicism being such a big entity, is that it is like a huge steamship … it turns slowly. So, it hasn’t gone through the same rapid transition that many evangelical churches have gone through as far as how the message is packaged. And, innately, it can’t really change all that much. The Mass is the Mass. The structure of the Mass has been the same since the beginnings of Christianity itself, and will continue to be the same until the end of time.
And, just because Mass doesn’t have mega projectors, or Hillsong-style worship, doesn’t mean it doesn’t have anything going on.
But, as with the Mona Lisa or any other great piece of art, or music, it means more if you know what you’re looking at. If a symphony puts you to sleep, that doesn’t mean there isn’t anything going on worth paying attention to. On the other hand, if you know the nuances and meaning behind that symphony, you are going to appreciate its beauty so much more.
For anyone who thinks Mass is boring, feel free to start by checking out my post on 5 Cool Facts About Catholic Mass. That’s literally just the tip of the iceberg. Mass is amazing, and beautiful, and rooted in the Bible, as well as Christian and Jewish history and tradition. Each and every Mass contains a real miracle in the Eucharist. Each and every Mass is a chance to come physically in contact with our Savior through Holy Communion. There is literally nothing boring about Mass, if you know what you’re participating in.
And, I no longer have a lot of patience for the “Catholics look bored” argument. Sure, I may not be bouncing up and down and waving my hands in the air at Mass (though I have worshipped in that way for years in other church settings, so no judgment here), but that doesn’t mean I’m not worshipping. We can’t know the state of someone’s heart. And, yeah, in Mass, my face looks more serious sometimes. Sometimes I smile, too. Sometimes, Mass brings me to tears. But, mostly, I probably look serious. And mostly, I hope and I pray, my heart is engaged, regardless of the expression on my face.
I am a teacher by trade. Elementary teacher, to be precise. I think the following analogy is helpful in understanding why repetitiveness can actually be good for us.
When teaching a subject like Writer’s Workshop, at the beginning of the year I set up the structure of that part of our day. It always starts with a mini-lesson, then time for the students to practice the skill of the day with support, and then writing time where I go confer with individual students or small groups. We end by coming all back together to share. The structure is the same every. single. time.
Routines are good for us. Within that structure of Writer’s Workshop, I am making sure my students’ brain power doesn’t have to be wasted on thinking about what is coming next. I want the routine to become automatic for them, so they can focus their energy on the lesson I have for them for that day.
Likewise, within the structure and routine of Mass (or any church that holds to a routine for their order of service), I don’t have to think about what’s coming next. I can spend my time being prayerful, and listening to what God has for me, and I can also focus on giving worship and reverence to God, without unnecessary distractions. Except those from my troop of tiny humans, which is unavoidable at this phase of life.
The Rosary is another example of repetitiveness within Catholicism that is actually very helpful. The Rosary consists of 5 sets of 10 Hail Marys (each set is called a decade) along with a few other prayers. Within each decade, we focus on a specific set of mysteries within our Christian Faith. For example, when we meditate on what we call the Sorrowful Mysteries, we spend a decade on each of the following: Jesus in the garden, Jesus being scourged, Jesus being crowned with thorns, Jesus carrying the cross, and the actual crucifixion. There are also many joyful and light-filled mysteries, depending on which set you choose to meditate on. And when we pray a decade, saying the Hail Mary over and over again, that prayer itself becomes a sort of meditation. It helps us block out distractions from our mind, so we can stay focused on the parts of Jesus’ life we want to spend time focusing on and remembering. Another instance when being repetitive is a beautiful thing.
So … Is being Catholic repetitive? Sometimes, sure.
Is it boring? Not if you know what you’re looking at.
And, as always, anyone in any setting can go through the motions and be bored while experiencing something meant to be beautiful. If you go into Mass expecting it to be long and boring, your preconceived notion might just be right. But, if you go into Mass expecting to participate in the kingdom of heaven on earth, to join in with the angels’ songs, and to receive Jesus into yourself, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity in the Eucharist … then you are well prepared to receive the many beautiful benefits of your Catholic Faith.