Catholics/Question about Mass

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Question
First, I would like to apologize ahead of time if I've offended you or the catholic church in any way. I have a question about attending mass regularly every weekend. Since the Bible asks us to spend one hour a week, or more, with God, isn't praying in an Adoration Chapel (or at home) the same as going to Mass? We're basically just there to study the scriptures and pray.

(Point 1)No one really has any kind of magical powers to actually turn bread and wine to body and blood, so it's symbolic. As the bible says: Do this in remembrance of me.
(Point 2)Jesus can't come back every weekend, he's already in our souls since he died for them. He also said when he was on the cross: It is finished. (Which means he finished his time on Earth.)
(Point 3)In almost every passage in the Bible, they've asked us to study the scriptures and turn to Jesus and pray. Not the church.

Both of these reasons are proving that we are really just there to study the scriptures and pray to Him. So do you think praying for one hour a week wherever you are, the same as going to Mass regularly?

Answer
I don't know whether you are Protestant or Catholic--but if you are Protestant I can understand why you think going to Church on Sunday is just about Scripture study and prayer.

For Protestants that is what the purpose of "worship" is.  One goes to Church says some prayers, hears a Scripture reading, the pastor expounds on its meaning, they sing a few hymns, take an offering and off to home until next week.  

In fact in many Protestant churches the pulpit is always front and center precisely because for Protestants the main purpose of "worship" is to hear the Scripture read and then for the pastor to teach them.  In traditional Presbyterian churches the pastor sometimes wears academic robes--because of the emphasis on teaching.  D. James Kennedy of Coral Ridge would wear his academic robes when preaching, as would Robert Schuler of the Crystal Cathedral when he would preach.  

Catholics on the other hand understand "worship" far, far differently.  For Catholics--what the typical Protestant does on Sunday is not "worship" but "devotion." What Protestants do on Sunday is more like what Catholics will do when they gather for Novenas or other devotional things outside of Mass.

This incidentally is why Protestants often accuse Catholics of "Saint Worship" or "Mary Worship." They see Catholics doing for Mary and the Saints what Protestants do for God in their worship of God. It never dawns on Protestants that Catholics and Protestants might define "worship" in a different way.  In the Catholic Church the Mass is offered to God and God alone, and the Mass is true worship.  That is what sets Catholic worship apart from simple prayers and devotion.  Protestants have no concept of a Mass--so they naturally conclude Catholics worship Mary and the Saints.  

As you can see--for Catholics the Mass isn't just "studying the Scriptures and praying."  This is WHY the Mass is so vital and important in the Catholic Church.  One can study and pray over the Scriptures on their own. One however CANNOT celebrate the Mass alone.  The Mass really makes little sense apart from a gathered community to celebrate it.  

The Mass is the offering of Sacrifice, namely that of Christ. This is why the Mass goes far beyond just a study of the Scriptures and the recitation of prayers and preaching on the Scriptures. During the Mass Jesus through His once for all Sacrifice draws us into the heavenly worship of the Father and presents us before the Father as the completed work of Christ.  Through this action we are transformed and made Holy.  The victory of Christ over Sin and death is placed within us because we are receiving the Resurrected Christ at communion.  The life of God is within.  

Vatican II makes it clear that there are a variety of ways in which the presence of Christ exists within the Church.  Christ is present in the Baptized, Christ is present in the Priest, Christ is present in the Sacraments, Christ is present in the Scriptures proclaimed and most especially Christ is present in the Eucharist and the Blessed Sacrament.

The Presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament is unique because it is an enduring presence.  It is the most perfect and complete expression of the presence of Christ in the Church because when we encounter Christ in the Eucharist we are encountering a SUBSTANTIAL presence of Christ.  This means in a mysterious way we are physically encountering him.

When we pray we encounter Christ in Spirit.  When we read the Scriptures or listen to the Scriptures proclaimed we encounter Christ in Word. When we attend Mass we encounter Christ in person.  All of the prayers and readings at Mass, in fact the Mass itself is geared towards a fuller encounter with Christ than in Spirit or Word.

In response to your specific questions:

1) The Bible indeed says "Do this in remembrance of me."  The question is how should the word "remembrance" be understood.

In modern times when we hear the word "remember" the word simply means "to call to mind" or "to think about."  However the Last Supper is rooted in the Passover celebration of the Jews.  When the Jews of the Old Testament celebrated the Passover they weren't just "calling to mind" they were, through the celebration of the Passover ritual actually making present the Passover.  The Greek word Anamnesis translates to "remember" but to the Jews it signified more than just calling to mind as I have said.  It is far more than just "recollection."  

It must also be kept in mind that the Lamb of the original Passover was a type of Christ who is the Lamb of God.  Just as the Passover Lamb was NOT eaten in figure, so too the Paschal Lamb of God is not eaten in figure either. In order to escape from the Angel of Death it was not only necessary for the Jews to Sacrifice the Lamb, they had to EAT the lamb.  That is how the Sacrifice of the Lamb was made their own.  So too, Christians who want to escape the Angel of Death (eternal death) must likewise not only sacrifice the Lamb of God they must EAT the Lamb of God so the Sacrifice of the Lamb can be applied to them individually.

The way the Cross is present in Mass is through the separate consecrations.  For Jews death was signified by the separation of Body and Blood.  During the Mass this reality is manifest through the separate Consecration of the bread and the Wine.  The Resurrection is manifest when body and blood are reunited.  During the Lamb of God the priest breaks off a small piece of the Host and places it into the chalice to signify the Resurrection.  

2)  When Jesus said "It is finished" on the cross---he was not referring to the Kenosis (outpouring of his life.)  Many people mistakenly think that the Cross is just a historical event that is unrelated to who and what Christ is.  

Christ sacrificed himself because Christ IS (IS) the Sacrifice.  The cross is a revelation of what is going on in the Godhead between the Father and the Son from all eternity.  God in dying on the Cross is showing us what love is and the Son of God is showing us how he loves the Father. He is teaching us that we are to love the Father in the same way because this type of love ALWAYS leads to glorification.  It is through the outpouring (of which the cross is the fullest most perfect expression of the Kenosis) that Christ and hence us who follow him to the Cross are glorified.

The Resurrection is not something other than the Cross the resurrection is the glorification of the Sacrifice.  The Resurrection is what makes the Mass possible.  When Christ offered himself on the cross he did so in his earthy un-glorified flesh making it limited to that place and time.  (Hence Christ comment that "The flesh profit nothing. John 6:63) Through the Resurrection the Paschal Event is now able to reach backward in time and forward in time and subsume all of world history to itself thus transforming it.  The Mass is our encounter with this reality.

In Revelation 5:6 the Lamb of God is presented as having been slain.  In other words--the Son of God is simultaneously risen in Glory yet slain in sacrifice.  The Passion, Death and Resurrection of Christ are ONE EVENT---they are just different aspects of that ONE event.  The Passion, Death and Resurrection of Christ are two sides of the same coin. The Resurrection is the Cross and the Cross is the Resurrection.  The Ascension is not Christ leaving us--but rather Christ taking us with him.  We are now where Christ is--the Father's right hand.  The Ascension therefore is the Father's acceptance of the Sacrifice we offered-and it is now in heaven to be eternally present before the Father.  Remember that the marks of Christ sacrifice are present in his resurrected Body--they are not taken away but glorified--precisely because Christ IS the sacrifice.  The Resurrection, again is NOT something OTHER than the cross--the resurrection IS IT'S GLORIFICATION.  

As to what "It is finished" refers: Scott Hahn believes it refers to the celebration of the Last Supper.  When Jesus and the apostles left the Last Supper singing hymns--there was one more cup to drink and that was the cup of God's wrath.  They never drank that cup.  However on the Cross Jesus is offered a drink--twice: once as a pain duller which Jesus did not take and once to quench his thirst.  When he drank he said "It is finished."  Hahn believes the drink represents the cup of God's wrath.  On the cross Jesus consummates and completes the Last Supper then dies--because Christ had fully united the Godhead with the human condition in suffering and death.  

I think Hahn's analysis is compelling, though to be fair not everyone agrees with his analysis.  

As for Jesus "being present in our souls" indeed he is.  Jesus comes into us through our Baptism and is always with us. Remember what I said however---the presence of Jesus within the Church (Baptized) is one expression or type of the presence of Christ in the world.  It is not the ONLY type.

You are right: Jesus can't come back every weekend--since he is already in our souls--but Jesus DOESN'T COME BACK every weekend--rather WE go with HIM, WE ARE TAKEN TO WHERE HE IS in the celebration of the Mass.  It is not Christ who changes, it is WE who change.  When Christ ascended he wasn't leaving us, he was taking us whim him in his glorified humanity.  In the Ascension the presence of Christ becomes veiled, it is not taken away.  Remember what Scripture says "Lo I am with you ALWAYS even until the end of the age."  (Matthew 28:20)

3) The Church is the body of Christ--thus a focus on the Church IS a focus on Christ since Christ is the head of the Body.  As such the Church has within her the power of Redemption because Christ is in her and she is in Christ.  Christ merited the Graces of Redemption and has entrusted those Graces to the Church.  For this reason unity with the Church is necessary and it is for this reason that Catholics speak of the Church in the manner they do.  Catholics do not pray TO the Church, rather the Church prays WITH CATHOLICS. Of course we study the Scriptures and turn to Jesus to pray but the Church does so with us and we do so in union with the Church.  Because the Church is the Body of Christ and we are members of the Body we do everything in union with the Church and never independently from her.  

Obviously from what I have written it should be clear that I manifestly DO NOT believe that praying and studying Scripture wherever you are is the same as going to Mass regularly.  Pray and Scripture study is excellent and encouraged, but that is always ordered to a more perfect and complete encounter with Christ and the mysteries of Redemption at Mass.  Prayer and Scripture study without going to Mass makes little sense for that reason.  Prayer and Scripture study apart from Mass is analogous to reading about our loved ones and thinking about our loved ones--but preferring that to an actual encounter with our loved ones.  

Finally I assure you that there is nothing "magic" about what Catholics do or what the priest does.  It is miraculous, yes, but certainly not a parlor trick or "magic."

The practice of Magic is meant in some way to harness certain powers and use them to control things in our lives or to bring us material success.  In other words--magic is used for one's own glory.  Parlor tricks are meant to entertain and dazzle. The Mass is our worship of God through which the mysteries of redemption are made present and we encounter God personally and substantially.  

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Father Dave Bechtel

Expertise

I am a Catholic priest in good standing and in active ministry in the Diocese of Scranton PA. I can answer most any question about the Catholic Faith, however my area of specialization is Systematic Theology. Systematic Theology is a branch of theology that focuses on the fundamental tenants of the Faith and the Dogmas of the Faith. I have specialization on the Reformation and Catholic vs. Protestant theology/issues and answering Protestant challenges to the Faith.

Experience

I was ordained in June of 2008. Since that time the thrust of my ministry has been specialized. In my first assignment I was an assistant pastor. A year later I was sent to work in education. I spent six (6) years in education and have now assumed my first pastorate. While education was the thrust of my ministry, nevertheless I continued to have a hand in parish ministry, hospital chaplaincy and prison chaplaincy. Now that I am out of education I will obviously be focusing more on parish work than specialized ministry. I have two years of formal Clinical Pastoral Education and prior to ordination I successfully pursued Board Certification for health care ministry through the NACC. My certification needs to be renewed and I plan to seek dual certification in health care ministry (NACC and APC) when I renew my certification. I have a breadth of experience working with Protestant ministers and collaborating with them to achieve the goals of hospital pastoral care and chaplaincy. These ministers run the spectrum from the liberal to the conservative.

Education/Credentials
Bachelors of Science-- University of Scranton PA Masters of Arts Theology--- Saint Mary's Seminary and University Baltimore MD Masters of Divinity--- Saint Charles Borremeo Seminary Philadelphia PA Board Certified Chaplain (up for renewal)

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