I have been reading a book by John Allen, Jr. called The Future Church (2009 Doubleday Press) in which he talks about issues that the Church faces in the 21st century.
Today I was reading the chapter on Pentecostalism. One of the considerations he writes about is our experience of God (393). Pentecostal worship is very different than the traditional Catholic experience. It is not a question of right or wrong but rather how we feel what is going on around us. In traditional Catholic Mass the congregation are passive participants while in the Pentecostal services feeling has a lot to do with it. The music and preaching are designed to draw the people into an active experience of God.
God can be present in both churches. What helps draw you into a personal experience of God? Is it the quiet participation in a traditional Catholic Mass or is it the beat of a Pentecostal music group or a fiery preacher? For me, the Pentecostal music can be nice to draw me into the music but I find God in a deeper reflection and that means I need some time of peace.
Allen also compares the hierarchical structure of the Catholic Church to locally driven Pentecostal Church. While clericalism went too far in its pious reverence of priests I believe the hierarchical structure is needed to help us discern where God is leading us as a church. As individuals, the clergy are not perfect but we each have different gifts. Some are called to be leaders, some to teach, some to care for others. But as a human society we need leadership; a leadership that is NOT OVER the people but for the people.
Part of what I like about the Catholic Church is that it does have a lot of offer in terms of its teaching. When we properly understand the teaching rooted in Christ, we can lead a better life. However, this requires not just a knowledge of church teaching but the guidance of the Holy Spirit to know what it means in our lives for us today. We need the Holy Spirit to know how we are called to live as individuals and as a society.
One of the advantages to the Pentecostal churches is that they tend to be small and with the small size, the minister can better know each member of the church and be aware of their needs. As a Catholic priest I am very much aware of the larger sizes of our Catholic parishes and how hard it can be as a priest to know what is going on in the lives of the parishioners. I truly want to help people but I with so many people I need the people, you, to tell me what I can do to help. I cannot know on my own what your needs are.
When I celebrate a funeral of a “stranger” I wonder if there is some way in which I should have been there for the person before they died. Please never think that I don’t care. I do. For instance, when I get called to see a dying person I always respond as fast as possible, dropping what I am doing.
What is your experience of God in the Church? What draws you to the Catholic Church?
“What helps draw you into a personal experience of God? Is it the quiet participation in a traditional Catholic Mass or is it the beat of a Pentecostal music group or a fiery preacher?”
I regularly attend both the traditional Latin Mass (Extraordinary Form) at St. Stanislaus, as well as Masses at Our Lady of Victory, so the answer for me obviously is that I prefer quiet participation. In this type of Mass, I can better focus on what is occurring at the altar; my mind, my ears, and my eyes are not bombarded with the distractions that I find in more bouncy forms or worship. Quiet worship also is befitting for our Catholic Mass, since a principle part of our liturgy is the re-experiencing of Calvary. Drumming, dancing, and the like do not seem appropriate for the solemness of the Liturgy of the Eucharist. Peaceful quiet helps me to focus on God, rather than the person next to me. It reminds me that Mass is much more about the vertical than the horizontal.
Mass must never be a “show” and I enjoy peaceful reflection. Yet I wonder about your last sentence “It reminds me that Mass is much more about the vertical than the horizontal.” True, but we worship as a community of believers so the horizontal is important. The Mass draws us to God. How do we do that as a community while keeping the focus on God? Jesus says the greatest commandment is to love God and the second is to love our neighbor.
God gifts us the gift of love to be shared.
In the liturgy I favor music that draws me to join in and participate. But then to quietly and attentively list to the Word of God and the Eucharistic Prayer.