Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A Sacra-Mentality

In talking to non-Catholic Christians, I am always aware that we have a slightly different world view or mentality.  In many things, we agree.  We believe in one God, who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  We believe that Jesus came into the world as a man to save us from our sins.  Those are the basics, but there are many things that are just a little different.

Take a look at these two statements:

1) There is a physical and a spiritual world.  Life is a battle between the two, and our goal is to eventually shed the constraints of our physical body, so that our spiritual soul may be happy forever with God.

2) Matter is a good thing, and leads us to God.

Which feels more "right" to you?

The first is actually an expression of Gnostic or Manichean heresy from the early centuries of the Church. The second is the one that is more in line with the teachings of the Catholic Church (but greatly oversimplified, I grant you).

In Genesis, God created the world, and He said, "It is good."  He created man and He said, "It is very good."  This is the beginning of our basis to see the physical world as a good thing.  It is true that sin followed and the original harmony of the world with God was distorted.  However, I do not think sin could make something that was inherently good suddenly become inherently bad.  That is giving too much credit to sin, and not enough to God.

Archbishop Fulton Sheen and C.S. Lewis both had quotes (which I can't remember exactly and have no clue where to find them, but I give them credit for the idea) that pointed out that evil is not original.  Evil takes a good thing and causes there to be an excess of that thing, a lack of that thing, or a perversion of that thing.  A good example of this is food.  Too much food is bad.  Too little food is bad.  All the wrong kinds of food, or food that is barely food because it is so full of preservatives and processed whatnot is bad.  But the right kind and right amount of food is good.  It heals, restores and sustains us.  A meal with family and friends can bring us closer together.  Good food can bring us closer to God.

Fun with friends (yes, even with alcohol, as long as it is not too excessive) is good, and God is present in the midst of it.

Nature is good and brings us closer to God.

People can be a means of bringing us closer to God.

The idea of sacramentality is the idea that the invisible reality of God is made visible through the visible reality of His creation.  It is the idea that humans are both physical and spiritual.  Our physical body is not some sin-ridden flesh to be disposed of ASAP.  Our physical body is an essential part of what makes us who we are, it is an expression of our invisible soul.

Our worship is an expression of this sacramentality.  Sacraments themselves, in a special way, allow us to express this.  Physical means are used, but spiritual reality is happening.  When Jesus said we should be born from above of water and the Spirit (see John 3:5), this is what we believe is happening at baptism.  Physically a person is washed in water, and through the Spirit, that water of new birth actually brings about the thing that it symbolizes: the new birth of that person into Christ.

In the Mass, we sit, we stand, we kneel.  We hear the Word of God proclaimed, and we speak the prayers.  We may smell incense.  We certainly taste, literally, the goodness of God.  Our visible, physical worship with our bodies is the expression of the worship of our souls.  Sacramentality means that we worship with the whole of who we are, body and soul.

The other thing that I love is that even though this sacramentality is all about touching and feeling, touchy-feely emotions are a secondary thing.  Which is to say that at the Mass, somedays I feel lifted up, some days I feel let down, and some days I feel nothing at all.  But the reality of what is present is still true.  I can fully worship when I feel nothing, or when I am upset or tired or distracted.  Because that worship is about me being present and taking part to the best of my ability, it is not about me feeling "worshipful".


  1. This is what I love about the Catholic church! The physicality of it, and sacraments that are actually real, no more terror over sin, because sin has been conquered by Christ. Amen.

  2. What a beautiful post. your last paragraph on how Mass is Mass regardless of how we feel about it is spot's so comforting! Additionally, I feel that way aobout the Sacrament of Reconciliation...our sins are our sins and we must account for them. How blessed we are to have the opportunity to face our sins, confess them and receive Absolution. I always feel a skip in my step after going to Confession and doing Penance.

  3. Yes. My husband and I had a long discussion about this on Sunday. It seems so often evangelicals are tied to the idea of natural and supernatural being separate, distinct, and thus cannot understand even the early Reformers view things like the Eucharist and baptism. They cannot get past the physicality of it.