The Consequence of Worshiptainment

All choices have consequences. This is an unfortunate reality for my children. Yeah, I’m that kind of mom. I love parenting (teaching) through natural consequences. I make sure my children see the clear connection between their failure to observe good judgment and obey their parents (4th commandment) and the unhappy consequences of early bedtimes and loss of beloved snack and TV privileges.

You choose the behavior and you therefore choose the consequences – a frequent declaration often heard in my home and psychology office. Patients sometimes spend repeated therapy hours pondering the mystery of a failed marriage or wayward children especially after one or more parents have been dedicating endless hours absorbed in an addiction to work, alcohol, or an extramarital affair. If I fail to water a plant – it will die. Clear?

The same truth applies to the spiritual life.

On a recent weekend out of town, my husband and I attended a Catholic parish near our hotel. This was an unfamiliar area and our options were limited as is common in most of the southern US. I was actually a little bit excited to attend a Catholic Church built by some of the earliest Catholics in the south! Pictures from the webpage included a beautiful back altar recently restored with a spectacular tabernacle flanked with six enormous altar candles displaying delicate carvings gilded in gold. The white marble altar encased the real presence of Jesus in the most beautiful antique tabernacle.

All this was enough to thrill this Catholic girl, until the doors swung open. Clear from the back of the long aisle I could see them! Not one but TWO giant projector screens hanging down in front of the stained glass windows and the exquisite back altar, obscuring nearly all but the golden tabernacle.

Taking our seats near the front, I found myself sitting next to a young man who’s flip-flops and swim trunks made a fairly odd contrast to my black chapel veil, but the woman sitting in the front row wearing a baseball cap throughout Mass may have rounded out the odd picture underneath the jumbotrons flagging the altar.

Prayer time before Mass included all the Matt Maher lyrics streamed across the projector screens. Silence was apparently not acceptable. Hymnal books or Missals were not needed as all prayers and music lyrics were provided via electronic media. The historic building had been renovated to the tune of about 1.8 million dollars according to their bulletin and although the building actually possessed a choir loft, the choir and all the instruments were placed next to the altar for some inexplicable reason. The sanctuary looked more like a concert stage with a band and video screens (no this was not a protestant church). Worshiptainment at it’s finest.

When finally the priest stood behind the ambo to deliver the homily I felt a wave of reassurance come over me. It was Transfiguration Sunday! The priest began with a cogent message and dynamic delivery and then three minutes into the homily he turned from the ambo after declaring, “And now watch this.” Down went the lights and the entire congregation sat through a five minute Youtube video about an Olympic runner. There was an audible gasp (that came from my mouth). The tears were flowing and the parishioners were stirred by the images on the screen. None of it, and I mean none of it had anything to do with the readings for that Sunday.

When the lights came back on it was hard to adjust. Was I in a movie theater? Someone’s living room? Now I understood the swim trunks and ball cap in the first row.

The Liturgy of the Eucharist began and I made an effort to focus on what was happening. The constant streaming of every prayer and response on the screen was stealing my attention so much so that I kept taking my eyes from the altar to look to the screens above. Children ran back and forth on both sides of the altar throughout the consecration (living room again?).

As Communion began and parishioners filed out of the pews (ball cap lady removed her hat), ushers positioned themselves in front of every door. The sanctuary included side doors just off the front rows, a few steps from the center aisle. And then I saw it. Moments after receiving the Eucharist with Jesus not yet dissolved on their tongue, parishioner after parishioner approached the doors only to be stopped by the ushers from leaving without consuming the Host. Instead of turning from the doors and returning to their pew for prayer they merely stood at the door waiting to be released. The show was over.

Mass quickly concluded and my husband and I kneeled once again in a prayer of thanksgiving only to watch a crowd of people meander about the altar in loud casual conversation. Not one person reverenced the altar or the tabernacle. Living rooms don’t have a need for such things.

The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is perfection. The consequence of worshiptainment supplanting this perfection is a Church full of people looking for the show and the nearest and quickest exit. The Eucharist becomes a sideshow, and not the Source and Summit of our faith. Ushers to block the doors for a people who no longer remember Who they are receiving in the Eucharist becomes the consequence of a worship that entertains, but is devoid of Love.

6 thoughts on “The Consequence of Worshiptainment

  1. I fall somewhere in the middle of this argument. As a new Christian in an evangelical church, I am attracted to the focus on faith rather than tradition. I came from a strong tradition (cultural Judaism) that seemed to focus on everything but faith, whereas my new faith emphasizes the fact that God meets us where we are (shorts, sandals and all). Yet, there can be a lot of reverence shown by worshipping through a Matt Maher song. However, I agree that the focus of worship and the sermons should be the word of God and anything superfluous to that may potentially be a distraction. I think reverence is something that needs to be practiced seven days per week, not just on Sunday. I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong with worshiptainment as long as it never becomes the purpose for worship and as long as we don’t remain spectators. At my church, which has the jumbotron and sings the Matt Maher and Hillsong music, I also have the opportunity to set up and tear down our temporary meeting place since we are still guiding out our physical church. In addition, my wife and I host life group in our house weekly where we pray for one another and discuss the sermon. So, I think the bucking of tradition is OK as long as it doesn’t become a distraction away from Jesus.

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    1. Hi Brett! Thanks for reading! Yes, praise and worship and even technology facilitated study and fellowship has its place and is very good! From the evangelical perspective this post will not make much sense. The worship you describe above is good, very good; however, when a Catholic describes the Mass there is nothing to equate it to outside of Catholicism. It is not tradition that is lamented in this post, but the loss of the awareness of The Real Presence of Jesus made present through the Mass. Jesus’ body, blood, soul and divinity is before us in a real tangible way (not just a symbol). This amazing miracle of love needs nothing to dress it up or distract us. Jesus alone in the Eucharist is our reason to worship in the Mass. Catholics need to regain the sense of the real supernatural happening before them as bread and wine really and truly become Jesus. That trumps any jumbotron or praise band any day. God bless you and your family!

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      1. Ah yes…I was going to touch upon the theological differences, but as a new Christian I don’t feel knowledgeable enough to defend the nuances between denominations. But as you suggest, they are more than nuances, and thus very important to Catholics. That being said, I appreciate the commonalities we have and our mutual love for Jesus. I think evangelicals recognize that there are evangelical Catholics. That’s why we love Matt Maher! And I concede that there are non-evangelical evangelicals (even me at times, what with the whole log in my eye and all). And I fully agree that God’s presence can probably be seen and felt more in a third world church than in a wealthy, comfortable, modernity absorbed congregation.

        God bless you as well!!!

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  2. I’m sorry that you were disturbed by this experience. I have had a similar one, but not nearly as disturbing as yours. My experience was going to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass on a Holy Day of Obligation, 6PM, and to my surprise, learning it was being celebrated in the Extraordinary Form (Pre-reform, 1962). I was flabbergasted when I suddenly was not able to pray with the priest the Our Father as we do in the Novus Ordo. I had just been through about 7 weeks of instruction on the Our Father by the pastor of the same parish. What he taught me, and what the EF allows, clashed, and I was really disturbed. I avoid the EF now as much as I can except in the case, e.g.m I am invited to an EF Mass for a wedding (and I was, and the Latin words were spoken so rapidly that the priest stumbled over his words many times, having to stop and restate them – not good.).

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    1. Oh Francis! How disorienting. We do not have much access to the EF Mass here where I live. There are few priests trained to celebrate the EF in these southern dioceses, and our churches are no longer designed and built for the EF. The two times I was able to attend an EF Mass there was a printed guide that helped me follow along (which was still difficult even though I can read Latin fairly well). I bet it was pretty shocking to find yourself in such a Mass with out intending to be there! I love both forms for the same reason, Jesus is present. I guess I can say that any Mass celebrated without care (EF or Novus Ordo) is hard to sit through. Somehow we need to find a way to allow both of these forms to be honored and not feel so strange when someone from our generation experiences them. God bless you and thank you for reading and your comments!

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