It’s the 4th week of Advent, the preliminary weeks leading to Christmas that are recognized by the Catholic Church (and also, I believe, all liturgical or “high churches” like the Episcopalian, Lutheran, and Orthodox churches). In the Catholic faith, Advent extends beyond Christmas itself, to the Epiphany (Little Christmas), which is celebrated on January 7th.
I have missed the previous two Sundays, and felt like sleeping in today, too, but made myself go, because I always get so much out of the Mass, especially the Eucharist, which the Mass leads up to. Sometimes laziness wins though, and I always regret it later. I wasn’t going to let that happen again today!
As a pretty liberal Christian (even for a Catholic), I don’t think non-church attendance is necessarily a sin. I don’t think church attendance is necessary for salvation; only having faith is. Many people are able to live a Christ-like life and stay close to God and retain their faith in spite of not belonging to any church. They are self-disciplined: they pray every day, read their Bible, read devotions, and ask God for forgiveness when necessary. I’m not one of them. I need to have a church to go to, otherwise I get lazy and “forget” to stay close to God. I start slipping back into the “world” with all its shallowness and banality and fail to act the way Jesus did. I slip back into sinful and toxic thinking and start nursing doubt.
So today I went to Mass, and as always happens, I left feeling uplifted and peaceful in my heart. The Eucharist (communion) is powerful medicine for me. I admit I have doubts about some of the Catholic doctrine, and issues with some of its rules. However, my church seems to emphasize God’s love over the hell-fire and brimstone scare tactics used by so many other churches to get their adherents to comply, including some of the more conservative Catholic churches. My church isn’t constantly preaching about abortion, homosexuality, or sin. Every homily (analogous to the sermon for Protestants) is preceded by readings from the Bible, and the homily itself based on Biblical verses about God’s love and how much Jesus loved us, so much that he died for ALL people (not just a selected few, as Calvinists believe) so all of us can achieve salvation.
The highlight of the Mass is the Eucharist, which is really a re-enactment of the Last Supper. I do believe, as a Catholic, that the host (communion wafer) and wine actually becomes the body and blood of Jesus Christ once it’s ingested. I believe this because of what it does to me inside. Once I ingest, I always feel a warm liquid feeling of peace and loving feelings in my heart, and this overcomes any worries or negative feelings I may be experiencing. That tiny sip of wine certainly isn’t enough to alter my mind, so I know it’s much more than a physical effect; it’s a spiritual one. It’s the Holy Spirit inside me working on my heart and soul. During the Eucharist, and for a few minutes following it, the choir sings softly about opening your heart to the Lord and his Divine Love. I spend the next few minutes kneeling, thanking Jesus for this gift of Himself, and praying for it to do good things within my soul. It always does.
I also notice that during the week, I feel more loving toward humanity, get less irritated and worry less, and good things seem to happen. I also seem to have a clearer direction of where I’m going spiritually.
The feeling I get from partaking in communion isn’t unlike taking a Klonopin! But it’s so much longer lasting and I feel like it actually changes and opens my heart, which a Klonopin (which only reduces anxiety) can never do.