Describing the Sacred Liturgy to a non-Catholic

When my Wife and I were dating (at the time, she attended Grace Brethren Church and God had just led me back to my Catholic Faith), she reluctantly agreed to attend Church with me, which sparked a bunch of questions: “So, why do you dip your fingers in the Holy Water when you enter/leave the Church? Why do you sit-stand-kneel-stand-kneel-sit-stand so much?”

When you learn the why’s of what we do in the Sacred Liturgy, it is all very purposeful and you see the beauty of what we do at the Liturgy (or “Mass” as it is commonly referred) and what God is doing in us.

Fun Fact: the term Liturgy comes from the Greek word “leitourgia” which literally translates to “work of the people” or “service.” Ever wonder why Protestants call Sunday Worship Service?

I call or e-mail my Grandma the first of each month, but when I go visit her in person, it is very special.

Yes, God is all around us at all times, and we can sense God’s presence in nature, but there is something special about spending time with our Lord in Adoration, in Prayer, in His Word, and Sacramentally. Jesus wants to have a relationship with us!

In The Holy Mass, we are receiving Jesus in a special way and we are intimately offering Him ourselves.

The Mass is centered on Christ.

The first half, we are focused on God’s Word. Did you know that as Catholic Christians attending Sunday Mass, we hear over 7,000 verses of the Bible per yea—and that’s just counting the first, second, and Gospel readings! And if you attend daily Mass, you will hear 71.5% of the New Testament and 13.5% of the Old Testament within a three-year cycle.

In addition to hearing the Word of God proclaimed, we are encouraged to read our Bibles. Both Christ and Scripture are given “for the sake of [our] salvation” (Dei Verbum, 11).

St. Jerome said “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.” You can’t understand one without the other.

The second half of the Mass is all about Christ’s gift of His body, blood, soul & divinity—The Eucharist, which means “thanksgiving.”

Christ has a covenantal relationship with His bride, the church. As a husband and a wife are intimate and life can come from their embrace, so too can spiritual life (John 6:58) come from this intimate gift of Christ’s body and blood to us. For this gift is “true food and true drink” (John 6:55). Which is also why individuals whom are outside of this covenantal relationship should not receive Holy Communion. A spouse should not be intimate with someone outside of his/her covenantal bond either. If someone within the conventual relationship strays or does something to wound the relationship, he/she must reconcile before partaking in a covenantal act, otherwise they are doing so unworthily (1 Corinthians 11:27-30). But, we are getting ahead of ourselves.

Let’s go back and talk about what you will see when you attend a Catholic Church.

When you walk into most Catholic Christian Churches you will first notice (more so in the past) that the doors are always open (symbolizing that Jesus is always available). When I was a kid, you could walk into any Catholic Church day or night to Pray (removed from worldly distractions). Sadly, because of vandalism and hostility, many Catholic Churches now lock their doors and have installed cameras.

The second thing that you will notice is how large and heavy the doors are. This is meant to humble us before our God. We live in a world where individuals think they are bigger than God.

When you walk into the entry way, you will not be greeted with the smell of Starbucks (like when I attended the non-Denominational Church in College). You might instead smell incense.

Once you enter the actual Sanctuary, you will notice either a Holy Water font or a Baptismal font, where those who have been Baptized are invited to dip their finger into the waters and draw the sign of the Cross on their forehead, reminding us of our Baptism and indicating to Whom we belong (we belong to Jesus, our bride-groom).

You will see Christian artwork and symbols on the walls, windowpanes and ceilings.

The Stations of the Cross, depict our Lord’s walk and suffering towards Calvary.

The bright stained glass often depicts various moments in the Gospels or individual Saints, throughout church history, who lived a life for Christ.

At the front of the Church you will see Christ depicted on the Cross, because as St. Paul wrote, we “preach Christ crucified” (1 Corinthians 1:23). When you leave many Catholic Churches, you will see a depiction of our risen Lord.

Also at the front of the Church, you will see a red candle in the front of the Church that is always lit, signifying that Christ is present. The only time of year that you will not see this candle lit is during Easter between Christ’s death and His Resurrection.

Another thing that you will see is a pulpit (or podium) where the Word of God is proclaimed during the Sacred Liturgy.

You will clearly see an Altar, where the once and for all, true Sacrifice of Jesus is celebrated during the Holy Mass, as He instituted at the Last Supper and referenced in John 6.

Also in the front of our Christian Church is the Tabernacle, where the Eucharist (the body, blood, soul, and divinity of our Lord and Savior) is kept.

I’ve heard some Christians and Atheists alike say things like, “The Church spends so much money on their places of worship, when they should be spending this money on the poor.” But, what these individuals fail to realize is that there is a spiritual poverty in this world. We, as Christians, are indeed called to serve the poor, but the main mission of the church is to point others to Jesus! This is why Catholic Christians and the Orthodox, in particular, have ornate Churches, depicting Salvation History and individuals who responded to Christ’s love in their lives. So that anyone who enters these Sacred places might come to know Jesus and humble themselves before God.

At the end of every Mass, the Priest says, “Go forth and share the Gospel of the Lord,” or “Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life,” or some other variation of this. We are called to share the joy of Jesus Christ with others, by how we live and by how we say it. There will be times when we do not always do this perfectly, which is why we need God’s grace.

I hope this helps others. If anyone else would like to give this a shot, I would love to learn how some of you have explained the Sacred Liturgy to non-Catholics. God Bless.