Visiting a growing Baptist church today can feel like attending a rock concert. Congregants in blue jeans sway with their hands in the air to the rhythm of praise bands, while their children are entertained elsewhere in a separate children’s church. If wearing casual clothes and listening to contemporary music is truly attracting more people to church who would otherwise not attend, then hallelujah. However, what must feel like a dynamic evolvement of worship for them comes across as mere gimmick to me. Don’t feel like showing respect to God by dressing up? That’s fine. Think church services are boring? We’ll fix that. Too much trouble to make your children sit still for one hour to hear a sermon? Don’t worry, we’ll take them for you.
Such new developments make me feel like churches are changing for the people, instead of people changing for the churches. Many churches do still offer traditional services, but when it comes to attracting new members, it seems like the general consensus is to update the church atmosphere. After a few modern Baptist experiences, it was refreshing to go to a Catholic service and feel like the purpose was actually to worship, not to make me want to worship.
Refreshing as it was, I don’t mean to imply that the transition to worshiping Catholic-style was easy. The first few times I attended Mass, the congregation seemed to rise, kneel, and recite at random times. It was like trying to learn a dance in the middle of a crowded dance floor, and I thought I’d never overcome my confusion. Gradually, though, I began to understand what was happening.
Protestants often accuse Catholics of being “ritualistic,” and you know what? They are absolutely correct. Catholics do follow rituals each time they celebrate the Mass, and most of their rituals are taken straight out of the Gospel. Each recitation, hand gesture, and kneeling is infused with meaning. Are there Catholics who simply go through the motions without reflecting on the meanings behind them? Absolutely, just like there are Protestants who sit through the sermon without focusing on the message. For others, including me, the rituals are a way to wholly engage in worship.
How do I know that most of the rituals are straight out of the Gospel? I read the Gospel last year during Lent. Lent is more commonly associated with giving something up, such as sweets, but it can also be observed by adding something to your routine. The Baptist in me just can’t yet come to terms with the idea that God actually cares if I give up my beloved Diet Coke for a few weeks, but I do believe that He cares if I read the Bible. Thus, I read the Gospel for the first time in the twenty-six years I called myself a Christian.
Of course, plenty, I even daresay most, Protestants have read the Gospel. It’s certainly not an exclusively Catholic thing, but for me it only happened after Catholicism challenged me to deepen my faith during Lent. That’s what I love about Catholicism-it challenges me to grow in a way that Protestantism did not.
Does that mean that Protestantism is not conducive to growing in faith? Of course not. Most people I know are more than able to find fulfillment in Protestantism. It just wasn’t working for me. Just like people have different learning styles, they also have different worshiping styles. The important thing is that they’re learning, or in this case, worshiping.
I could never have converted if I didn’t truly believe that both Protestantism and Catholicism share the same core belief-that God sent Jesus to save us. Catholicism helps me build my life around this, but maybe Protestantism does the same for you. It doesn’t matter which church you go to, the important thing is that you’re going to one.
Even though I felt a calling to Catholicism, the decision to convert was not an easy one. It’s hard to leave behind the religion of your childhood and family. As much as I love celebrating the Mass, there are Sundays where I long to hear the sinuous cadence of a Baptist preacher and to sit in the same pew that I once shared with my grandmother, back when I was small enough to stand up on it while the choir sang. This Sunday, though, as I stand to greet the celebrant, I’ll hold the hymnal so similar to the ones in that little Baptist church, and I’ll sing from it, remembering my Protestant background while knowing I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be.