Are Catholics Just Going Through The Motions?

The Protestant Worship Experience

As a Protestant, worship took on many forms. But corporate worship in the context of a church setting was typically an emotional experience.

The worship leaders, of which I was one, sang sometimes with eyes closed, hands raised, voice impassioned and face exuding feeling.

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There was this connotation that in sincere worship, one felt something. We were reaching out to God in song. Sometimes we smiled, sometimes we cried, but we wore our emotions on our sleeves. Worship music was, in many cases, tied to an outward expression of feeling.

In America, this is how Protestant worship often functions. Not in all denominations, as there are several denominations that follow a more liturgical structure to the service, but in enough that it has become a common Protestant norm in many cases.

The Catholic Mass

Contrast that with the worship we see during Catholic Mass. There’s a stereotype that has become aimed at those more traditional services, but I think especially towards Catholics in regard to the sincerity of Catholic worship.

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Part of this comes from the fact that the Mass is more structured. Things happen every single time in the same order. If we switched things up or changed things around or added to it or left things out, it wouldn’t be the Mass. It’s the same every time out of necessity. The Mass knows what it is. Christians have been celebrating the Mass since the beginning of our faith. It doesn’t change.

Also, in Mass, people are kneeling, sitting, and standing, saying things at the same time, and in general, we don’t look or sound too excited.

So the question becomes: If we don’t look the part, are we engaged in worship?

Gather round, my friends, whilst I tell you a story.

When I was a worship leader in the Protestant Church, particularly during the period of my life where I was questioning my faith, I looked the part. I raised my hands at the right times, I crunched my face up, I closed my eyes, I smiled. All at the right times, all designed to give the impression of impassioned worship.

Each time I did that, I hoped to draw others in to impassioned worship as well, regardless of how I was feeling. But there were times when I was singing those words and doing those things when I didn’t even think I believed in God. Or at least not a personable God as Christians know him.

And no. one. knew. it.  At that time, I was too scared to tell anyone I was having serious doubts. I was too scared to step down, even though I knew I should, because I knew I would have to answer the inevitable “why’s?” that would follow.

I was, quite literally, putting on a show. Not to bring glory to myself, but to cover the darker reality that was hiding underneath.

Today, when you see me at Mass, my face is probably, more often than not, neutral. My hands are not raised in the air unless I’m inviting the congregation to join in while singing as a cantor.

But, even though outwardly I am less emotional and more stoic, my heart is much closer to God while I worship during the Mass than it was in those months of doubt and darkness when I appeared otherwise to everyone around me.

So, Which Is It?

Is it possible that the things we recite in Mass sound so boring and our faces look so stoic because our hearts really aren’t engaged? Sure. I’m sure there are people in each Mass whose hearts are far from God. But I spent a decent amount of time looking the part in a public position in my Protestant church, and my heart was far from God too.

When I go to Mass, I still have a lot to learn. But there are many things I know and appreciate. I know when we are quoting Revelation when we sing. I know the meaning of the Creed and believe it with all my heart. I know why we kneel, sit, and stand when we do. Those postures all help put my heart in the frame of mind for prayer, for listening, and for worship.

And sometimes, quietly, and to myself, I wipe a tear from my eye during Communion as I am so moved by God’s love for humanity. You just probably won’t see it, because you’ll be in quiet contemplation and prayer yourself.

The point of this is to say worship does not necessarily have to be tied to an emotional experience. And we shouldn’t be so quick to judge those who connect with God in a different way than we do. And we can’t assume that just because a person looks a certain way, or looks like they are feeling a certain thing, that they are. And we can’t assume that just because a person looks disengaged, that he or she is.

So no, Catholics, are not just going through the motions. We worship through the liturgy. And our worship looks different than the Protestant Churches in America who express their love for God with outward feeling and passion. God cares about our hearts. Not about how high we raise our hands or how much we bounce up and down with a worship song.

I’ve found such peace in worshipping through the Mass. And I will never again trade calm sincerity for false fervor.

-Lorelei

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48 thoughts on “Are Catholics Just Going Through The Motions?

  1. I’ve been Catholic all my life. I’m an old dog, 66 years, that is still learning my faith. I’ve explored everything from Quakerism, Reformed theology, to Non-denominational churches. But I could not embrace any of them. Why? The Sacrifice of the Mass, but most of all the Real Presence. Yes, sometimes I’m bored, after 66 years can repeat the readings, but when I look at the Crucifix and approach that altar I know there is no alternative. This is the Church, warts and all, founded by Christ.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Amen. There truly is nothing like it! In my time in the Protestant realm, we attended some churches that did try to keep things fresh and provide a sort of ‘entertainment,’ but none of it lasted. Constantly chasing fads and trends is forever a losing battle. I agree that there is no alternative for me either. 🙂
      -Lorelei

      Liked by 1 person

      1. One non-denominational Church I tried, very popular at one time, now barely heard from, was located in an old 19th Century recreated failed tourist site. The service was about 2 hours. It was mostly singing, solo performances, one act plays, interspersed with about 20 minutes total of preaching. This was maybe 20-25 years ago. The height of the CCM craze. Proof with no authority, no ecclesiastical governing, one worship form might be the trend today, but like all trends, trends fade away. It’s a bit why I buckle when I see, local parishes instituting worship methods that faded long ago amongst our separated brethren. Fortunately, though arriving late to Catholicism they fade quick enough.

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  2. I was raised Catholic but spent 37 years in a very vibrant Evangelical church. I thought it really didn’t matter as long as I loved God. My husband was very anti-catholic. He also had quit going to church with me and instead watched and tithed to a certain well-known TV preacher who preached against the Catholic Church. In 2014 my husband, announced that he was thinking of becoming Catholic! Long story short, he started RCIA. We are now happily part of the Church! I can’t speak for every Catholic, but We absolutely love all things Catholic, especially Mass and the Eucharist. We aren’t going through the motions. I saw you on the Journey Home and you had such an interesting story.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Oh my goodness how cool! I always get curious what leads people to give the Catholic faith a chance, as it did for your husband- there’s always a story there. I’m so happy for you both that you have found joy and peace in the Catholic Church. There are so many of us out there!
      And thank you for sharing in my story through the program. It was such a joy to share. 🙂
      -Lorelei

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  3. I saw you on the Journey home and was so heartened by your story because my Cradle catholic son has married a beautiful woman who has become very anti catholic. Your story gives me such hope, I pray daily for my daughter in law’s conversion. I ask your prayers for her as well and our son and also for our Grandson who is not baptized because she refuses to let it happen. She has a very strong Christian faith, but is not open to the fullness of truth. If you have suggestions that will help us, we’d love to hear them. God bless you and your beautiful family!

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    1. Hi Marci,

      Oh yes, there is always hope. Prayer is ever important, and we will join with you in prayer for your daughter in law, and your son, and grandson.

      One suggestion I have would be to find ways to connect with your daughter in law through the Christian faith you do share. It meant a lot to me when JP’s family reached out and found common ground with me, and it helped me feel like they validated my authentic Christian faith. I just didn’t have any context to understand their specific Catholic beliefs for a long while, and finding that common ground eventually helped to bridge that gap.

      The other suggestion would be to let her see you live your life in love. Let her see your faith alive in your life. That was one of the other things that, when I was ready, helped me to give the Catholic Church a fair chance. I knew my in-laws lived an authentic faith. I wasn’t ready for so long when they gave me books and sent me CD’s and DVD’s. Most of them just went in the donation bin. But seeing them live their lives loving God did make a long-term impact.

      I hope those help in some small way. I understand more now than I ever did the struggle JP’s family went through when he stopped practicing the faith. But God never for a second abandoned us, and he won’t abandon you or those in your family either. Keep the faith. 🙂

      -Lorelei

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      1. I seem to be the only one here who isn’t part of the Roman church. Even though you’d probably refer to me as a protestant, I consider myself catholic, but not Roman Catholic. I agree totally with Lorelei’s comments as to how to respond to to your daughter in law’s “anti catholic” view. I would add using phrases like “the fullness of truth” is not going to help your relationship with either your son or daughter-in-law. I love watching the Journey Home each and every week, especially when one comes from another faith tradition such as Lorelei! Of course the journey home series is only part of the story.

        I ask you Lorelei, how do you feel, think, react when a person who was Roman Catholic leaves the church for another christian denomination? They may find their “full truth” elsewhere in another Christian tradition. For me, I rejoice in both. You say so beautifully in your comments about worship: How we look on the outside is not necessarily how we feel on the inside. I believe the same is true with the church you go to. To Marci I say, rejoice in your daughter-in-law’s faith, and where that leads your son and her on their journey together. Be happy that they love Jesus who is “the way, the truth, and the life”.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Hi Don!
        You definitely aren’t the only non-Roman Catholic ’round these parts. 🙂 I know several of my Protestant friends read, but they often get in touch with me via Facebook or in person. Less often on the actual comments on the posts. But they’re around. 🙂

        You asked such a great question!

        I personally wouldn’t be worried like I would be if someone, say, rejected Christianity or the idea of God as a whole rather than becoming Protestant. I have many brothers and sisters who aren’t Catholic, and I respect each of their faiths tremendously. I would, however, be interested to learn why they left. I always welcome healthy dialogue on all things that matter, particularly matters of faith. I can only speak for our situation, but JP left because he never had a full and accurate understanding of what he was leaving. I don’t know that one would find someone who left the church who truly did understand that. People who understand what they have don’t leave. At the time he left, JP had never truly embraced the Catholic faith as his own.

        But I also know my husband fell in love with Jesus in the Protestant Church, then returned to the Catholic church when he came to the conclusion that it was there where he could most closely commune with God during his walk on earth. I came to the conclusion that the Catholic Church is the Church Jesus founded, and promised to preserve in Truth. Anything good I found in a Protestant Church has been found in the Catholic Church as well. It’s all encompassing for me.

        But I don’t get scared or worried when someone comes to a different conclusion than I do. We are all seeking truth, and while I believe it exists, I’d be a hypocrite if I didn’t allow others to take their own path to find it. It’s my job to live love, and be Jesus’ hands and feet on earth. It’s my job to speak truth in love. But it’s God’s job to save people. And I know each and every soul He created is in his all good and loving hands.

        There’s this analogy by Peter Kreeft about Catholic fireplaces and Protestant fires. I think this is a link to that commentary, but I’m at Starbucks right now so if it isn’t the right link I’ll come back and fix it later. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TP42cpQGgbs. The long and short of it is, if someone has found an amazing fireplace but no fire burning in their particular parish, it isn’t surprising that they would search for the fire elsewhere.

        I love the Catholic Church, and I do believe it is the fullest expression of the Christian faith. But I was a Christian before I was Catholic (though, if you consider my Catholic baptism, maybe not lol. At RCIA they joked that I was already Catholic 🙂 ). I’m just living in joy and peace in the gift I’ve found in the Catholic Church.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Being 55 years old and going thru RCIA classes, second one this Wednesday, going to a protestant church, I’m glad I switching to the ORIGINAL Church today’s Evangelical church is being to be more and more like a rock and roll concert, loud guitars, heavy bass, crashing cymbals, my wife doesn’t understand and doesn’t want to, she feels that is all about religion and not a personal relationship with our Lord, but it is very much so.

    Well, I feel so free in the Catholic Church, love the liturgy and the closeness when I talk about the faith, after I finish RCIA classes I’m going to have to find a men’s retreat to attend, but one question I have is can I still listen to the Christian music on the radio??

    And please pray for my wife to come to the faith

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for your comment and your thoughts. I definitely understand the challenge of not being in unity with your spouse and will join you in prayer.

      I am actually going to be talking at our RCIA class coming up about having a personal relationship with Jesus. That’s a common misconception, I think, about the Catholic Church. But there is potential for the greatest of personal relationships with Christ in so many ways. Especially since we have the Eucharist.

      I hope you do find a men’s retreat! That’s one of JP’s goals, too, for the upcoming year. Some sort of retreat, at least, whether couples or individual.

      And, great question about Christian music. My personal opinion is that it’s fine. I still listen to it, though I often wish the music was higher quality than it is sometimes. But, I also notice now as a Catholic when a song has theology in it that isn’t in line with church teaching. It’s pretty obvious at times. But many songs are totally fine. We do have more in common with our Protestant brothers and sisters than differences.

      There are also many, awesome Catholic artists out there. Matt Maher is one that not everyone knows is Catholic. And there are some great lists of Catholic artists online, if you want to listen to Christian music that has theology in line with Catholic teaching. Here’s one of them: https://catholic-link.org/11-catholic-musicians-so-good-youll-want-to-listen-to-them-even-when-youre-not-at-church/

      Hope that helps!

      Lorelei

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh that’s a great question- not sure how many of those artists would have blogs vs. artist websites…. I would guess most of them have some sort of a Facebook page though! Wish I could be more helpful with that part :/

        Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, the idea of church as a social club was something I struggled with as we were navigating our way to the Catholic Church. It was a place nice people liked to meet and hang out, but sometimes it didn’t go much deeper than that. We found ourselves starving for spiritual depth. But not any more 🙂

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      2. There are so many amazing resources out there! We’re so excited for you- please keep us posted as you progress towards confirmation and visit us here on the site anytime. We will keep you and your wife in our prayers, and we hope you continue to grow in trust and peace of where God is leading you. 🙂

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      3. Don’t me to bother you again, BUT is it hard to start a blog?? Is like to do one while I’m going through RCIA classes 🤷‍♂️ would this be doable for me? and what do I write about, I’m a bit scared I would sound stupid

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      4. Bah! I thought I replied to this! I’m so sorry, I must not have entered it or something. Or maybe it ended up somewhere random… who knows. WordPress makes it super easy to do. They have the templates set up and everything. I blogged my own conversion and time in RCIA on http://www.protestantinterrupted.wordpress.com. I started by writing about the topics I was learning about on my journey. Readership gets built up over time on blogs, too, so you’d have some time to find your sea legs :). Let me know if you do start one! -Lorelei

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      5. Hey! Well I published my first blog go take a look for me and tell me what you think, the more I write about this ( my Homecoming) catchy phrase huh? lol the more emotional I get, a 55 year old man getting emotional?? Well yea, I’m sure that there are many blogs like this one, but I hope I nudge someone to take a look for themselves into the RCIA program and become catholic of that is what they want.

        IN Him through Mary

        Liked by 2 people

      6. Hey good to see you got started! It is a catchy phrase 🙂 Nice format choice, too. I felt like there were a lot of blogs like mine when I got started, but you never know what could happen. We’re still pretty small potatoes over here, but it’s nice to hear that we’ve been able to encourage some people along the way, which is a big part of why we do this thing 🙂
        -Lorelei

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Wow! I stumbled upon your interview on EWTN. Followed to this Blog. I
    Am a returned Catholic as well. In 2016 I gave my testimony of leaving Mormonism on a show in Salt Lake City Utah similar to the show you were on. I searched and prayed and went through the agony of finding authentic Christianity. it was right in my own back yard so to speak. I just wanted to tell you thank you, as what you shared resonated with my own journey. Your insight and personal experience with Our Lady, the communion of saints, and the sacrifice of the Mass was so beautiful and simple. I know first hand how complex the journey can be to come to that place of faith after indoctrination in Protestantism. I will be reading your blog more often, though my children are grown, you are a gifted writer, and I know I can glean tremendous insight from your journey. This of course will be a fruitful blessing to my own. God Bless you dear young lady.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Ann! I’m so glad you stumbled into finding us! And I’m so happy to hear my story resonated with you. The journey was certainly complex, and looking back it’s been amazing to see how God was gently guiding me here the whole time. There have definitely been struggles, but so, so much beauty. We would love to have you join us here on the site absolutely any time. One of the best parts of this blog is being able to connect with other people who have walked/are walking a similar path, or have questions. Hope to see you again 🙂 God Bless you too!
      -Lorelei

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  6. Yes I will! probably this weekend, and I think it’s going to be called….. Are you ready for this?? It’s going to be called “My Homecoming” , I like it I tried to make the title a bit curious, if you think it sounds good let me know, and please be dead level honest, I’m have never done anything like this before

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Hey, that’s a great question. I asked a lot of questions. We used the book “Catholicism for Dummies” and had prep work to do before each class, and I made sure I did my homework and wrote out/highlighted any questions I wanted to ask. Our RCIA teachers were very thorough in answering them which helped a lot too. I also did a decent amount of study on my own. Our parish has a http://www.formed.org account and that has a lot of great material on it. I watched Symbolon, which goes through the foundations of the faith. I also read a lot of articles on Catholic Answers, listened to talks by Scott Hahn, and read other people’s conversion stories. I connected with other converts whenever I could too.
        I hope that’s helpful! It’s how I went about it. I was very into the whole RCIA process and I think I’m a stronger Catholic for it. 🙂
        -Lorelei

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      2. By the way I bought the book (Kindle) you were speaking of and have the first chapter read highlighted a good many paragraphs, before I forget I want to thank you for helping me with all this stuff lol, also watching Symbolon on YouTube

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  7. Thank you for your post! As a Catholic convert, I appreciate the solemnity of most Masses. It shouldn’t be a concert-as so many Protestant services I went to tried to make worship into a concert! Which is why I tend to like Gregorian chant, incense, and the Latin Mass… they show more reverence and in turn make us more reverent.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Hi Sarah! Thank you so much for your thoughts- I have not yet had the pleasure of attending a Latin Mass. It’s high on my priority list though when I get a chance! 🙂 I agree that the reverence perpetuates more reverence. It’s a beautiful thing that I often felt was missing in my faith life before conversion.

      Sincerely,

      Lorelei

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      1. Thanks , I am too , still have a ways to go though 😕, wife was telling me this evening that she has no problem with the faith, the only one problem with it she has is, praying for the dead BUT I’m still saying my rosary for her (my intention) for her to give in completely understand the faith and go through RCIA classes and “come home”, keep up the the great posts 🙂

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  8. You know talking about the Eucharist, I heard someone on the radio saying that I don’t “feel” Jesus is with me when I’m at mass, and going through RCIA classes now I told the lady, although she can’t hear me, I told her, He’s there in the Tabernacle on the alter, that’s why they always bow when passing it or before reading at mass, she was uneducated as I was, I really like going to our adoration chapel and praying my Rosary, I know He’s there as well as our Mother, and I come out of there peaceful and loved, can’t wait to take Holy Communion 😁

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Hi

    I’ve just found your blog and followed it, there’s loads of interesting posts! I’m about to start my first blog hop linky next Friday with a focus on faith and family. As a practising Catholic I’m really looking to evangelise through the Internet (I live in France as an ex pat and although I’m able to speak French it would be a struggle to try and evangelise verbally with my neighbours, believe me).
    Anyway I wondered if you’d be interested in linking up next Friday? It starts at 12.00 midday Paris time, and id love to see some of your posts there.

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  10. I enjoyed your post. I have always been Catholic, but have been exposed to a lot of the emotional worship style that you mention. Through exposure to Charismatic Catholic events and ecumenical gatherings I have grown to appreciate the diversity of worship styles available within the Catholic church. From the Latin mass, to emotional Charismatic worship, to the quiet daily mass with only a few elderly folks, masses with music and without, all lend themselves to a richer experience of the various ways that God reveals himself to us. I am glad to see the enthusiasm among your readers to share the Catholic faith. We “cradle” Catholics need to get better at it. Peace of Jesus.

    Liked by 1 person

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