A baptist minister encounters ancient liturgy

From a reader:

I thought you’d be interested in the observations of a Baptist pastor who, on sabbatical, visited an Orthodox church.  I think his observations, excerpted below, hold true, as well, about the TLM.  His blog posting is titled "Not for lightweights". 

So what did I think about my experience at Saint Anthony the Great Orthodox Church?
I LOVED IT. Loved it loved it loved it loved it loved it.
In a day when user-friendly is the byword of everything from churches to software, here was worship that asked something of me. No, DEMANDED something of me. [Ah the power of liturgy.  When we get ourselves out of the way and let worship be worship, it overcomes us.]
“You don’t know what Theotokos means? Get a book and read about it. [One thing leads to another.  It was the same thing in my own conversion.  It began with an experience of liturgical worship.  Then the questions and the exploration simply had to begin.] You have a hard time standing for 2 hours? Do some sit ups and get yourself into worship shape. It is the Lord our God we worship here, mortal. What made you think you could worship the Eternal One without pain?"
See, I get that. That makes sense to me. I had a hard time following the words of the chants and liturgy, but even my lack of understanding had something to teach me.  [This, friend, is the encounter with mystery which must be at the core of liturgy.  This is the via negativa.]
“There is so much for you to learn. There is more here than a person could master in a lifetime. THIS IS BIGGER THAN YOU ARE. [Ahhhhh.... yes!] Your understanding is not central here. These are ancient rites of the church. Stand with us, brother, and you will learn in time. Or go and find your way to an easier place if you must. God bless you on that journey. We understand, but this is the way we do church.”

This is what the fullness of the Roman liturgy accomplishes as well.  

This is also why we needed Summorum Pontificum.

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About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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37 Responses to A baptist minister encounters ancient liturgy

  1. jarhead462 says:

    This is wonderful!
    I hope this man is on his way home.

    Semper Fi!

  2. Amy, MEV says:

    GREAT post!!! I will be sharing it with others.

  3. RichR says:

    Who would be this inspired by a typical O.F. Mass in a typical, mainstream American Church? I’m not saying the O.F. is incapable of creating this sense of mystery, but the hermeneutic of continuity is not apparent in a typical parish.

  4. Janet says:

    RichR: My first experiences of Mass were very much the post-Vat.II ordinary form, back in 1981. And I can tell you, that coming from a Fundamentalist Protestant background, even a folk-Mass is a breath of fresh air! The Holy Spirit will lead us by ways that defy our logic, and there is a power in EVERY Mass that draws the converts in. Just get them to a Mass, ANY Mass, and let God do the rest!

  5. Thank God he didn’t go to some liturgies that we so often encounter in our contemporary churches, which seek to avoid the mystical sense, and reduce the liturgy to the trendy and at best vulgar. Verbum sapientiae sat!

  6. Rachel says:

    :( I wish my mother could be this open minded. I am happy to see that this baptist minister is starting to get it. Hopefully he will convert. My mother, who is also a baptist has become worse since my dad became a Catholic in 2001. She REFUSES to see it. It is so painful to see and to hear her say terrible things about Our Lady, Holy Mother Church, etc. She believes we are a cult and that the way the Mass is is wrong :(. I pray for her constantly as well as my dad. This attitude of hers has strained my parent’s marriage. I only can hope that the Holy Spirit will show her what this minister sees. Granted that it was at an Orthodox liturgy but…he is on the right track.

  7. Nick says:

    Rich R: Another is Scott Hahn.

  8. Tom Lanter says:

    Father Z.;

    If only the priest in the link about kneeling for communion had half the faith this Baptist minister has, he would insist all his parishioners go down on their knees to receive Our Lord.

    Tom Lanter

  9. John Murray says:

    My favorite part, not in the excerpt here: “I’m going back again on Sunday.” The Divine Liturgy is powerful indeed.

  10. fr.franklyn mcafee says:

    I believe this story could be repeated many times.Fr.Groeschel once told me that if the church displayed all her beauty noone could withstand her.My own father when he was dating my mother attended the requiem mass for my mother’s grandfather. He was so overwhelmed by the beauty of my great grandfather’s funeral that he (Baptist raised in an anti-catholic family,)began instructions at once.

  11. RichR says:

    Janet and Nick:

    I guess my point is this: we can learn a lot from this post with the Baptist minister and the Orthodox liturgy. Their liturgy can inspire someone to learn about the faith behind the mystical liturgy (IOW, the visible creates a yearning in souls to understand the invisible). Scott Hahn had already studied the theology of the Mass extensively before attending his first Mass, so he was able to see the invisible reality unfolding before him, despite the simplicity of the daily Mass he attended.

    The liturgy should be able to inspire feelings of awe and wonder in those who are ignorant of Catholic doctrine. Traditional liturgy has done this for centuries.

    We should not underestimate the evangelical power of proper liturgy.

  12. Fr. Totton says:

    “Not for lightweights”…”yes”

    I love it!

  13. JFaulk says:

    I too was a Baptist upon whom the liturgy of the Church had a profound affect. I was reconciled to Holy Mother Church last Nov. I think it is a serious mistake to think that young people do not like traditional services. I am 28 and would rather sit through a traditional Mass than the ooey-gooey guitar mess that passes in some churches. Call it opinion and anyone is free to disagree, but we do ourselves and Jesus an enormous disservice when we strip the mystery away from our faith.

  14. CS says:

    Comment by RichR:

    I have to say that I was. No small part of my conversion came from attending an OF Easter Vigil with my wife and her family.

    Just too cool is right on Fr. Z.

  15. priest up north says:

    lex orandi lex credendi…

  16. Me in DC says:

    I hope and pray that this can happen in my immediate family…

  17. Kimberly says:

    This still happens to me when ever I attend the EF.

  18. Mark R says:

    Before giving all credit to externals, one must pause to consider the mere effect the Presence had on him (the Orthodox do reserve the Eucharist).

  19. Steve Murray says:

    I don’t get it. A Baptist pastor is saying “this is the way we do church.” What Church is he referring to what, the Baptist Church? If he thinks this is so great, why does he remain a Baptist pastor?

  20. Michael J says:

    I was wondering how long it would take before people started denigrating the Liturgy and point instead to Our Lord’s Real Presence as the “true” source of inspiration. Sigh.

    I do not deny that His Presence has an effect, but consider this:

    For some reason, He has chosen to hide Himself and mask His Divinity under the appearance of bread. Any who “feel” His Presence more than likely already know that He is there.

  21. Hidden One says:

    @Steve: He’s putting words in the collective mouth of the Orthodox. Maybe he will convert. Pray.

    @Michael: Denigrating the liturgy? Impossible. One cannot extricate the Real Presence from the Liturgy. Mark is merely noting that there was an effect of the Eucharist that was added to by the externals of the liturgy. As to “feel[ing]” His Presence and knowing He is there already… that feeling is not in the slightest something limited to those who believe. That feeling has played a part in the conversion of many who did not know that there was anything to believe. In the process of my own conversion, when I visited an Anglican church during a social event, I was haunted by feeling of the absence of Christ, a feeling more acute now that I had been in His Presence, but there had been earlier signs of it: I had always consciously and subconsciously felt the absence of the Presence in the churches in which I grew up (which made their shoddy liturgies a lot less compelling). Indeed, later on, when I attended a High Anglican service after a sloppy NO Mass on a Sunday, the impressiveness was lost on me due to the lack of His Presence. The phenomenon of detecting Him and His absence is a true phenomenon, not merely psychosomatic. Consider also St. Anthony Mary Claret, whom some always had an urge to genuflect toward, once the Eucharist reposed in his chest.

  22. Stitchwort says:

    Michael J–”For some reason, He has chosen to hide Himself and mask His Divinity under the appearance of bread. Any who “feel” His Presence more than likely already know that He is there.”

    I’m not so sure about that. I was born and raised Baptist and until I started taking instructions in my mid-teens, I didn’t have a clue about the Eucharist or the Real Presence or the Trinity, or much else doctrinally speaking. Nor had I up until then ever attended a Mass (this was pre-Vatican II–barely). Yet even when I was a small child, something drew me to the Church and the Mass.

    (And if I knew how to do formatting here, the “something” would be in italics.)

  23. Brian says:

    Preach it, brotha!

    Thanks for sharing this, Fr. Z.

  24. We Orthodox have a saying. We do not change the liturgy; the liturgy changes us.

  25. Banjo Pickin' Girl says:

    I have a Moravian friend who has visited the cathedral in Montreal (I haven’t been there). He said he felt that Christ was there. He had no idea about the reserved Blessed Sacrament. I asked him if he noticed a candle maybe in a red globe anywhere. He was probably standing near the tabernacle and didn’t know it.

    I experienced the feeling of the Presence before I even knew about it too. I used to go to the cathedral here after work on Friday and pray and visit the bookstore. There was a kind of fullness of feeling as soon as I entered the nave that got stronger as I approached the side chapel. I didn’t know what that golden box was for that had kneelers in front of it. Once I knew about it, my reaction was, of course, that’s why I felt that way.

    God beckons in so many ways.

  26. Mary Kay says:

    Fr. Z, you mention your conversion. Do you have that written someplace where others could read it?

  27. Fromm says:

    I second Mary Kay’s request, Fr. Z. Would it be possible to read about it?

  28. Maureen says:

    People have different gifts, and are drawn by God in different ways. So it’s not any denigration of the liturgy to think that some are drawn by a mysterious sensing of the Real Presence, nor is it denigration of the Real Presence that some are drawn by the sight of vestments or the sound of chant, even without being anywhere near the Real Presence.

    Let us rather thank God that He does give the Church as many strings to draw us to Him as there are people. :)

  29. Great stuff. I went and read his whole post at his site.

    I also wrote him to clarify something. On his site, he said they gave him communion. I cannot know fore sure, but I’ll bet not–the Orthodox are even tougher than Catholics on that. Instead, they have a custom of “blessed bread” which is definitely not the Eucharist, and they share that. I only mention it here before someone is concerned.

  30. Jacob says:

    While we all stand around and debate the merits of this Baptist\’s blog post, maybe someone who lives close to where he does could direct him to a good EF Mass close to where he is for his family\’s next field trip during his sabbatical.

  31. Fr. Brian says:

    The fullness of the Roman liturgy is all too hard to come by. By reverence and faithfulness we can still teach people about God through whatever liturgical actions we still have. With the modern mind, it is to easy to approach casually the thing we ought to do very well. We have all eaten the apple of deconstructionism. For the long term, we could hope for a missal that achieves real continuity with what was.

  32. Ben says:

    “It was like they were ripping raw chunks of theology out of ancient creeds and throwing them by the handfuls into the congregation.” I haven’t been to an Eastern Orthodox liturgy, but I’ve been to a few Byzantine Catholic Divine Liturgies, and I can relate to that. There’s definitely a different sense to the liturgy than either the EF or OF, in my opinion. Whenever I get home from a Byzantine Liturgy, I feel like reading Justin Martyr or John Crysostom or one of the other Fathers. It’s hard to describe, but there’s a sense of gratitude in the liturgy. Gratitude for the incarnation, gratitude for the Fathers of the Church and the Bible and gratitude for the theology that lets us make sense of it all.

    I’m a big fan of the Extraordinary Form, but it’s good to experience the Eastern Liturgies once in a while to get the different perspective.

  33. Will says:

    If you haven’t clicked over to the Real Live Preacher’s blog to read the rest of the post, I highly recommend it. He’s been back to St. Anthony’s church twice more, and has had some really interesting things to say. Also the comments on his blog are quite interesting. There are a number of former Baptists and other Protestants that are discussing their conversions, and the mystery and solemnity of the Liturgy are key points in each story. I think I will discuss this with my pastor and encourage all of us who are dissatisfied with the quality of liturgy in our parishes to do so as well.

  34. “On his site, he said they gave him communion. I cannot know fore sure, but I’ll bet not—the Orthodox are even tougher than Catholics on that. Instead, they have a custom of “blessed bread” which is definitely not the Eucharist”

    Someone brought him the antidoron, which indeed, is not the Body of Christ, but blessed bread.

  35. Vincent says:

    This is one Baptist minister who’s not going to be a Baptist minister for very long.

    Now if only someone could expose him to the fullness of the Roman Rite, which more properly pertains to him.

  36. Mark R says:

    Folks,
    I was not denigrating externals…far from it. When He is there truly present, the Lord deserves all the credit…whether in the best appointed cathedral, mobile displaced persons chapel, pre-battle outdoor Mass in the military, or the darkest catacomb.

  37. Mr. WAC says:

    Rachel,

    I converted at age 16. Both of my parents were against it. I’m 32 now, and our relationship has been strained over religion these 16 years.

    Have faith and know that I and millions of others are praying for you and your family.

    Mr. WAC