I am a Protestant. If I ever give anyone the impression that I'm not, I apologize, because I'm completely Protestant. I have been a long-time admirer of the Catholic Church, but I don't have any immediate plans of converting (although I'm not ruling it out either.) I have spent over four years researching, two and half considering my conversion, and another five months in limbo regarding the whole issue. Despite some theological disagreements, I have another grievance that I feel is often overlooked or written off as something else.
When attending Mass (the regular weekly service) as an observer, one has to understand that the traditions and ceremonies are based on centuries of cultivation and derive from ancient practices which still serve a purpose today. Everything is very calculated, and while some may misinterpret this as rehearsed and cold; the fact is that it is what a person makes of it in their own spiritual walk. At the time when a lot of the individual rituals were developed, such as praying the Rosary, most of the congregation was illiterate. Praying redundantly was not meant to be a meaningless recitation of Scriptural prayers and praises, but rather to show the sincerity of the one praying. Today, people can easily make up a prayer on the spot without much thought put into it, but at the time of the Rosary's conception, that may have proven to be a difficult task.
People are fickle. We hang on to guilt as if it were a the coat keeping us from dying of hypothermia in the dead of an Alaskan winter. For some, they can't let go of their own self-condemnation until they've gone to the priest and confessed their wrong-doings, prayed, made penance, made restitution, and left the parish. This is a perfectly normal, albeit not efficient, part of being human. It's always harder to forgive yourself than it is to forgive others. At the root, we always want to blame ourselves for things that happen even if we had nothing to do with it. The Church knew this from the start and thus the lengthy and often perceived empty practice of confession began. Putting aside absolution, we can therefore reach an understanding of why someone would go to confession. I have often felt the desire to go myself, however I am not well versed in the ritual and therefore do not want to be seen as outsider or someone who is only giving lip service.
Most, if not all, of the people I closely associate myself with have a very harsh judgment of the Church. To them, it's all a bunch of spiritually dead people and rituals which have no practical application. To this I say, "Dig deeper and open your mind." The fact that you don't understand or don't appreciate the careful precision and artistic displays does not mean it isn't spiritual. You don't have to convert, and I'll be the last one to peddle something that you won't like, because I'd rather you find out what it's all about for yourself. I'm only giving you a glimpse into the reality which has been misunderstood since original Lutherans were put six feet under.
The other problem that I see is that there are too many young people raised in the Church who go through confirmation and then walk out the doors and never really take into consideration all that they learned. Most Protestants go through some Biblical training, as children we go to Awana/Sonlight, and some even attend a regular Bible study which gives them new ideas and concepts to ponder. Protestants have removed, some more than others, the ritualistic and iconic practices which the Church clings to as a tie to their grassroots. I respect both sides of the coin. I understand why people would avoid hymns like the plague, but at the same time I have and pray the Rosary on occasion because of it's simplicity when all other words fail me.
A perfect example is this: I was running the technical side for a major production with the theatre company I'm apart of. After the show, I felt led to take anointing oil (which was in the form of cream because oil gets messy if spilled) and pray over each actor as they left the dressing room. They lined up at the door and I put a tiny amount of cream on my finger and made the sign of the cross on their forehead while saying, "All the garbage off, in the name of Jesus..." The last guy in the dressing room, who shares my name, requested that I not do it because he didn't want it to be ritualistic. To that, I conceded and let him walk out the door without so much as a word. I knew that for him, the spiritual stigma of playing the worldly role he had just played was not going to be a stumbling block and that God would wash any residual icky-ness off regardless of whether I did anything or not. The anointing oil, the sign of the cross, and the phrase I uttered were merely symbolism of something much bigger than what the eyes could see. I did it because I felt led to, and I think it was done because some of the actors have a hard time disassociating themselves with their role (also known as getting out of character) as much as they do letting go of the spiritual junk that gets flung at them when they play these worldly roles.
The anointing oil, the sign of the cross, and the phrase weren't going to do diddly-squat on their own. The only one who could do anything about what might have been going on with each of those actors was God. He is the one who sees into their hearts and minds and knows what's going on with them. Likewise, the Church recognizes that most of the practices and rituals performed on a regular basis are symbolism of something much greater than what our eyes can see. In a sense, they try to bridge the gap between faith and evidence by supplementing faith with actions.
Until next time,