Being raised from birth to college as a Lutheran, I am no stranger to a ritual heavy worship service. People connect to God through all sorts of interesting and odd ways: drugs, snakes, flagellation. Those are things I know don’t connect me personally to God. My list also includes ritual.
Ritual leads to familiarity which leads to acting without thinking. I cannot connect to God if I am not thinking. The phrase “going through the motions” should never apply to one’s relationship with God. (Well not if they want to continue that relationship.)
Everyone of course has their own way to God.
I say all this to give you background before I talk about the Catholic services I attended at the monastery. I’ll get all the lauding out first. The main cathedral was gorgeous, beautiful and vast with plenty of statues, stained glass windows and amazing, striking paintings. The pipe organ was the largest I’ve seen in person. The monks were very monky in their somber black habits. The acoustics in the cathedral gave the monks’ monophonic chanting a haunting reverberating feel.
Now the bad, well not bad, but awkward and disconnecting, as an non-Catholic I was struck by how much previous knowledge you needed to feel comfortable at the service: when to kneel, bow, cross yourself, how to pronounce the Latin correctly.
The service made me feel like an outsider and I feel religion should be welcoming. So not only did I not get on board with the ritual, I felt the service was like a dumb blonde: very pretty, but not much substance. (I'm well aware this is harsh, but it's how I see the Catholic church in my mind. I'm also acutely aware that the Catholic church does wonders for some (though mostly not the gay folk) people. I am not one of those people.)
Again this is my opinion as it applies to how I interact with God and perceive the Catholic service. The pomp and circumstance of various entrances of the monks and priests made it very clear who was holier. Additionally it struck me that in this huge cathedral, that there is so little seating. Isn’t the point of religious homes to give places to the worshippers? The cathedral seemed rather empty, particularly with high vaulted ceilings. Seems ironic that of all places a monastery be home to such a lavish cathedral and grounds.
And the rules. One of my fellow retreat goers got schooled because he was seen eating an apple before mass, and you cannot eat or drink anything an hour before you receive communion. It’s my feeling that such rules (and the strictness of them) alienate people more than they bring people closer to God. Does God really find it necessary to adhere to all these rules that aren’t in the Bible and yet be okay with all the various rules in Leviticus that get conveniently forgotten (except that one they can't seem to forget Lev 18:22)?
All this leads to a question: are all those trappings necessary? Short answer: no. Don’t get me wrong, I like a church that’s easy on the eyes. But I see those great cathedrals in Europe more so as historical pieces, than active places for worship. I’m the type of person who needs a close and personal relationship with God. There were so many distractions (the pretty, the ritual, the confusion) that I felt further from God than when I came in.
But then again I’m the type to more likely to find God in nature, music and love, so that’s me.
QBP: "The Bible contains six admonishments to homosexuals and 362 admonishments to heterosexuals. That doesn't mean God doesn't love heterosexuals. It's just that they need more supervision." -Lynn Lavner
Everyone has their own way to God. Here we see Pink's.