Catholicism is a religion steeped in ritual, ceremony, and legalism. There are so many terms, rules, and regulations a dutiful Catholic needs a Catholic encyclopedia in addition to a catechism close by at all times to make sense of it all. Of course, very few bother because they’re trusting in their priests to guide them through the religious maze.
At the center of Catholic life is the “liturgy.” Liturgy is a Greek word meaning “work of the people” or “public service.” For Catholics the liturgy is the ritualized form of their public worship service. Evangelical Christians are amazed at the prominence given the liturgy within Catholicism. The various components are analyzed and debated right down to the minutest of details. When to sit. When to kneel. When to stand. Which color robes the priest must wear on what day. The music. What the priest says and what the people say in response. Every once in a while a church liturgical commission tweaks the format creating swells of protests from the faithful who are totally dependent on rote repetition. I tune into Catholic radio quite often and it’s sadly amusing to listen to the raging callers who complain about a priest who – God forbid – deviated ever so slightly from the authorized format.
Where is Jesus in all of this? Good question. Like so many things within Catholicism the ritual takes precedence over what’s inside the heart. Pick up a diocesan newspaper and there’s always some aspect of the liturgy being written about but very rarely an article about Jesus. Why is that?
The Jesus of the New Testament had no use for empty ceremonialism:
“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs—beautiful on the outside but filled on the inside with dead people’s bones and all sorts of impurity. Outwardly you look like righteous people, but inwardly your hearts are filled with hypocrisy and lawlessness.” Matthew 23:27-28.
“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” – Matthew 6:5-8
“These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.” – Matthew 15:8-9
Ritualism and legalism do NOT equal salvation: “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” – Acts 16:30-31.
Praise the Lord for salvation by God’s grace through simple faith in Jesus Christ ALONE!