Beating the chest and other Catholic formalities

Last week, I was listening to the 10/25/18 podcast of the “Called to Communion” Catholic talk radio show featuring guest moderator, Jack Williams, and host, David Anders, and a call from a listener brought to mind an old memory.

At the 19:16 mark, Duane in Bismark, North Dakota called in with a question regarding his experiences as an altar boy. Duane related that when he served at mass in his younger days, he was required to ring a bell at the precise moments when the priest allegedly converted the bread wafer and wine into the literal body and blood of Jesus. He stated that while he rang the bell with his right hand, he was also required to tap his chest over his heart with his clenched left hand. Although he had performed this perfunctory action hundreds of times as an altar boy, and continued with it as an adult attendee at mass, he had no idea what it symbolized and asked Anders. The host explained that striking the breast over the heart with a clenched hand symbolized “penitence.”

Ahh! I had forgotten all about this Catholic ritual of striking the chest. I had been an altar boy from fifth through eighth grades and was also required to ring a bell when the priest raised the wafer and wine chalice as he “consecrated” them while also tapping my chest with my left hand. Like Duane, I had no idea WHY I was doing it. We were taught to tap our chest at the alleged moments of consecration as part of our altar server training and that was all we needed to know. Imagine poor Duane who has been pounding his chest for forty or fifty years, but had no idea why he was doing it! Such are the rote, ritualistic mannerisms of Catholicism.

Some Catholics also tap their chest during the “confiteor” portion of the mass (“through my fault…”), the Agnus Dei portion (“have mercy on us”), and at the “Lord, I am not worthy” prayer before communion. Catholicism is full of many such similar ritualistic gestures and postures. The vast majority of Catholics just follow along with all of the prescribed rituals without giving much or any thought to the meaning behind them. The entire mass liturgy, with a priest allegedly changing bread wafers and wine into Jesus, and then offering “Him” up as a sacrifice to God the Father for the sins of the congregants, is an anti-Biblical abomination. Poor Catholic souls are taught they receive graces from the mass that enable them to obey the Ten Commandments in order to hopefully merit Heaven at the moment of their death.

Salvation is not merited through religious ritual or by trying to obey the Ten Commandments. We are all sinners and none of us can earn salvation. However, God the Father sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to pay the penalty for sin on the cross. But He conquered sin and death when He rose from the grave and now offers eternal life and fellowship with God to all those who repent of their sin and accept Him as Savior by faith alone. Accept Christ today!

Postscript: Yes, Scripture does mention beating the breast as a sign of repentance as in Jesus’ story of the proud Pharisee and the humble tax collector in Luke 18:9-14 (below). Roman Catholicism’s teaching that one must merit salvation aligns with the Pharisee character, while the humble tax collector who acknowledged and repented of his sin and pleaded to God for forgiveness and salvation aligns with the Biblical Gospel.

“And He also told this parable to certain ones who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and viewed others with contempt. ‘Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax gatherer. The Pharisee stood and was praying thus to himself, “God, I thank Thee that I am not like other people, swindlers, unjust, adulterers or even like this tax gatherer. I fast twice a week. I pay tithes of all that I get.” But the tax gatherer, standing some distance away was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven but was beating his breast saying, “God, be merciful to me, the sinner.” I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other, for everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled, but he who humbles himself shall be exalted.’”

11 thoughts on “Beating the chest and other Catholic formalities

    1. Thanks, Jimmy! Yes, if a person were to impartially observe a Catholic mass, they would see many of the congregants beating their chests at the prescribed times. It’s all part of ritualistic formalism rather than genuine repentance that leads to salvation.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yup, it’s really silly and disingenuous when you think about it. “OK everybody, at such and such exact moment during the mass, beat your chest as an act of penitence.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Crissy! Yes, I had pretty much forgotten about how many Catholics follow along with church custom/ritual and beat their chests during mass.


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