In the minds of most Americans, the word “church” denotes a rather substantial biblical sermon, conjoined with lots and lots of communal singing, of contemporary praise or traditional hymns, led for the purpose of “worship.” In the mind of intentional Catholics, “church” means that almost indecipherable sacramental term of “the Mass.”
Protestantism has a fideistic definition of worship (I am almost tempted to call it a psychological one). Catholicism has a sacramental definition of worship. When salvation is defined as “sola fidei” there cannot be any strict requirement of corporeality for worship. But in Catholicism it is not only our sentiments and beliefs which must acknowledge God’s greatness and praiseworthiness. It must truly be our whole being, body and soul, which gives God praise and thanksgiving. Material matter is required for worship!
This, by theological extension, is why Catholics cannot separate freedom of worship (in individually defined congregations) apart from freedom of religion as a public enactment of faith in the social sphere. Of worship, scripture says “Offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, your spiritual worship” (Rom. 12:1), meaning the entirety of our lives and actions must become an act of worship. (Another translation of this is a “logical or reasonable service.”) Many devout Protestants do believe they are called to such public action in service of God. But it is a strained part of their missiology, not logically connected to worship. For the Catholic it is part of our soteriology, and of the very sanctification of our bodies.
Protestantism, by becoming “sola fidei,” sola scriptoria, has too widely rejected Philosophy and the natural power of reason to know the truth. Dare we point out there are even those who readily rejoice to think that their faith should embrace not only apparent paradoxes and evident mysteries, but also logically irresolvable contradictions.
Catholicism is imbued with both faith and reason. The mysteries that surpass our natural powers of understanding, when themselves articulated properly, do not contradict our grasp of any truths. True faith, in supernaturally known truths, causes a great resonance among all truths.
And all this brings me to make comment on the recent Supreme Court decision, siding with the Catholic and Jewish communities over enacted or potential COVID-19 restrictions on religious congregations. I have compared just a few commentaries on the matter, and seen just a few analogous squabbles about “church” and COVID happenings. I think it very fair to point out, there is in our society always a popular prejudice, which thinks that all religious devotion is fundamentally irrational activity. In this view, logical reasoning would demand agnosticism of the human mind, at best, regarding all religious claims. And then (here is the point!) “faith” is to be accepted in the public square only insofar as an emotional “holiday” from rationality and science could be afforded to leisurely citizens in ordinary times.
Even those who want to be fair to religious people feel that the pandemic is so bad that they MUST impose so called “logical” restrictions on those superstitions of religious congregations who would otherwise put themselves inherently against “science” and truth. In short, they imply religious people cannot be trusted to be prudent and to do what is right in their churches, because religious people are “fundamentally irrational.”
I cannot opine as to what kinds of religious congregations might lend ammunition to this prejudice by cavalier rejections of recommendations for mitigating the spread and the impact of Covid-19. I can only say I am a Catholic, and I have just described my worship theologically as “logical.” My sacramental worship is in accord with both body-and-soul, and faith-and-reason; and I know well how the celebration of the sacraments of Christ both demands the “risk” of physical proximity and even physical contact, and also benefits of realizing that many minor practices and accidents of my worship can change in these circumstances. It is the whole of my life that must be my worship of God, not just this hymn or that hymn at church. I have near unlimited freedoms and flexibility, but also an “absolutely non-negotiable.” I shall never give up the essence of what Christ has given me in the sacraments, for in a real sense, they are Christ himself, first in his mystical body, and then at the source and summit, in his physical Body, his resurrected Flesh!
By faith I assent to the proposition that “my” worship at Church started when holy water was poured over my infant heard. And I assent with firmness of intellect that my worship has found its most perfect expression, and fullness of power, when I come to hold the divine Body and Blood of God in my hands, and consume Him into my corporeal existence.
It is a mystery that rests on the authoritative interpretation of the facts of miracles. The “reason” of my worship is not found by going mad over theological explanations of miracles. I can point out the miracles, but I cannot encompass the infinite deductions needed to reconcile the skeptics with the facts, except by accepting them as facts.
The “reason” of my worship is found in the logical extension of accepting miracles as facts, and trying live in this world according to those facts. For those who do not accept the miracle of the Eucharist, with the thousands of attendant miracles around it, they can only see my life and call it “hypothetical worship.” The kind skeptic may say “if Jesus Chris were God, perhaps your Christian morality and actions would all make sense.” To this I reply, “yes, if Jesus Christ is God, then the extension of his gifts to the whole of my life makes sense, does it not?”
The sacraments consecrate us for service to God. And we hardly give God anything at all when we worship. It is He who gives us much more than we can imagine. All that we give him in the reception of the sacraments is our love… by which, in the sacrament, we give the intention of a life of service. But our love is disingenuous if the intended offering, of a life of service, is not lived out in every aspect of every minute of every day. To the extent that an aspect of my life is not reasonable service to God, we disrespect the sacraments. The only option for the Catholic Christian apart from worship, is sin.
As a Catholic my worship is not fideistic, it is sacramental. I cannot divide my freedom of worship from my freedom of religion. But lest people misinterpret that statement, let them know they will never understand either of those freedoms as I understand them, without comprehending the logic of the sacraments.