Christ-centric, not Man-centric

Mass

One of the many things I love about Catholicism is that in our liturgy, in our worship, in our Sacraments, the focus is on Christ, not on the man at the front of the church.

In evangelical Christianity especially, there’s such a tendency to build up a cult of personality around a popular and well-liked preacher, and have that person be the reason one comes to or remains in a church; for one to leave the church when the pastor leaves, or go to a new church because they don’t “like” the new guy’s preaching or style. Now, I have to tread lightly here: because I know that Catholics can be just as guilty of this kind of thinking. Maybe I am drawing a false distinction here. But I do believe there is an essential difference.

In evangelical churches, the focus is so much on the preacher or pastor — on his preaching, on his teaching, on his leadership. Because personal preaching and teaching — sermons — are the highlight, the greater part of a Protestant service. One of the main reasons people go to church is to hear the sermon.

On the other hand, at a Catholic Mass, no one claims that the priest’s homily is the highlight of the Mass or the reason why ones goes. The homily, though it may be insightful and edifying, is merely an exposition and commentary on the Scripture readings. The highlight of the Mass is the Eucharist — the sacrifice of Christ for all of humanity, the presentation of His Body and Blood to the Father, the sharing of Communion with Him and with all of His people. The focus is on the liturgy (λειτουργία, leitourgia, public service) — not just the actions of the priest before God, but the participation of all the people. The words of the liturgy are powerful and efficacious in themselves; it is not the priest in himself who makes them so.* No matter where I go, no matter who is celebrating the Mass, no matter if I personally like the man, it is the same Mass. Because Catholics believe that the priest who ministers the Sacrament steps aside completely, that he ministers in persona Christi, in the person of Christ. He fades from the scene so that it is actually Christ before us who ministers.

* It does have to be a priest who says them!

Now, there is a fine distinction here. We Catholics can certainly like our pastors and find their leadership and teaching and personality important! In more concentrated dioceses, I am sure there is a tendency for some to pick a parish based on whether one likes the priest there. There is also a tendency in some dioceses, I gather, to diminish the role of the priest as the shepherd of his flock, and to shuffle around a priest between parishes often as if the connections he makes are not important. They are. But my point is this, that the priest is not the parish; he is not the center of gravity. The center is Christ, much more than I’ve experienced in evangelical churches.

2 thoughts on “Christ-centric, not Man-centric

  1. As a Protestant, I would agree that there are sometimes ‘celebrity preachers’ in certain churches. It’s unfortunate, and is often a result of unbiblical practices within those churches… such as being ‘seeker sensitive’ or the service mainly being about entertainment rather than worship. As a Reformed Evangelical, I would join you in condemning these things.

    However, the immaturity of a congregant (or congregation) isn’t always the result of the pastor’s actions. If they just preach God’s word, they can’t be held accountable for the foolishness of others.

    Paul

    • I agree. I’m not faulting the preachers for being popular. If they preach the truth, they will draw a crowd. I have such mixed feelings about large churches. On one hand, a large congregation can do great works for the Lord when they unite in action. On the other, it makes it very hard for the sheep to be individually fed.

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