|Christmas Midnight Mass, St Sebastian Parish, Woodside NY 2008|
Lex orandi lex credendi. It's a simple Latin motto, and loosely translated it says: "the law of praying [is] the law of believing." In other words, it means how you pray will determine how you believe. That is to say, the way you pray literally affects the way you believe.
This may seem counterintuitive to most of us. We tend to think that our beliefs shape our prayer life, but 2,000 years of Christian history have taught us otherwise. It's actually the exact opposite. Prayer becomes a form of teaching (catechesis). This is why Catholics use liturgy, which comes from the Greek and means "work of the people." Liturgy is a form of public worship, and it's specifically defined so that our beliefs are formed by the words we pray and the actions we make during mass. All of it is a form of catechesis; the words, the gestures, the music, literally everything.
So to become Catholic, you've got to start praying like one. That's the key.
The highest form of prayer is the mass. So that means you'll need to start attending one. You don't need to join the Catholic Church yet. Anyone can go to mass. The only thing you need to abstain from (until you become Catholic) is holy communion. So that means when everyone else is going up for communion, you simply remain in the pew. This is one reason why I recommend sitting at the back of the chapel, so it's easier for you to do this. Or, if you prefer, you can go up to receive a blessing while everyone else is receiving communion. This is done by simply crossing your arms across your chest, in the manner shown below, when you approach the priest or the minister of Holy Communion...
When the priest or minister sees this sign, he will know to give you a blessing rather than holy communion. Once the blessing is given, you may make the sign of the cross (if you know how) and then return to your seat the same way everyone else is going. This is all very common. Frequently, even Catholics will use this sign to receive a blessing when they don't believe they're properly disposed to receive communion.
So the mass (also called "Divine Liturgy") consists of two parts. The first part is the Liturgy of the Word, and this mirrors the Jewish synagogue service. It consists of some opening prayers, the reading of the Scriptures, a homily (sermon), followed by a profession of faith (the creed). The second part of the mass is called the Liturgy of the Eucharist, and this mirrors a simplified Jewish Passover Seder. It consists of payers, washings by the priest, the blessing of bread and wine, followed by more prayers, a consecration, and the distribution of the elements of holy communion.
Regular attendance at mass, even if you're not Catholic, is a great way to become Catholic, because the mass itself will teach you what being Catholic means. In fact, you can't really become Catholic unless you're already attending mass. That's how important liturgical catechesis is. We learn through prayer.
So once you've decided to go to mass, the next question will be: what kind of mass do you want to attend? As I said in Part I, there are many different forms of the mass. The Eastern Catholic liturgies are rare in the West, so I'll focus on just the Western Roman Catholic liturgies here.
The Roman Rite contains three forms of the mass...
The first form is the Vetus Ordo which means "old order." This is the old Latin mass. This mass was formulated at the Council of Trent in the late 16th century, and it's a synthesis of variations of the Roman Rite leading up until that time. It's not all in Latin. The homily (sermon) is usually in the vernacular (common languages), and sometimes the readings are too. But the liturgical parts of the mass are entirely in Latin. It may surprise you to learn that the Vetus Ordo is enjoying a bit of resurgence in popularity, with scores of young Catholics returning to it in recent years.
The Vetus Ordo Mass
The second form of the mass is the Novus Ordo which means "new order." This is the form of the mass that was created in 1970 and is usually celebrated entirely in the vernacular languages. The original text is in Latin, but it's rare to see it celebrated that way. Most of the time it's translated into vernacular languages and celebrated that way. This is also the most popular form of the mass as of 2018, and it is celebrated literally everywhere.
The Novus Ordo Mass
The third form of the mass is Divine Worship, and this is a special type of mass that is specific to English culture and heritage. It comes from the Anglican Patrimony and was originally designed for Anglicans that converted to the Catholic Church. However, it has since gained popularity among regular lifelong Catholics and is growing throughout the UK, US, Canada and Australia.
The Divine Worship Mass
If you're reading this then English is probably your native language. If so, I would highly recommend plugging into a Divine Worship Mass somewhere. See this map for locations. If nothing is available in your area, then I would advise choosing between a Novus Ordo and/or Vetus Ordo mass. You can easily find these in the yellow pages of your phone book or by going to MassTimes.Org.
The next thing you might want to do is begin a recitation of the office. The office, like the mass, comes to us from ancient Jewish tradition. In the Old Testament, psalms were regularly chanted in the Temple at certain times of the day. These were combined with prayers for the people. In the New Testament, we read about the apostles going to the Temple at certain times of the day to pray. When they left Jerusalem, to spread the gospel around the world, they took this tradition with them, and they gathered together the psalms and prayers for regular recitation by Christians abroad. Members of the clergy (priests, bishops and deacons) are required to say the office no less than twice a day -- Morning and Evening Prayer -- while laity (non-ordained Christians) have no such obligation, but they are welcome to join in as they wish.
The office is a perfect example of lex orandi lex credendi, and it's a way our faith is shaped and formed through regular prayer. This can be done in your own home, alone or with your family, as you see fit. Like the mass, the office has three forms.
There is a Vetus Ordo form of the office. It's called the Breviary. It's entirely in Latin, but a vernacular translation is often provided for the laity. If the clergy recite this form of the office, they must do so in Latin, but the laity have the option of Latin or vernacular. An online version of the Breviary can be found here.
There is also the Novus Ordo form of the office. It's called The Liturgy of the Hours. It's basically a simplified version of the Breviary but is specifically geared toward the laity (non-ordained Christians). That being the case, it is most commonly provided in vernacular translations. An original Latin version does exist, of course, but it's rather had to come by. This is the most common form of the office usually celebrated by both clergy and laity worldwide. An online version of The Liturgy of the Hours can be found here.
Likewise, there is also the Divine Worship form of the office. It's called simply the Daily Office. This is a form of the same office (as above) but as taught by English heritage and Anglican Patrimony. It's specifically geared for English-speaking people. Revitation of the Daily Office is an integral part of the Anglican Patrimony for both clergy and laity together. An online version of the Daily Office can be found here.
To become Catholic you must begin praying like a Catholic. Minimally, this will involve regular attendance at mass. While you will not be able to receive communion until you are officially made a member of the Church, you are more than welcome to attend and participate in the liturgy as much as you like. Furthermore, you are even welcome to come to the front of the Church in the communion line to receive a blessing instead of communion. If English is your native language, it is highly recommended that you seek a Divine Worship mass provided by the Anglican Patrimony Ordinariate (see here). However, if such a mass is not available to you, it's advised that you seek a Vetus Ordo or Novus Ordo mass.
Praying like a Catholic also means recitation of the office. You're not required to, but if you really want to experience the full formation of lex orandi lex credendi, it is highly recommended that you do. The Divine Worship form of the Daily Office makes this easy, as you can listen in to the office recited online twice daily by people really praying the office all over North America (see here).
There are other prayers and devotions common to Catholics as well. These are known as "private devotions," meaning that while some of them may be extremely popular, they're not part of the official liturgical prayer of the Catholic Church. Among these include such things as The Holy Rosary (extremely popular), The Chaplet of Devine Mercy, The Stations of the Cross, etc. For instructions on how to do these private devotions, feel free to explore the links as you wish...
In my next essay, I'll walk you through some of the steps one can expect when actually joining the Catholic Church.
Shane Schaetzel is an author of Catholic books and a columnist for Christian print magazines and online publications. He is a freelance writer and the creator of 'CatholicInTheOzarks.com.' Your support is what makes essays like this possible. This essay and all of Shane's Internet resources come to you (ad-free) thanks to the generosity of benefactors. Please consider becoming a benefactor.
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