Sacraments Not Sermons: Donald Miller and the Need for Mass

don millerI love a good book. Sadly I haven’t read a great book in awhile, but I will tell you that Donald Miller’s Blue Like Jazz is absolutely one of my favourites. Donald Miller is now newly married in his 40s, but has written a number of fantastic best selling books and has built a strong career around trying to help others. In his works, Miller reflects a lot on what it is like to be a Christian (or a Christ-Follower in his terms), in the midst of the current culture. Donald’s theology seems to stem from his protestant,”emergent”, and evangelical church experiences over the years. He recently admitted in his blog, however, that he has stopped going to “church” with any regularity. What I am about to say may shock some of you, however, I believe he is doing the right thing. The truth is that although faith comes by hearing, there is more to the real Christian life than words and sermons, and this has certainly been understood well before the Protestant Reformation was even a twinkling in Martin Luther’s eye.

In a recent interview  done with the emergent church’s seemingly official magazine, Relevant (video below), Donald Miller describes how his admittance about his lack of church attendance has caused scandal among his fans and how it breaks his heart. He did not expect the uproar it received.  In looking at his reasoning for no longer attending “church”, I have to admit that I found myself nodding in agreement with him, having myself been in a similar place before. There is, however, one major difference between Donald Miller and I.

francis chanIn his interview with Relevant, he talks about his trouble with accepting the church as a scholarly body, that was seemingly “born out of the printing press.” Like many protestants, his historical understanding of the Church spans from the Reformation to today, with a very basic understanding of the church seen in the book of Acts. There is a 1500 year gap that is ignored by most protestants (including Miller), because they believe they have progressed beyond it and really started learning what it is to live the Christian life. They believe that what the Apostles had was lost until the Reformation. St. Paul tells the Romans (10:17), that “faith comes by hearing”, and you better believe that protestants work to make you hear, because to them it is by faith alone (Sola Fide) that we are saved.

This, however, has left Donald Miller and I’m sure many others feeling disconnected. “There is only one way to learn in a Sunday Service”, Miller said in the interview, describing his struggles. He longs for real community, but he says that, “community is not 200 people facing forward and hearing a lecture.” That is very true! There is something more to the real Church than singing songs and hearing sermons. Donald Miller is, therefore, fully justified when he says that a protestant church service is “not the most efficient use of his time.” There is, however, something waiting for him, much older than the Reformation, beginning with Christ Himself, that would satisfy the very longings of his heart if only he would tap into it.

holy-mass-jpgDonald Miller needs the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. I am not talking the happy, clappy, neo-modernist style Masses that pervades much of the West. I am talking about a truly reverent Roman Catholic Mass, in the midst of a community that really believes in what is happening on the Altar.  Instead of being entertained, he needs to be immersed into the Sacred Mysteries. Instead of being taught, he needs to be united with the priest while offering the greatest Sacrifice of praise history has ever seen, namely, the once for all paschal sacrifice of Christ, re-presented in an unbloody fashion on the altar in the hands of a priest.

Jesus tells us in Mark’s Gospel that, “The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath”. Unlike Protestant services that could hinge upon a hard hitting sermon, or a great musically engineered time of praise and worship, or even a good “liturgy”, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass solely relies on two things: God and a priest. As long as there is a validly ordained Catholic priest, Jesus becomes present Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity, and it is Jesus Himself, through the priest, who performs the action of the Mass. Mass does not require that you learn anything. Mass does not even require your participation to work. Jesus does the acting. We, however, can enter into that mystery if we choose, and it is in that entering into the Mass that Donald Miller, like all of us, would find what he is truly looking for.

We were designed for Sacraments and not sermons. Donald Miller has become fed up with being entertained and force-fed teaching in protestant Christianity and so he has essentially chosen, because he can, to just not attend. Donald stated that he loves community. Mass doesn’t provide community in the mere sense of the word, but it truly provides communion; communion with God physically dwelling in us through the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, and because of our communion with Christ the head, we are then mystically united to the rest of the Body, His Church. This cannot be found in a Sunday BBQ where you pow wow about Jesus. This is only possible when Christ unites Himself to His bride through the sacrament of His Love, bottom line.

What protestantism lacks (especially the evangelical emergent church), beyond the Fullness of Truth, is a fully human experience. The typical Sunday service in an evangelical church may appeal to your sense of vision (lights, videos, dramas etc), hearing (music), your intellect (sermon), and perhaps, if you’re lucky, you may have an emotional experience during prayer. I am not downplaying honest conversions that happen in these protestant churches, but there are those who go seeking a touchy-feely experience, not simply in protestant churches, but everywhere. As the Catholic Church is sacramental, on the flip side, the Mass itself appeals to every single human sense there is. I feel the Extraordinary Form (or Traditional Latin Mass) exemplifies this the best. Here are some of the ways the Mass engages us in a fully human way:

Padre-Pio-Matrimonio-The Mass engages your sense of sight as you see the actions occur around the altar.
-You hear the chants and the bells.
-The scent of the incense burning and rising before the altar fills your nostrils.
-Holy water being splashed upon you, reminding you of your baptism.
-The humble taste of bread, knowing that it is no longer bread, but God Himself.

What Donald Miller needs is the Catholic Church in its entirety, most especially the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. In his interview, he lamented that pastors did not commission their congregations to go home and act as a domestic church. He wished everyone could be a pastor. As Catholics, we understand that our baptism baptises us into the three-fold mission of Christ as priest, prophet, and king. Although we are not all necessarily part of the ordained priesthood, we are way more than just a pastor. Miller, like protestantism in general, will never be able to see this until he breaks the time-wall of the reformation and looks at the Church for the first 1500 years of Christianity. Blessed John Henry Newman, a famous convert to Catholicism states that, “To be deep in history is to cease to be Protestant.”

I believe that any believer, whether Catholic or not, who truly loves God would desire not only to be united to Him, but to see that He is adored to the fullest extent possible. To enter into the Mass means to be united with the greatest act of love God the Father could ever receive, which is the sacrifice of His only Son. No amount of sermons or extended times of praise will amount to one iota before the great sacrifice of Christ. This sacrifice of Christ made present in the Holy Mass is something the Apostles understood and loved as they gathered in the cenacle every Sunday. The early Church defended this very Sacrament while hiding in the catacombs. It is the very same thing today. If the veil could be taken away, and everyone could see the Mass as it really is, you would not be able to contain the numbers of people who would come seeking the Bread of Life. Faith may come by hearing, but what good is faith if you starve to death looking for food that will not satisfy. It’s time for the feast.


Here is the interview with Donald Miller:


About catholichris

Catholic. Married. Secular Discalced Carmelite. Hipster. Foodie. Board Game Aficionado. Beard.

Posted on March 2, 2014, in Apologetics, Catholic, Christian Music, Communion, Current Events, Emergent Church, Eschatology, eucharist, Eucharistic Spirituality, Extraordinary Form, faith, Interview, Love, Priesthood, Protestantism and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Great post. I think you should forward this on to Mr. Miller himself – it may be just what he needs to hear!

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