Why I Go to Mass

Dear Readers,

If you ever wondered why to go to Mass, read the following:


Out of the mouth of babes comes perfect praise.

One goes to Mass not because one is good, but because one is not.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, have mercy on me a sinner!

It’s precisely the same problem of failure to recognize weakness that goes into many types of “liberation theologies” (my ossified Thomist mind puts “theologies” in quotations because it cannot grasp the possibility of multiplicity in the science of sacred doctrine). Other people will claim things about Jesus: He just comes to change our mindsets! He comes to show us the perfect communist revolutionary!

The problem with all of those is that they ignore the elephant in the room: sin. Original sin, to be precise.

We Catholics do not believe it destroys human nature (contra to Calvin/Luther/Protestantism), but that it seriously wounds nature. Nevertheless, that wounding is a real wound which all of the above “theologies” fail to take into account. Instead, with Pelagius, they say we’ve just had bad examples.

Too many Republicans have been in power, or too many of the bourgeouis, or too many of the religious right, or too many stuck in the “capitalist-totaliarian” machine, etc. etc. That’s why Marxism still hasn’t worked. That’s why my political theory hasn’t yet created a utopia. That’s why I don’t need God.

But it’s never a question of whether the revolutionaries themselves are sinners.

We are all sinners and prone to sin, even if never actually committing sin. We believe, as Catholics, that you CAN avoid sin some of the time and do good things without God’s sanctifying help. But it’s VERY hard, really impossible, for any person to keep themselves unstained by the world for any significant length of time without God’s help.

Instead, we cannot do anything supernaturally good without God’s grace. And even when we cooperate with it (we, as Catholics, firmly believe that God cooperates with us in saving us), it is wholly God’s work through and through.

So, if you ever wondered why I go to Mass (or confession), the answer is simple:

Because I’m not stupid enough to think I’m perfect.


Yours in Christ,

Br. James Dominic, OP

  1. #1 by Mike Wells on March 3, 2011 - 8:22 pm

    Excellent. I’m often railing against communism because the basic principle seems to be “I know what’s best for all.” Its interesting to see how that same sentiment is interpreted through theology as “I am not a sinner.”

  2. #2 by Erin Hammond on March 4, 2011 - 10:54 am

    James Dominic –
    While there are certainly faults and criticisms of different liberation theologies, to lump all alternative methods of theology into one generalized category hardly does them justice. Each attempt to do theology – whether feminist (gasp) or liberationist – seeks to approach Revelation and Tradition with the eyes of a different believer (or group of believers). It is hardly fair to say that they do not take sin into account. I wish I was better versed on this topic, but I believe that there is much discussion of social sin especially – because the aim is to look at systems that keep the poor oppressed.

    Okay. Just wanted to help you distinguish… because I am perfect 😉

    • #3 by stmichael71 on March 4, 2011 - 11:54 am

      I said “many types of ‘liberation theologies'” to intentionally distinguish liberation theology that more adequately takes into account sin and human weakness. I don’t know of any that do that, but I’m open to the possibility. Social sin is precisely an attempt to foist individual responsibility away to a collective. For those kinds of liberation theologians, it isn’t my sin, but society’s sin. Thus, we just need a better social policy, VIVA LA REVOLUCION, to make everything alright. Notice too that they often think they can bring about the Kingdom of God through their own efforts – that’s precisely a denial of human sin.
      My statements are virtually a paraphrase of the CDF’s Instruction Concerning Certain Aspects of Theologies of Liberation:
      “14. Consequently, the full ambit of sin, whose first effect is to introduce disorder into the relationship between God and man, cannot be restricted to “social sin.” The truth is that only a correct doctrine of sin will permit us to insist on the gravity of its social effects.

      15. Nor can one localize evil principally or uniquely in bad social, political, or economic “structures” as though all other evils came from them so that the creation of the “new man” would depend on the establishment of different economic and socio- political structures. To be sure, there are structures which are evil and which cause evil and which we must have the courage to change. Structures, whether they are good or bad, are the result of man’s actions and so are consequences more than causes. The root of evil, then, lies in free and responsible persons who have to be converted by the grace of Jesus Christ in order to live and act as new creatures in the love of neighbor and in the effective search for justice, self-control, and the exercise of virtue. [13] To demand first of all a radical revolution in social relations and then to criticize the search for personal perfection is to set out on a road which leads to the denial of the meaning of the person and his transcendence, and to destroy ethics and its foundation which is the absolute character of the distinction between good and evil. Moreover, since charity is the principle of authentic perfection, that perfection cannot be conceived without an openness to others and a spirit of service” (section IV).

      As to alternative methods of theology, the grounds for the existence of feminist or liberation “theologies” could be accounted for in two ways:

      Either, as you say, theology is based in insights into the same truth from different relative positions (man, woman, Southern American, black, etc.). But then theology is not a science (contra the Church). At most, we’d have something like a collection of individual narratives. And then that’s all it would be, and the number of “theologies” would be infinitely particular (we need to have a “story” for how EVERY SINGLE PERSON encounters God). For sciences, there is no such thing as Irish mathematics (it’s just not relevant if the Irish person discovers math by counting beer bottles). At most, on this account of theology, you might get something like a meta-narrative.

      Or, as I would see it, theology is a unitary science whose object is God and whose principles are the articles of faith. Liberation or feminist “theology” would be an attempt, using related skills like sociology or rhetoric, to explain the truths discovered in the science to a particular group of people. One thus constructs a narrative from the truths of faith as perceived by a particular group and uses another science to discover how best to present the faith (the conclusions of “theology” proper) to the group. Thus, feminist theology is only “theology” equivocally, as some form of constructing narratives inclusive of women’s voices. That’s not to say it’s good OR bad; it’s just to say it’s not a science. We might still need it (and I think we do need it in some form).

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