Let me entertain you/ let me make you smile. / let me do a few tricks, / some old and then some new tricks/ I’m very versatile!/ And if you’re real good/ I’ll make you feel good/ I want your spirits to climb!/ So let me entertain you/ And we’ll have a real good time, yes sir!/ We’ll have a real good time!.
–”Let Me Entertain You”, Gypsy (lyrics by Stephen Sondheim)
I thought of these lyrics as I got off the interstate today and braked at the stoplight. All along the curving offramp were white and blue signs with “WIN A FREE CAR!”and “Easter 10:30″, plus the name of a local megachurch. The message was: Come to church, and you could win a CAR!
Insert eye roll here.
Part of me understands that you catch more flies with honey: sometimes, radical things are needed to get people to church. And I suppose the hope is that the service will be so awesome that these people will come back, sans car raffle, week after week. Thus, the congregation grows, and more people are brought to Jesus. Right?
This is a nice theory. But I don’t think it works.
The problem is in the “entertainment” factor. Catholics tried this back in the 70s and 80s with horrible hymns and guitar strumming and even–God help us!– “liturgical dance.” People began to look at church as a way to be “entertained”, and Mass was evaluated by what people got from it.
There’s a pretty huge thing Catholics “get from it” every week: The Body of Christ! Right there! On the altar, in the tabernacle, in the hands of the priest–and finally, in our very bodies, as we consume it. That’s a pretty great reason to go to Mass! It’s also being part of the Body of Christ, the larger community of believers, where we are built up and supported in our faith. (In theory. I’ve been in a lot of bickering church committee meetings, and I can tell you, some people aren’t very Christian when dealing with Christianity. But we’re a fallen people so that happens.)
I guess megachurches need the fancy because they don’t have what we have : God Incarnate in Bread and Wine, ready to be received by us! Not even angels have such an honor. But we still feel the urge to make it awesome, to make it important, and relevant, and all that jazz.
I admit, my attention has wandered in church. Sometimes, I don’t want to be there. Sometimes, I’m lackluster. But I always know that the primary purpose of Mass isn’t entertainment. It’s to commune with my God. It’s for worshipping Him, not entertaining me.
A lot of churches seem to have lost that point. They offer classes, communal meals, flashy speakers and high-tech sound systems. The music is electrified and more rock-and-roll than Thomas Aquinas. Everything is flashy and modern and new!
There’s nothing wrong with using the modes of modern communication to convey Christ’s message. I’m a Dominican, so we use any and all methods to bring God to people, to, in the words of one of our mottos “praise, bless, preach” the message of Jesus Christ.
But the Mass….that is solemn, sacred, intimate worship. And we’re not there to be entertained. We’re there to give thanks and worship God.
And isn’t eternal life with Him better than a car, anyway?