How does the Mass compete?
The scenes from World Youth Day in Poland give hope that all is not lost. There is still a zeal for the Faith among young Catholics. Yet whenever I gather with other Catholic mothers of grown children there is always a sad story of a child who has left the Church. During one of these conversations a mother spoke of her daughter, “She says she doesn’t get anything out of Mass. She goes to Protestant services and they are so entertaining. How do I answer that?”
Unfortunately, I am not very quick on my feet with replies so all I could do was offer my sympathy and prayers. But the question nagged at me. How should a parent respond to that question? How does the typical Catholic Mass compete with dynamic motivational speakers and rousing praise music?
The Mass is about Him
The answer is, “It is not about you. It is about Him.” If we look at the Mass as a concert or a Jesus pep rally we are going to be disappointed. If we want to slide into our pew and be passively entertained for an hour then we do not understand the reality of the Mass. We do not come to Mass on Sunday for happy-clappy toe-tapping choruses. Nor should we be expecting self-esteem lifting pop psychology. The purpose of the Mass is not even to experience those warm fuzzies of Christian fellowship. We come to Mass to transcend our earthly bonds and physically experience Christ. His Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity become tangibly present in our midst through the Eucharist.
Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, the future Pope Benedict XVI, pointed out in his book The Spirit of the Liturgy that the real action of the Mass is the Eucharistic Prayer:
This is what is new and distinctive about the Christian liturgy: God himself acts and does what is essential. He inaugurates the new creation, makes himself accessible to us, so that, through the things of the earth, through our gifts we can communicate with him in a personal way. (p. 173)
There is no musician or dynamic speaker who can top that.
To Serve and Not Be Served
Many years ago the laity spoke not of attending Mass, but of assisting at Mass. Christ will be present on the altar whether or not we are in the pews. We are there to assist the priest with our prayers and participation as he offers the sacrifice of the Mass. We are there to serve, not to be served. Our reward is that we have the opportunity to share in the Real Presence and be nourished by His Body.
Few people memorize the Baltimore Catechism these days, but it is still a useful resource in explaining Church teachings. In particular, Question 6 helps put our relationship to God and the Mass in perspective:
Q: Why did God make you?
A: God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him forever in heaven.
Here on earth our mission is to know God, to love God, and to serve God. We are created for eternal happiness, but this joy awaits us in Heaven. If we approach the Mass with this in mind, the Mass is awe inspiring and mesmerizing.
Knowing and Loving God
First we are to know God. To know God we must be spend time with Him. Like Martha’s sister Mary, we sit and listen. We get to Mass early enough to settle our hearts in His presence. We hear His voice through the Scripture and through the reflections offered in the homily. No matter how familiar we are with the prayers and readings, we should try to open our minds to a new insight or a new understanding of the words. This is not necessarily a soothing experience. Living the Christian life is a challenge. Christ offers us a cross, not a featherbed. But knowing God also means trusting God. There is no cross that Christ does not carry with us.
We are called to love God. In the Gospel of John, Christ says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). This does not mean that we follow without thinking. It means that if we love God, we will align our will with His. Jesus taught us to pray “Thy will be done,” not “my will be done.” God commands us to keep the Sabbath holy. If we are aligning our will with the will of God we will make Mass a priority.
Is there anything in this world that is so important that it trumps spending time with our Lord? The very first commandment is, “I am the Lord thy God, who brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt not have strange gods before me” (Exodus 20:2-3 DRA; cf. Deuteronomy 5:6-7) When we choose sporting events, vacations, or just sleeping in over going to Mass, we have made these activities strange Gods and placed them ahead of the one Lord.
The Mass prepares us to serve
Finally, we are called to serve God. Christ commands us to “go and make disciples”. We cannot make disciples unless we are first disciples ourselves. Therefore, we must place Christ and His Church at the center of our lives and let everything radiate outwards from that. At the heart of this is Christ in the Eucharist. As the fathers of Vatican II proclaimed:
Taking part in the Eucharistic sacrifice, which is the fount and apex of the whole Christian life, they offer the Divine Victim to God, and offer themselves along with It. Thus both by reason of the offering and through Holy Communion all take part in this liturgical service, not indeed, all in the same way but each in that way which is proper to himself. Strengthened in Holy Communion by the Body of Christ, they then manifest in a concrete way that unity of the people of God which is suitably signified and wondrously brought about by this most august sacrament. (Lumen Gentium § 11)
Through the Mass, we now more deeply know God, love God, and can serve God. When we hear the final dismissal at Mass, we are ready to go in peace and glorify the Lord with our lives.