Making Mass More Meaningful

“Let us give thanks to the Lord, our God.”
“It is right and just.” – from the dialogue of the Preface at Mass

As a pastor, one of the things I often ponder and pray about is Sunday Mass attendance. It is one of the primary “barometers” I look at to gauge the health of the Church. A key paragraph from the Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, explains why: “… the liturgy is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; at the same time it is the fountain from which all her power flows. For the goal of apostolic works is that all who are made sons of God by faith and baptism should come together to praise God in the midst of His Church, to take part in her sacrifice, and to eat the Lord’s supper” (n. 10). In other words, everything in the life of the Church is directed toward the celebration of the Sacred Liturgy at Mass, and all God’s power (His life and grace) flow from it to us. It is truly the “source and summit” of the Christian life.

So, why would someone choose to absent themselves from Mass?

In my pondering, I suspect that essentially, many don’t realize what Mass is. My theory is based on conversations and observations over time. For example, one can often hear reasons such as, “I don’t get much out of it,” “it bores me,” or “I can pray and feel close to God without going to church.” While statements like this may subjectively have an element of truth to them, they reveal a basic lack of awareness of what Divine worship in general, and the Mass in particular, are about.

In my estimation, one way to address this important pastoral situation is to pay more attention to a particular gift of the Holy Spirit—piety. Often misunderstood, piety is the gift of the Holy Spirit that moves us to worship the Living God. Most people think of piety in an overly simplified and sentimental way. Sometimes we even speak of it negatively, as for example, “don’t be so pious!” We might come to think of piety merely as some outward display of religiosity which may or may not be realistic or authentic.

Instead, piety rightly understood is about rendering justice. Bishop Robert Barron explains that piety is a substantial virtue related to justice in that the pious person seeks to give God His due, what is owed to Him. And what might God be owed? Worship through thanks, praise, adoration, and love. God is owed all these things because first, He brought us into existence, and second, He gave Himself up unto death to redeem us. As creatures we owe God … big-time! That is God’s due, and in fact, we come right out and say that within the Mass at the beginning of the Preface, during the dialogue between the priest and the people. The priest says at the final part, “Let us give thanks to the Lord our God,” and the people respond, “It is right and just.” Indeed, it is right and just, for we creatures owe God, our Creator and our Redeemer.

The Holy Eucharist is the God-given means for human beings to worship God perfectly. Because the Mass was handed on to us by Christ Himself, with the command to “do this,” it is the preferred way that God desires for us to worship Him. While it is true we can worship God individually and personally anytime and anywhere, the Mass is unique and specified by God as the perfect, and therefore the best, way to worship God.

The Mass far exceeds any other form of worship because it is mysteriously the action of Christ Himself—it is His self-offering to the Father together with His members, those of us who have been incorporated into Christ through baptism. We participate as His members primarily by joining ourselves to Christ in the self-offering. And, one must be present at Mass to participate.

True piety helps us to see that the primary purpose for attending Mass is not so that “I can get something out of it,” but rather, that I can give something to God which is His due. When this becomes our primary purpose (interestingly enough) we end up “getting more” out of Mass.

This is not to say that our being personally fed and nourished at Mass is not important; it is. Our liturgies should be beautiful; the homily should apply the Word of God to our lives. We should experience the friendship and love of the community gathered. But these things flow from our first and most important reason to be there—to worship God in the way He desires.

+ Bishop James V. Johnston, Jr.

Catholic Key, June 8, 2018 issue

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