Let’s not take the Liturgy for granted

Every year the second reading in the “Office of Readings” for the Memorial of St. Charles Borromeo challenges me. It is from a sermon he gave. He uses the example of a priest, but this is a challenge for anyone really:

“(A) priest complains that as soon as he comes into church to pray the office or to celebrate Mass, a thousand thoughts fill his mind and distract him from God. But what was he doing before he came out for the office or for Mass? How did he prepare? What means did he use to collect his thoughts and to remain recollected?”

A couple of other statements that I hear a lot can be added to these: “I just don’t get anything out of going to Mass” or “It’s boring.”

These questions and statements remind us of the importance of preparing for our participation at Mass. This preparation involves reflecting on what is going to happen and meditation on the message of the Scriptures. This allows us to be more involved in the celebration of the Eucharist.

I use that wording on purpose. Everyone who walks into church for Mass has a role to play in its celebration. If a parish’s Liturgy is vibrant, energetic and Spiritually uplifting, it is because all those present (priest, servers, lectors, congregation) actively participated. If I didn’t spend time preparing the homily, looking over the texts and taking time to prepare myself to preside at Mass, you would know it. In addition, the Church teaches “in order for that the Liturgy may be able to produce its full effects, it is necessary that the faithful come to it with proper dispositions” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, No. 11). 

Now, I understand that saying we need to prepare for Mass and actually doing it are two different things. I don’t think any of us just don’t care. I think the reality is our lives are perhaps chaotic before we arrive. There are a million and one things on our mind, very real stresses and concerns, challenges getting younger children focused and ready, etc. The issue remains though, for Mass to truly be effective in our lives, we need to be open to the graces available and to do that we need to be properly disposed. 

I can only offer suggestions. The solution is going to be borne out of trial and error, will perhaps change over time and is different for each person and family.

First, the readings are accessible long before the weekend. You can find the listing for next Sunday’s readings in this week’s Anchor. In addition, the readings can be found online at U.S. bishops’ website (www.usccb.org). There are also apps like iMissal which you can get on your smart phone. Throughout the week, find a few minutes to read over the readings. Perhaps take a line with you to reflect on during the week. Before heading to Mass, take a moment to read the line once again. This could work also with daily Mass.

Each week Father Robert Barron offers a podcast on the readings for the upcoming Sunday. This can be found at www.wordonfire.org. Each podcast is about 10 or 12 minutes and provides some great insights and practical applications of the readings.

On the way to Mass, perhaps it would be helpful to have a conversation about where you are going and what happens at Mass. It is an opportunity to hear God’s Word, to be in His presence as well as to celebrate and give thanks for all God has given us. After Mass, on the drive home, the conversation could be what each person heard. 

Finally, as difficult as it may be, spending a few minutes in quiet before the start of Mass is very important. There are some (who are able) who arrive for Mass a half hour early for quiet prayer and meditation. Others can only manage a few minutes, or perhaps moments. This time is critical to focus on what is about to happen and to prepare yourself to participate in the hymns, prayers and meditation that is about to occur.

We have a great privilege to be able to participate in the Divine Liturgy. Let’s be sure not to take this for granted and help one another offer worthy praise and thanksgiving to God.

Anchor columnist Father Frederici is pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish in Pocasset and diocesan director of Campus Ministry and Chaplain at UMass Dartmouth and Bristol Community College.

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