The seven habits of highly effective Mass-goers

Not a piece specifically for parents, but a tremendously helpful piece  for any Catholic on how to truly participate in the mass. By David Philippart, used with permission from U.S. Catholic magazine

 Have you ever tried to have a conversation with someone who won’t respond? Or tried to dance with someone who won’t move? What would happen if the outfielders just stood there and stared as the ball was hit deep into center?

In all of these situations, the participation of each person is necessary for the event to be successful. We admit the outfielder that won’t run and catch has little right to complain about the score. You can’t complain if you didn’t try. And the better you become at the task, the greater your satisfaction.

Believe it or not, this is true of liturgy, too. In one sense, you take from the liturgy what you put into it. (In another sense, all the good that comes from the liturgy is a pure gift from God.) When you participate in the liturgy fully, consciously, and actively, you benefit more from it.

Sure, sometimes you’ll be bored. Sometimes you’ll just go through the motions… that’s human nature. And it’s not a problem when it’s occasional. But if you strive to participate, most of the time your mind, heart, and body will be caught up in our great act of thanks and praise.

This is true even when the liturgy is not enacted with care. Even if the music is out of tune and poorly accompanied, even if the prayers and readings are delivered as though being read for the first time, even if the homily is inane, it’s still possible to leave the celebration nourished and on fire. We may not be able to control how the liturgy is done in our parish – although we should speak up if it is not being celebrated with care – but we can control whether or not we listen with our hearts and sing our parts with gusto.

The good news is this: While we need to cooperate with Christ in celebrating the liturgy, the power of the Mass does not depend on us. Christ always and perfectly does his part. We need only to open ourselves up to him and the Mass will work.

Lift up your hearts! the priest bids us at the very heart of the Mass itself. That’s the challenge: Put your heart into this. Liturgy is a divine-human affair. God always fulfills the divine part of the bargain. So how might we participate better at Mass?

1. Enter into mystery

The Greek word for church means “those whom God has called together.” Adopted by God in Baptism, we are brothers and sisters of Christ and hence brothers and sisters of each other. No other bond, not age or race or ethnicity or sexual orientation or political affiliation or economic status or educational background – not even biological relationship – is stronger than the bond of the water of Baptism that draws us together. This water is thicker than blood. This does not mean we all have to be best friends. But we have to act like we are more than just a bunch of strangers in the same room at the same time doing the same thing.

Try this: Be aware of others as you get out of your car or walk toward your church. Make eye contact. Smile, nod, say hello. Remember that after he rose from the dead, Christ appeared to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus as a stranger. And Mary Magdalene mistook him for the gardener.

Consider arriving early so you can spend some time in quiet solitude in the Blessed Sacrament chapel if your church has one. The Eucharist reserved in the tabernacle came from a prior celebration of the Mass, so praying in the presence of Christ in this manner can help us meditate on how to enter more deeply into the sacrifice the next time we go to Mass.

Bless yourself with holy water to remember who you are (a baptized person) and why you are here (because you are a baptized person). If you see the gifts of bread and wine set out, stop for a minute. Look at the bread. Place alongside the bread all that you accomplished in the past week: the work you did, the test you took, all the simple acts of kindness you performed. Also place there all the things the parish did this past week to educate children, care for the sick, feed the hungry, stand up for the oppressed.

Look at the flagon of wine. Put into the flagon all the struggles that you undertook in the past week: to understand others better, to love others more. Put in the flagon, too, all the things the parish struggles with: the attempts to be a more inclusive community, a more vibrant community, a more faithful community. These, then, are the things we will offer to God under the signs of bread and wine.

Take a seat up front and move to the center. This isn’t being proud. Save the seats by the doors for those who arrive late. Save the seats on the aisles for those who may have to exercise a ministry, walk a baby, or sit next to someone in a wheelchair.

Bow to the altar before taking your place. Don’t just nod your head: Bend deeply, gracefully from the waist. Recognize Christ in this sign: a dining table where God eats with us and heaven comes to earth like a feast comes to those who are starving. When you bow to the altar, you bow to Christ.

If the tabernacle is not in its own chapel but in the main body of the church, our tradition is to genuflect to the tabernacle instead of bowing to the altar. After acknowledging Christ present at the altar or in the tabernacle, acknowledge Christ present in those sitting around you. Say hello, or at least offer a simple smile and a nod. Some people like to kneel and pray after taking their seat. In some monasteries, the practice is to stand attentively for a few moments before sitting. When you sit, prepare your donation and find the opening song. If you picked up the bulletin, don’t read it now.         …continued next week

At Home with Our Faith, Claretian Publications’ print newsletter featuring practical wisdom for busy parents, has won the 2010 and 2011 General Excellence award from the Catholic Press Association. Here’s a sample issue.

We offer very low rates for parish use, as well as our free Moms’ Night Out monthly discussion guides.

And don’t miss our popular single-page parish handouts on handing on the faith, helping kids understand the Mass, Lent, and Advent.

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One Response

  1. A wonderful and necessary reminder about the beauty of the “ballet” of Mass. Thank you for this!

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