First, let me start off by counting myself guilty during my lifetime of both misunderstanding the Mass, and being unappreciative of this most precious gift. In fact, I remained pretty distant from my Catholic Faith for about twenty-two years, between the ages of eighteen and forty. I am now 57. Twenty two years is a long time to be away from home. Prior to the age of eighteen, I attended Catholic school, grades K-8, and served as an "altar boy" for several years during that time. Looking back, even during those times when I was privileged to be serving at Mass, I did not fully appreciate the miraculous gift Christ has prepared for us.
I am writing this post with great humility and charity, aware that my present knowledge and appreciation for what takes place at Mass is possible only through God's grace. I felt compelled to write this after observing how my own children approach the Mass. My children are 11 and 12 years of age and have attended Catholic school from kindergarten. They have also been altar servers for the past two years, and are raised in a home where our Faith is practiced.
One would think after attending Catholic school since kindergarten, and serving at the altar during Mass, children would remember, and have enough knowledge and reverence for Christ's presence in the Eucharist, to genuflect before entering the pew without being reminded to do so. Sometimes I have to remind my ten year old son, to prayerfully prepare to "participate" in the Mass and receive our Lord in the Eucharist while waiting for Mass to begin. And during Mass, I cannot help but notice that my son is sometimes only present in body, his mind and heart are somewhere far from the liturgy. I am not judging his disposition during Mass, but am only pointing out the need for a different approach to catechesis concerning the importance of Mass, the very summit of our Christian Faith.
As a CCD teacher, parent, and lover of evangelization and apologetics, I see this as a most serious problem concerning the practice of our Faith. I feel more emphasis should be given to education concerning the precious gift Christ has given us in the Mass. Appreciating Mass begins with the infusion of God's precious grace at baptism, but as we grow we must cooperate with that grace by combining our God given ability to reason with the gifts of faith, hope and charity.
The Mass must be presented in a thought provoking manner appropriate for the audience, from toddler to 100. Growing up and being educated in the Catholic Faith by Sisters of the Felician Order, I recall being told that Mass was an obligation, and that Hell awaited those who chose not to attend. Notice the word "attend," as opposed to "participate." I don't say this to denigrate the great work these wonderful Sisters accomplished in their vocations as teachers and servants of God. My point is that the magnitude of this most wonderful gift needs to be presented and taught differently, and from a very early age.
Reflecting on Who it is who longs to give himself to us at Mass, how privileged we are to be in His presence, and the importance of participating in God's greatest Gift to us, are things our minds must become focused upon and deeply contemplate. These things will help lead us to a new appreciation and zeal for Mass! Instilling these thoughts should begin at the earliest of ages and continue throughout our lives. Even toddlers, made in the image and likeness of God, have been created with the ability to understand God's awesome majesty!
The following are the things I would like to see emphasized in catechesis, and which we must all continually remind ourselves of, contemplate, and meditate upon concerning the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass:
1) Although Mass "attendance" is an obligation, it should never be looked upon as merely an obligation. The Church makes it an obligation because she knows it is for our greatest good! Once we understand what Mass truly is, we will long to be there, and eagerly await each time we will participate in future Masses.
2) The Mass is God's greatest gift to us because it is where He gives Himself to us, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. It is the closest, personal relationship we can ever attain with Jesus, if, and only if we approach the Mass with the proper disposition!
3) Most importantly, prayerfully consider this: Christ, who longs to give himself to us at Mass, who longs for the most personal relationship with us, is the One who created the entire, vast, universe. Remember how small we are relative to the created universe, the ends of which have not been determined by science. To put things in perspective, we live on tiny planet Earth, situated in our solar system within the Milky Way galaxy. Our galaxy is just one of approximately 300 billion galaxies beyond our galaxy. Each of these galaxies contain billions and billions of stars and other celestial bodies. As BIG as the universe is, it is with each of us, that the Creator of it all longs, that's right LONGS, with perfect love to give His entire self to us at each Mass. How could anyone reject such an offer from such a GREAT and LOVING God? Relative to the vastness of the universe we are nothing, but to Him we are everything!
4) Our awesome Creator humbles Himself by making Himself substantially present in the forms of bread and wine so that we can be nourished and strengthened on our journeys back to Him. Let us begin to contemplate the magnitude of this gift and give it the respect and priority it deserves!
“But the Greatest of these is Love!” St. Paul concludes his discourse on charity with the words, “but the Greatest of these is Love.” One of my favorite wedding gifts was a beautifully framed decorative wall hanging, with the words St. Paul used to describe love in his first letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor 13, 4-7). The words pierced deep into my heart. It was the most profound description of love I had ever heard! I immediately knew I had to put the inspired words of St. Paul into practice. Those words are as follows: “Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, [love] is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”
Wouldn’t it be nice to live in a world in which everyone practices St. Paul’s description of love? I dare to say it would solve every problem known to man! Think about it, no more unkind acts toward one another, no jealousy, no feeling superior to others, humility would replace arrogant pride, no more rude encounters, not a selfish person in the world, no anger, and no gloating over others’ misfortune. Think of the effect true love for one another would have on every relationship, including every marriage. How about our business relationships? Greed, corruption, and self-centered business practices would cease to exist! The sharing of our resources would result in every child being fed and eliminate their suffering and dying of hunger! Road rage would become a thing of the past! Hatred, bigotry, and vengeance would be replaced by love and forgiveness!
On July 7, 1967, the Beatles released a song entitled, All You Need Is Love. Throughout recent history, many other artists have written songs with a similar message. The message is incredibly profound, and sorely needed to change our world for the better, yet as well as these songs did at the time rising to the top of th charts, the words seem to fall on deaf ears because very little changed with regard to true love in the world. But the most profound message of all concerning love was given to the world by our Lord Jesus Christ. In fact, when he was asked by the teachers of the law which was the greatest commandment, Jesus answered, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.” This was the entire summary of the message Jesus came to give us, simply stated, and one which Jesus lived out among us on earth. God simply wants us to love, and if these commandments are followed, as previously stated, life on earth will improve dramatically!