by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
Last week, I wrote about deepening our love and the love of our children for the church by increasing our love for Sunday Mass.
Specifically, I wrote about the importance of reflecting on the Sunday readings sometime during the previous week in order that we will be better prepared to hear what God wants to say to us through the Eucharist.
Two people go to the same concert. One, who has no knowledge of music, has never played an instrument, and never previously listened to a particular genre of music, may fall asleep or want to leave at intermission. Another person at the very same performance, who has listened to this music before and perhaps even has attempted to play the music being performed, will be disappointed that the concert is over so quickly and will leave the symphony hall inspired and exhilarated.
Similarly, in order to take full advantage of what Jesus is offering us in the Eucharist each week, we must prepare ourselves to be able to receive the miracle that is made present to us. We must know the basic elements of the Mass and how we are invited to enter into them.
In addition to meditating on the readings before coming to Sunday Mass, we also need to prepare ourselves by pondering: 1) what people, experiences, opportunities and material things do I desire to give God thanks; 2) for what sins do I need to seek mercy; 3) what sufferings and burdens do I need to surrender to the Lord; and 4) what graces do I need to ask for in order to meet the challenges of the coming week.
If we have identified before Mass the BBGS (Blessings, Burdens, Graces and Sins) of our life, then we will be much better prepared to enter into the entire Mass. We should try to arrive for Mass early each week, rather than timing our arrival to coincide with the last verse of the opening hymn.
Our churches should be places of reverent silence, not noisy auditoriums of casual conversation. It is great to visit with friends and neighbors in the gathering space, the vestibule, or outside of church. However, once we enter into church, we should be silent, so as not to disturb others who are praying. Our focus once inside church should be on God and not on whom else do I know in the congregation. The few moments we have before Mass, we should reflect on the BBGS (Blessings, Burdens, Graces and Sins) of our lives. Preparing ourselves prayerfully before Mass begins will allow us to enter into the celebration and be able better to receive what Jesus desires to give to us.
So, for example, if we have reflected upon our sins of the past week — the things that we did and the things that we failed to do — when the priest invites us: “Let us acknowledge our sins and so prepare ourselves to celebrate the sacred mysteries,” we will know exactly for what sins we need to ask God’s mercy.
If at the heart of the Eucharist is the event of our redemption — Calvary — being made present to us, then we need to be aware of our sins. In other words, we need to be conscious of why we need a redeemer and what we need him to redeem us from.
Similarly, when the celebrant invites us: “Let us pray,” we should be aware of the specific graces that we need at this moment. At each Mass, we should have specific intentions, special graces for which we wish to petition God. We should also be consciously carrying in our hearts the people who have asked us to pray for them. The priest pauses after this invitation to prayer precisely to allow us the time to mention to the Lord our own intentions.
As mentioned last week, having already prayed over the readings, when we hear the word of God proclaimed at the liturgy, our hearts will be well disposed to receive God’s special message for us. We will not be distracted by just attempting to make sense of what was read, but will be open to how the Holy Spirit is instructing us to apply these Scriptures to the particular circumstances of our lives.
At the preparation of the gifts, we will be ready to unite with the bread and wine the activities of the past week that we wish to offer to God as our personal gift to him. Similarly, during the eucharistic prayer, when Calvary becomes present to us, we will be prepared to unite our suffering and sacrifices with his perfect sacrifice.
Or as we echo the words of the centurion — “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed” — we will be keenly aware of what needs to be healed in our souls. As we approach the reception of holy Communion, we will be fully conscious of whom we are about to receive and we will be fervently inviting Our Lord to come anew into our hearts.
During the precious moments after receiving Communion, we will have our own litany of thanksgiving to pray. We will also, at this most intimate time with Jesus, be prepared to ask for the special graces that we most need at this moment of our lives. When we leave Mass, we will embark on a mission to bring the Jesus that we have received to all those we will encounter in the coming week.
This internal participation in each element of the eucharistic celebration is what the church means by full and active participation of each member of the congregation. It is this spiritual participation that is so much more important than the fervor of our oral responses or the quality of our singing. When we understand all that is being offered to us at each and every celebration of the Eucharist and prepare ourselves to take full advantage of it, then it is completely impossible to be bored at Mass, no matter the quality of the externals of the celebration.
Nor can we depart from Mass without a more profound love for the church, who despite the many weaknesses and failures of its members, remains the beloved bride of Jesus who makes her spouse present to us in this most powerful and profound way.