July 13, 2015 by Alex Johannigman
This post is written by guest contributor April Jecha. If you’d like to become an “All That Catholic Jazz” contributor, let me know at thatcatholicjazz (at) gmail (dot) com.
Ok, ok…the title for this post was a trick. Follow me here.
I have met so many Christians—non-Catholic and Catholic alike—who have expressed disdain for the Catholic liturgy. “I don’t get anything out of it” they say. “It’s so boring and impersonal” they say. But many of us don’t “get anything out of” the Catholic liturgy because we treat it with the expectations that we treat a movie theater. We expect a plush, luxurious, PASSIVE entertainment experience that will leave us feeling stimulated and thrilled.
That’s a terrible approach. The Catholic Mass is not about what I can “get out of it.” It is not about how I feel. It is not about how entertained I am.
The Catholic liturgy is about active, reverent, solemn worship of the Almighty God as He kisses earth in the sacred gift of the Eucharist.
That’s why there’s so much silence. That’s why the priest moves slowly and deliberately, and why the prayers are the same every week. We worship this way because in Mass we receive the unchanging God. We praise and worship Him in HIS REAL PRESENCE. And the Catholic liturgy simply reflects that reality, in all its solemn, heart-breaking, awe-inspiring beauty.
Ok, off my soap box. How do we live and, by living, believe this reality? What are some practical ways that we may together more reverently praise and adore God AND—as a byproduct, not a main motive—find more joy in our Sunday Mass?
- Listen to the readings and homily
It is hard to hear the readings once and draw a deep meaning out of them, especially if the homily that Sunday is not explicitly about the readings. If your church has books, read along with the lector, or read them more than once. Before Mass starts, pray over the words.
The same goes for the Eucharistic prayers too. If you’re a visual listener, it helps to enter more deeply into the liturgy.
- Study the Liturgy
I’m serious. Take a class on the Catholic Mass, if your parish offers such things. Ask your RCIA coordinator if/when they teach about the Mass, and sit in. Read Scott Hahn’s The Lamb’s Supper, which specifically explains parts of the Mass. Or open up your catechism, and pray over the sections on the Eucharist. Understanding the depth and meaning of the Liturgy will help you to appreciate it more as a prayer.
- Become a liturgical minister
Learning to altar serve, be a Eucharistic minister, a cantor, or a lector…even carrying the gifts of bread and wine up the aisle can definitely help you understand your role as a participant in Mass. Learning to proclaim the Word of God, or be the instrument that gives the Host and/or precious Blood to parishioners helps lay persons grow in appreciation of their role as a participant and adorer of God, even during Sundays when they are not liturgical ministers.
- Attend daily Mass
It’s pretty simple—attending Mass and receiving the Eucharist more often will give you the grace to love God and appreciate why we are called to worship Him every Sunday, by hearing His Word and receiving Him into your body and soul.
- Let your actions reflect your reverence
The rule for all of us is perfectly simple. Do not waste time bothering whether you ‘love’ your neighbor; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him.” –C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
Because we Catholics pray with our bodies, it is important to act like we really believe that the priest acts in persona Christi, and that the bread and wine really do change into the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ.
When you kneel, don’t let the kneelers slam onto the floor, but move them gently and quietly. When you sit, try not to fidget and turn your head to look at your neighbors. When you stand, try not to sway or shift your weight too much, and fold your hands in a posture of prayer. The last of these transformed my appreciation for Mass as I developed the habit. Just folding my hands in prayer, instead of resting them on the pew in front of me made a huge difference in my ability to focus. Making these small changes has helped me immensely, recognizing that every action I take in Mass can be part of the prayer. Not only that, but I become less of a distraction to others, and allow them to approach God in prayer without distraction as well.
If we are bored with the Mass and stop paying attention to it, we miss out on what is the entire miracle of being a Catholic Christian. We enter the sanctuary of a Catholic church and sacramentally step in to the presence of the Almighty Divine. We come to Mass to worship God, not to be entertained. And when we acknowledge that reality, our actions and attitude in prayer change.