Why do I bother going Church, to Mass?
The virtue of gratitude helps us experience the interior joy that comes from knowing we are loved by God, without limits or conditions. It is such an important virtue, that God put it at the very center of Christian worship: the celebration of the Eucharist. The perfect way for us to offer a perfect thanksgiving, an infinite act of gratitude in worship, praising God at the top of our voices and throwing ourselves at the feet of Jesus to express our gratitude for the love and mercy that heals us.
That’s why, if we are well and able, we don't stay home and just say some prayers, watch Mass on TV, go to the mountains, and enjoy the view, take the kids to sports competitions, or spend the day shopping. Those are good things, but they ought not to take us away from coming back daily or weekly to offer our thanksgiving. What happens here, in this community and on this altar, is much, much better.
If we come to Church with an attitude of gratitude to God and a joyful desire to worship God and give thanks in the company of our brothers and sisters in Christ, then we won't be overly concerned about the music, the preaching, who's wearing what, who's doing what... although our worship, our liturgical celebration ought to be excellent in every way, our collective failures won't get in the way of our knowing why we are there or our ability to worship and give thanks.
Discipuli semper parati
God told the Hebrews to be ready. He also told them when. Jesus tells us to be ready. But says the timing will be unexpected. Christ’s message today is to live each day as a preparation to meet him with joy. Semper Paratus: Always Ready.
Consider the 'getting ready / being ready' in the context of how we order and approach each individual day and how this ought to be similar to how the Priest makes ready the Altar for the Sacrifice. Our lives can and ought to be an altar of praise to God, an altar which is prepared and made holy, daily. Approaching our day in this way requires that we pray as we begin, ensure we are ready for the fullness of graces through an examination and seeking the necessary reconciliation. It requires mindful attentiveness to the presence of God and personal intentionality about entering into today with God. We will need to be reverent as we prepare to live the gift of life today and continue to be reverent as we celebrate the gifts of each moment. Know what it is we are offering to God and have certainty of faith about that which God is offering to us.
Essential to being able to do this everyday with greater love, wisdom, power and strength, is our full and active participation in the celebration of Mass, at least every weekend and the worthy reception of the Eucharist. In the Mass we receive the strength and the courage to live always ready. In the Mass we receive the assurance that God is close to us, and that he wants to help us to truly love. In the Mass we are brought into unity with others, and we recognize that they are worthy of our love and sacrifice.
I don’t think this is a particular issue for young or older Catholics, but the temptation might be much greater among today’s youth and young adults. For the past few decades and with increasing intensity, the broad culture of North America encourages desires for instant gratification, image / video dependent, value assessment according to entertainment value, headline news and 140 character ‘get to the point’ expectations. Not to mention, in Campus Ministry, there is a tendency to cater to the students desires along these lines, which further distances them from having realistic expectations of the average North American Parish community. There just won’t be any 10 pm Masses on Sunday night and a team of people dedicated to making sure they stay engaged. Engagement that may or may not have at its center, meaningful, lasting, and life changing ‘encounters with Christ’.
I grew up in the ‘70s and it was a vastly different world than now, however, I was no, less than today’s youth / young adults, not interested in speeches that droned on, teachers that could never get to the point and preachers who seemed completely out of teach with reality. I also had an appreciation for being entertained, albeit with strong expectations for substance and quality content. In my years as an adult lay catholic, I’ll be honest, I experienced the temptation to walk out of the church during Mass more than once and on at least one occasion I fell to the temptation.
Reasons for walking out? They could be highly personal definitions of bad preaching, bad music, likability of the priest, the long announcements, the requests for money, the place of the tabernacle, the perceived ‘orthodoxy’ of the pastor / faith community… etc, etc, etc. A list as varied and many as the folks in the pews I’m sure. Some reasons might be objectively real and need to be addressed. Many, are likely borne of our cultural formation as consumers, who are always right and if our complaints or criticisms aren’t addressed to our satisfaction… we walk, in protest.
Why would anyone continue to attend unsatisfying liturgies? Why shouldn’t we walk out? Isn’t that better than mentally ‘checking out’ or grabbing the smart phone and checking facebook, pretending that my kids need my attention or…?
The answer, I think, rests upon the nature of the celebration and that which is at the center. In the section on the Eucharist in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, (sections 1324-25, 1409, 1413, 1416-1419) we are reminded of the answers.
In the section on the liturgy, the Eucharistic Celebration (1326, 1408, 1410) in particular, it says:
It seems that, being faithful disciples of Christ who believe that the Eucharist we receive during the celebration and that by our action affirms our communion, we would not ever ‘walk out’ of the Eucharistic Celebration for any other reason than an emergency of some sort.
If I don’t believe these things, then it’s all a matter of personal preference according to my own opinions. It would make sense to leave.
The truth of the matter is simple. Coming to know and understand that truth, not so simple. If it were, these words might not have been spoken (Of course, reading the whole of John 6 would be better than just reading the quotes below):
I pray that as more and more members of Christs Body the Church ‘become what we touch’, our Eucharistic Celebrations will become more perfectly what they ought to be. However, there should be no doubt among the faithful that neither bad preaching, uninspiring music, unenthusiastic reading, lack of communal participation or anything of the sort, will change what the Eucharist is or the grace received by a believer who says with Peter, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.”
Fr. Blair Gaynes has been in the Diocese since 2008.