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Five Ways to Think About the Mass

1. A Celebration
Mass is not often thought of as a celebration, particularly by the small children who are forced to go. However, the Last Supper, which was the original Eucharistic celebration, was in many ways the first Mass. While the dinner was sad for a host or reasons, not the least of which being Christ’s impending death-it was also a celebration of the life Christ had lived and the community He had developed.

While you’re at Mass, or when you’re getting ready for it, you can think of Mass as a celebration of both the abstract and the very real. Reflect on the need to celebration Christian and Catholic believers, the glory of the birth, death, and resurrection of Christ, and the good those people have done in and for the world. Perhaps more importantly, though, celebrate-at least this one time each week-on what has brought the peace and joy of Christ to your life. It could be a relationship; it could be ending a relationship. It could be work; it could be something outside of work. What’s important is that, even amidst the pain of life, like Christ, you are able to celebrate the good and the Godly. And Mass is a great time to have that celebration! Afterwards, you can keep the Sabbath holy by having brunch with friends or family and by making sure to take that day (or if necessary the Saturday before it) as free and leisurely as possible. You have all week to work too hard: leave this day for God.

2. A Sacrifice
Sometimes Mass is boring. And while thinking of Mass as a sacrifice should not justify ineffective preaching, it does help put things in context. Not everything in this world is going to work the way we want it, and even the things we like we aren’t going to like all the time. Like any major commitment, the spiritual life involves discipline and restraint. You won’t always want to go to Mass; you certainly won’t always have time. Of course, if there’s a massive emergency, that’s one thing, but if you’re too busy to leave one hour a week free for God, there’s probably something wrong with your lifestyle. That said, Mass sometimes will be a sacrifice: you’ll think to yourself, I really don’t have time for this. Why am I doing this? You’ll think the same thing-some days-about calling a significant other or going to a family member’s play. Relationships take time, and time often takes sacrifice, discipline, and the pains of not getting to do the thins we want. Don’t think of this sacrifice as a return for Christ’s sacrifice on the cross: that debt can never be repayed. It’s easier to think of our sacrifice in the Mass, simply, as the same sort of sacrifice we make for any relationship that matters to us. Sometimes we’re too busy, sometimes it’s just too boring, sometimes’ we just don’t want to go! But we do. And we keep going. And we trust somewhere along the line, we’ll be reminded of why we started to go in the first place.

3. A Creation and Work of Art
Mass is an intensely creative time. Of course, the most obviously creative part of the Mass are the words themselves: just listen to the words sometimes, and if you’re a cradle Catholic, try to ignore that you’ve heard them a thousands times already. The words are often close to poetry: beautiful, poignant, and true. The art doesn’t stop there, though: Churches, in nearly every religious tradition, have always been places of concentrated beauty. Many churches have lovely examples of sculpture, stained glass, and architectural design, nearly all of which proclaim the glory and beauty of God.

Of course, the most important element of creation within the Mass is, in fact, the Mass. The act of creating the Body of Christ from a piece of bread-brought about by the Spirit, celebrated by the priest, and participated in by the people-is the most profound act of creation available to any Catholic. If art is a celebration of the universal, there is nothing more universal than God’s real body present to us today.

Lastly, and leading into the next point, Mass is a chance to create and give nourishment to a community of believers.

4. A community
Mass should be a community. Sometimes it’s not, and that’s a shame. It should be a place where you gather together with people you care about, people who support you, people who know you and your dreams and help you to live them out. Mass was originally a chance for early Christians to gather together, eat and drink, and support each other through the difficulty of living a Christian life. A Christian life is still hard and that sort of supportive communal meal is still vitally important.

If you don’t feel like your Mass is a community right now, there are a few things you can do. First, start to think of it as a community. If you expect community from your Mass rather than an individual experience of God, things might change. If nothing does, however, then talk to anyone else you might know in the Parish, or simply have a discussion with the priest. What can be done? Could you plan an event? Could you create a new, young adult Mass on Sunday evening? There are a lot of options. However, if you really can’t find something that works, you could always change parishes.

5. The Focal-Point of Your Prayer Life
Mass is central because of community, because of its happening literally within the Church, and most importantly, because of the presence of the Body of Christ. Make sure you go to Mass, and try to schedule the rest of your prayer around it. Of course, that could mean reflecting on the readings or going to daily Mass, but it could also mean making the lived presence of Christ, and the sending forth to go and do God’s work, the central element of your life. There seems to be no better way to live the Mass.

 
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  • mike

    Jim–thanks for your comments. Obviously you care very much about the Holy Sacrifice of the mass.
    Above the title states five ways to think about the mass. So these are certainly not the only ways one can think about mass.
    Especially for beginners, delving into the sacrificial elements of the mass may indeed be confusing, you’ve done a nice job in explaining this as another way to look at the weekly gathering of community where we come together and read the scriptures and perform the sacrificial ritual.
    However, to call the aspects above un-Catholic I think is simply unfair and also not accurate as the Catechsim states that (1140) “Liturgical services are not private functions but are celebrations of the Church which is the sacrament of unity namely, the Holy people united and organized under the authority of the Bishops.” (CCC 1140)
    So I don’t think anyone was suggesting that the mass is not a sacrifice, but that there are also other ways to describe what’s going on that makes sense to individual believers and brings them into a more tangible relationship with that very sacrifice you describe.

  • Jim

    I don’t know how or where you learned about the Sacrifice of the Mass but your explanation of the Sacrificial nature of the Mass is absolutely absurd.
    It is a Sacrifice because it is a continuation of Calvary. Jesus is the Victim and the Priest and offers Himself to God again in an unbloody manner. So many Catholics have completely lost sight of that fact. It is through the Sacrifice that we gain God’s blessing. In the ancient tradition of sacrificial offering, the priest must eat of the sacrifice after it’s destruction (immolation). That is why Jewish priests ate of the lamb after it was slaughtered. Jesus is the new priest and the new lamb, the act of offering sacrifice to God never ended. Fulton Sheen once said that if Mary and John, while at the foot of the cross, closed their eyes, they would be experienceing the same exact thing we experience during every Mass. We do not see Christ’s Sacrifice but we nevertheless are present as He offers Himself to the Father once more. We do not go to Mass simply because of Communion and Communion is not the point. The point is the Sacrifice and Communion is a by product of that Sacrifice. We have come dangerously close to Martin Luther’s definition of the Mass which is centered around the meal since he rejected the sacrifice.
    These more “modern” descriptions of the Mass are completely un-Catholic. Let’s not forget that Jesus Himself instituted the Mass, not His followers. We do not have the option of redefining it.

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