I picked a fantastic year to move to Philadelphia. LOVE Park is newly renovated, cheesesteaks are glorious, and the Eagles won the Super Bowl.
I attended a Super Bowl party in Center City when the Eagles triumphed. My friend Lacie and I, along with a couple thousand other people, stormed the streets outside of City Hall to celebrate. Fans were screaming, hugging one another, high-fiving, and popping champagne. Fireworks lit up the sky, and we sang “Fly Eagles Fly” (the Eagles fight song) with so much enthusiasm I thought the buildings were shaking. The atmosphere was electric. It was truly a celebration.
This exuberant celebration actually brought up questions about my Catholic identity. I felt God call me to Philly, and becoming a dedicated Eagles fan helped me live out this new identity. But there was a drastic contrast of joyfulness in how I lived out my identity as a Catholic v. my identity as an Eagles fan. I ran around in the streets cheering for a football team, but struggled to pay attention at Mass. My friend Mike and I jogged to the train station for the Eagles Victory Parade, but I’ve never rushed to Mass with the same eagerness. This left me wondering, Do I celebrate Mass? I concluded that compared to the Eagles’ victory celebrations, I don’t celebrate Mass – I attend Mass.
I didn’t just attend the parade. After applauding the heroes of Philly, quarterbacks Carson Wentz and Nick Foles, my friend and I enthusiastically half-walked, half-skipped 12 blocks to Sonny’s for a cheesesteak — whiz wit’out — which was unbelievably delicious and well worth the hike. But upon further reflection, I once again saw a stark contrast in my attitude toward victory cheesesteaks and toward Mass.
We celebrate the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist at Mass, but sometimes forget the joy by narrowly focusing on the sacred heaviness of it. Sacredness and joy are not separate things! Have you ever treated Mass like a holy chore, quietly sitting alone in a pew, going through the motions and waiting for an hour to be up? Admittedly, I have.
Going forward, my goal is to attend Mass like an Eagles fan – excited, passionate, and borderline rowdy! (Okay, the rowdy part should probably stay inside our spirits.) Here are four strategies to intentionally and joyfully celebrate Mass:
Listen to pre-Mass Jesus jams in your car
Driving to Mass with loud, joyful contemporary Christian music woke me right up and set a celebratory tone in my heart. Now I have a pre-Mass playlist! I would recommend “Old Church Choir” by Zach Williams, “Fearless” by Jasmine Murray, “God Is on the Move” by 7eventh Time Down, and “Unfinished” by Mandisa. This strategy is simple, and it works well. Pick music that will uplift your spirit, sing and dance the whole way, and pay no attention to the person giving you a strange look when you’re stopped at a red light.
Say hello to everyone on your way in
You can’t start a celebration without warm and loving welcomes. I don’t live with my parents anymore, and when I come home to visit, my dad always hugs me and says, “It’s good to have you home.” Arriving at Mass should be no different. When we greet one another like we’re at a celebration, our hearts and spirits follow. Although some parishes have formal greeters, it’s the entire congregation’s responsibility to reach out to one another and build community with zeal.
Another tactic I tried was smiling through the entire Mass, which was extremely difficult because the first reading was about Abraham preparing to sacrifice Isaac – awkward. However, smiling was a constant physical reminder of my heart’s joyful intention, which kept me engaged and held me accountable to a celebratory state of mind.
Now, this strategy isn’t without its cons: It’s awkward to smile during solemn readings (see example above). It also might confuse your parish community because Catholics are often unaccustomed to constant smiles during Mass. Oh, and my cheeks hurt after an hour. But it was incredible because when I was smiling, I began to hear more clearly the joyful truth of our faith — the Penitential Rite as true forgiveness, the Gospel as truly Good News, and the Eucharist as the true presence of Christ.
Respond with enthusiasm
When I saw my pastor before Mass, I quickly explained he would be receiving enthusiastic responses from me today. From his reaction, it was clear he didn’t know exactly what to expect. When the time came, I belted out, “AND WITH YOUR SPIRIT!” quickly realizing volume was not the key to expressing a celebratory soul. Instead, I vocalized what my heart was feeling and praying — my tone followed. Responding with enthusiasm means engaging your spirit and letting your body express what’s going on inside. In other words, connecting your inward participation with your outward participation. When I really listened to the liturgy and my responses, I realized how powerful Mass is. For example, the priest says, The mystery of faith, and we respond, By your cross and resurrection you have set us free, you are the Savior of the world. Wow! We acknowledge our faith is a mystery, and that we don’t have all the answers to how the bread and wine become the real presence of Christ, but guess what? We are free, and we are saved by a loving God. I must have said that phrase more than a hundred times in my life, but it was only after paying attention inside and out that I began to really understand.