Sunday, October 23, 2011

Full Contact Sport: Why Participate in Mass

Here in South Bend, people get pretty pumped over Notre Dame football. They dress in blue and gold, paint their faces, prepare food all night for the tailgates, even get up early. When the game starts, the crowd goes nuts! Cheers. Standing. Sitting. High fives to strangers you don’t know. We are fully engaged in the event. I wonder what would happen if we participated with the same heart and passion at Mass on Sunday?

Let’s be honest. Mass … it’s boring, right? Growing up, that’s what I thought. In grade school, we went to daily Mass, while wearing ugly, green, plaid uniforms, with an old lady playing the organ. At that point, I would rather watch paint dry.

College Smack-down
It wasn’t until college that God smacked me over the head with a 2 by 4, and I learned what Mass really was. My friend, who was a theology major, sat down in the college cafeteria and said: “Mass is a sacrifice, Mary.” I grumbled back: “Yup, Mass is a sacrifice to go.” But for the next twenty minutes my friend began to unfold salvation history. He told me how the Jews had to sacrifice an umblemished lamb during passover, and how Christ was the perfect Lamb for the new sacrifice of the Mass. (1 Cor 5:7)

He walked me through the last supper leading to Jesus’ death on Calvary. He even pulled out his Bible and read John 6, where Jesus commands us to “Eat my flesh and drink my blood.” And the words at the last supper, “Do this in memory of me.” (Lk 22:19)

“Do you know what is happening at the Mass, Mary?” he said. “The veils of heaven are lifted, and the offering given 2000 years ago on Calvary becomes present on the altar.” We the church, offer ourselves at Mass (as a living sacrifice) back to God. And we receive His body and life, to be sent out into the world. “What!!???” I was so blown away I almost dropped my bowl of mac and cheese on the floor.

Why didn’t anyone tell me!
Mass is a sacrifice!? How did I go through 14 years of Catholic education and never know what was happening at Mass? My eyes were opened that day.

That year in college was a year of great conversion. I fell in love. I began to listen to the words at Mass. “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us” … “All the angels cry holy, holy, holy” … The mysteries of Mass came alive for me. I started reading early church history and Scott Hahn’s book “The Lamb’s Supper.” I was forever changed.

Mass is not boring — it’s the most exciting mystical event we can encounter. But like a ND football game, (or anything else in life) you get out of it what you put in. And Mass is not meant to be lived on the sideline — it is a full (heart-body-mind) contact sport. So here are some helpful tips!

Take the time to learn about the Mass. What is happening and why. The incense and rituals are not there just “because” some old guys wanted to make your Easter Vigil as long and as painful as possible. Catholicism is a very sensual (as in we use our senses) religion. We use smell, sound and touch in the sacraments to encounter God. Why and How? Because the invisible God makes himself visible. (God became man) Through humanity and sacraments, (through water, oil, and bread) God uses the visible world to reveal and encounter invisible mysteries. It’s pretty cool stuff, if you ask me!

Read the scripture readings before Mass. You can get them online, (check out Mark Hart’s Sunday podcast), download an iphone app, or subscribe to the Magnificat or DailyBread. It takes five minutes to read while you brush your teeth. This will help you to listen better for what God is saying to you through scripture.

Usually when the readings start, we tune out. But listen. God speaks to us personally through scripture. Listen for what God is trying to say to you through the four readings at Mass. Try to connect with specific phrases or words that jump out to you: “Be not afraid” or “But you will receive power.” Sometimes the Lord gives us profound truths in small bites.

Don’t just go through the motions. Mass is meant for full participation. Engage the mind. When we pray the intercessory prayers (example: praying for Haiti) I actually imagine the people of Haiti in my mind to make it real. Engage your heart. Pray the prayers, experience the words you are saying. They are powerful and real. Engage the body. Open your mouth and sing! Extend your hands back to the priest when you say “Peace also with you.” Mass is a full body sport. Because our bodies and souls make up our one being, we engage the mysteries of God in and through our bodies.

After you receive the Eucharist (the body, blood, soul and divinity of God). Allow yourself to just be absorbed in His presence in you. Calm your mind, listen for God’s whisper, feel His love. That moment is the most intimate time you can spend with Jesus.

There are two things that happen at Mass. Communio and Missa: two cool Latin words. “Communio” in Latin means communion (come to union). “Missa” is where the word Mass comes from and means to be “sent out.” Think of it like our lungs. We take in air (communio) and we breathe out air (missa). This is the process of our faith. We take in the word, prayer and the sacraments to fill and transform us. As we breathe in and receive God’s love, we can go out and live God’s presence in the world. This is what Mass is all about.

In the end, I still wish some of the priest’s homilies were more relatable. I still wish my parish would break out with some cool praise and worship or Matt Maher music during Mass. And of course I still get distracted sometimes by the girl’s cute shoes next to me and the many to-do lists running around in my head.

But regardless of the great preacher, or music, or my many distraction; it is Jesus Himself in the living mystery of the Eucharist, that we seek. And if we engage and unite with Him on the altar, Mass will be more life-changing and life-giving than even the most exciting of ND football games. (Hopefully when ND is winning!)