#08 Wanting More
Sunday night, I attended 7:00 Mass on campus at my alma mater. Well, I mostly attended it. Not only were the seats packed, with additional students (and the odd community member here and there) lining both sides of the large chapel, there were also about fifteen or twenty of us stuck in the vestibule/lobby, watching the back row of the congregation through the doorway. We couldn’t see the altar or hear the first and second readings, but luckily the priest was loud enough for us to catch the Gospel and homily with only a few missing words. We chimed in with our responses at the appropriate times, and a few of us with the confidence to sing without a mass of voices to drown us out sang the songs as well. The handful closest to the door shuffled around to try to catch a glimpse of the altar at various points. More than usual, communion felt like the climax of the Mass, as we were allowed to enter and receive after being on the fringes before. The experience reminded me of what I’ve heard about the Latin Mass our ancestors in the faith (including my biological ancestors) attended for centuries. Huge cathedrals where you can’t properly see the altar, the consecration shielded from your view by the priest’s body, a foreign language in which only the occasional word holds meaning for you… doing your best to participate, but mostly just eager for the Eucharist, your chance to actually interact with God and “be fed” at this ritual.
For American Catholics today, with a more participatory, native-language liturgy, there is so much to take in during the Mass and every moment can be full of meaning. At a perfectly planned Mass, every song uses music and scripture or pious poetry to lift the mind and heart toward God, the priest applies the message of the readings to our Christian journey in new and insightful ways, we reflect on the prayers we recite and glean great value from them, and we are joined to the mystical Body of Christ by consuming what is actually, substantially, His Body and Blood. But what of the poorly planned Mass? What of the clown Masses my parents occasionally (accidentally) encountered in the ’70s, or the twenty-minute Sunday liturgy my sister and her fiancee attended when they were out of town last weekend? When the music is absent, artistically awful, or inappropriate, when the priest waxes philosophical week after week about being kind to those around you as if that’s all there is to the Christian life, when parishioners rush through the Credo like the “Terms and Conditions” disclaimer at the end of a radio ad, we lose many of the opportunities I mentioned. We, like our Protestant brothers and sisters sometimes do, can start to feel like we didn’t “get anything out of” the liturgy and consider trying a different parish, or even a different denomination, or just giving up the weekly ritual entirely and praying on our own or with friends. I mention Protestants not out of any disrespect– my few experiences of Protestant services have been reverent, enthusiastic, and lovely– but rather because the attitude that wells up in us when we experience bad liturgy and get caught up in the negative would be appropriate if we did not believe in the Real Presence of Christ.
Music, fellowship, inspiring preaching, a sense of ritual, and an uplifting tone are all great and important things, but they’re not the thing at a Catholic Mass. Jesus Christ, our Love, our King, is there and that’s the thing we’d be crazy to miss. A parish that believes this strongly will have liturgies that are appropriate and reverent. But even in a church community that seems to miss the point, or just likes music you hate, He is there. Even if, by sad chance, the priest himself doesn’t believe Jesus is there, He is there. If we devote our minds to that fact during Mass, strengthen our faith in it, and share that message with our Catholic community day in and day out, we shouldn’t be surprised to find people crowding into churches from the vestibule. We become like Zaccheus, climbing a tree just to catch a glimpse of our Lord and God. Instead of wanting more from Mass, if we focus on the tremendous gift we receive at every liturgy, we won’t be able to help wanting more Mass itself! So if you’re craving whatever you gave up for Lent (I know I am), just think about how much receiving the King of All today would satisfy your deeper hunger.
-St. Ignatius Loyola, trans. Cardinal Newman
Soul of Christ, be my sanctification;
Body of Christ, be my salvation;
Blood of Christ, fill all my veins;
Water of Christ’s side, wash out my stains;
Passion of Christ, my comfort be;
O good Jesu, listen to me;
In Thy wounds I fain would hide;
Ne’er to be parted from Thy side;
Guard me, should the foe assail me;
Call me when my life shall fail me;
Bid me come to Thee above,
With Thy saints to sing Thy love,
World without end. Amen.