I once heard of a survey of teenagers which asked them what word they most associated with the Mass. Now, I may not be a smart man, but it’s a no-brainer which word ranked highest: boring. Teenagers (and many adults) seem to find the Mass – which, according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church is the “source and summit of all Christian life” – boring. Jesus left us the Mass, the moment when Heaven kisses earth, as the moment where we re-member Him, where the once-for-all sacrifice of the Cross is brought to this moment, where God Himself speaks to us of His love for us, and then becomes present to us, His Body and Blood disguised under the auspices of bread and wine, for us to receive Him, to be strengthened, to be renewed in His image.
And we find it boring. We complain about the music, the uncomfortable pews, the homily, the faded color of this banner or that stained glass window, the kids three pews away who won’t stop crying… and some people find every excuse they can to avoid it. (Why do I understand this so well? Because for many years in my life, I looked for these same excuses.)
After watching a group of my youth completely distracted at Mass, I put together a list of 8 things you can do to get more out of Mass:
#1. Know the readings before you come in the door. Far too often, we all go to Mass and hear the readings for the first time at that moment. Our Church encourages us to read them ahead of time. The US Bishops have the weekly (and daily) readings on their website. LIFETEEN.com also hosts a Sunday, Sunday, Sunday! podcast in which Mark Hart, the Bible Geek, examines the Sunday readings, and gives some reflections to help you get more out of your Mass. I’ve also been trying to have a 5 minute reflection posted here each week before you come to Mass to help you get your head (and heart) in the game.
#2. Learn the Mass. The prayers and rituals of the Mass are rich with Scripture references and tradition. Everything we do is deliberate. You can read about what we do here: http://catholic-resources.org/ChurchDocs/Mass.htm. But you also should take some time to ask questions and learn about why. You’ll understand why the priest pours a drop of water in the cup of wine before the consecration. You’ll understand that the main components of the Mass are recorded as early as the year 150, when St. Justin Martyr wrote down his account of the Sunday Mass. How we pray reflects what we believe.
#3. Sit near the front. I often joke about how Catholics sit as near the back as they can, so they can sneak out early without being noticed… but it’s not really that funny. I’ve noticed that with my three year old daughter, if she can’t see what’s going on, she’s not inclined to pay attention. Teenagers and adults aren’t much different in that respect: we’re all easily distracted. Think about it: we’ll go to great lengths to get good seats for hockey games or concerts… yet, for what is probably the most important moment in our week, we’re hiding in the back. Stop hiding: get in the front row. It’ll also help to reduce the temptation to talk to the person(s) beside you if you’re not hiding behind something or someone (and you know Father can see you.)
#4. Turn OFF your cell phone. During Mass last Sunday, at the consecration, I cringed as I heard a cell phone go off. As distracting as that is to everyone who is sitting around you; I began to think about how distracted I get when my phone – which is on silent mode – begins to vibrate in my pocket during Mass. I wonder who has called or texted me, what they want… and all of a sudden, I’m not present to what’s going on. Whatever it is can wait an hour- shut off the phone, and you’ll be able to pay better attention to what’s going on.
#5. Sing. God gave you the voice you have- give it back to Him. St. Augustine once said that “when you sing, you pray twice.” I’ve been doing music at Mass basically every Sunday night for over 7 years- and being a part of a congregation that actually sings helps ME to get more focused on what’s going on. Don’t know the music? Learn it! We repeat a lot of it over and over again so you can learn it. The point here: just sing.
#6. Pray at other times. If I only ever paid attention to my wife for one hour a week, I wouldn’t be married for very long. Our relationship with God is meant to be a love relationship… one in which we respond to the love He has for us – a love without limits, that goes to every extreme He can to show us His love (see Cross, Jesus’ death on the.) Take five or ten minutes every day to talk and to listen to the God who is ALWAYS with you.
#7. Don’t eat for one hour before Communion. You might be thinking “Mike, I get really hungry if I don’t eat!” Well, not only is that the point… it’s actually a directive from the Church that we’re supposed to fast for an hour before we receive communion. The idea is that we’ll then be hungrier for Jesus… and more aware of the gift He gives us in nourishing us with Himself. As tempting as it might be to pick up a slurpee or a Timmy’s on the way in: don’t. Make that a sacrifice to help you focus more on what you should be focusing on: God.
#8. Come early and leave late. It always amazes me how few people sing the gathering song with me, and how many seem to lead the procession out of the Church. Scott Hahn once pointed out that at the first Mass (the Last Supper), the only one who left early was Judas. And we know he was leaving to betray Jesus. Now don’t get me wrong- I’m not accusing everyone who leaves Mass early of being like Judas, but like him, they are missing out on the reason they are there. We come to Mass, not just because it’s an obligation (which it is!) – but we come to spend time with the God who loves us so much He’d rather die than live without us, to hear His word, to be fed with His body, and to participate in His family gathered together.
…sometimes it may seem boring to be at Mass. At the same time, it may sometimes seem boring to be with the people we love – but if we love them, we persevere anyway. Your heartbeat is boring- beating a steady rhythm 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. It keeps you alive: and so does the Mass. Try these 8 things, and I think you’ll find that you’ll get more out of the Mass.