Mass is Boring!
One of the most common complaints I hear from Catholics - whether they be adolescents or the elderly - is that "Mass is boring." Unfortunately, they're usually right: priests are not generally known for their great preaching, Catholics are terrible singers, and so much of what goes on "up there at the altar" seems so removed, so distant, from our lives and our concerns.
Speaking from my own experience, I find Mass most boring when I am in a rush. When I treat the liturgy merely as an obligation, rather than a celebration, it becomes tedious. I grow listless and irritable, and my mind wanders [note: if things are really dire, try to figure out how to get from your pew to the altar without touching the floor. I often imagine that lava has filled the floor and that I have to flee to safety]. Unfortunately, what is meant to be a prayer becomes a mere performance of actions as my body is present to the community but my heart and mind are very many miles away.
Having trained for a marathon and grown more disciplined in gym attendance, however, I have come to have a different approach to liturgy. If it is helpful, allow me to suggest a few preparatory points and some things to consider each Sunday:
- To begin with, just as we don't begin to exercise without warming up, nor should we enter into the liturgy without preparing ourselves. Charging into Mass during the opening hymn, genuflecting madly, and hurling oneself into a pew is not exactly a good preparation for prayer! Make an attempt to arrive at the church a few minutes early, allowing you time to get a parking spot and given you a chance to find a seat (close to altar in case lava fills the church!) and relax.
- No one goes to an all-you-can-eat buffet on a full stomach. Rather, we build up an appetite and imagine all of the good things that await us. So, too, should we approach Mass. Take some time to consider what you are hungry for: are you weary? Anxious? Brimming with joy? Mourning? We are, all of us, hungry in some way and when we bring that hunger to the Eucharist, we will be satisfied.
- Remember, Mass isn't about GIVING you grace. Liturgy is not the grace-faucet that gets turned on and off at a whim. Mass is, instead, about you RECEIVING God's grace that is offered to you, to all of us, most especially in the Eucharist. So often, we are blithely unaware of what it is that we need to receive and we just sit there expecting something to happen to us, instead of opening ourselves to what is already taking place within us.
- When you come to Mass, don't be afraid to have a "live question" percolating in your heart. The presence of a fear, a hope, a desire, a dream, a joy indicates that we are open and receptive and, into this opening, trust that God will speak. Trust that what you need to hear will be offered to you, but you have to be listening.
In sum, when we think that Mass is boring it is because we are boring. If this is the Lord's Supper, what are we bringing to the pot luck celebration? We are invited to bring everything that we have: our bodies, our hearts, and our minds...and all that is in them. So bring to the Eucharist all that you have. Bring your struggles and joys, hopes and dreams, fears and despair. Place them on the altar. Our Lord does not want burnt sacrifice; rather, it is you and all that you are that is desired. When we make this full offering of ourselves, when we are in touch with our heart's deepest yearning, we incline our ear toward the Word of Life and Love. When we are honest and open about our hungers, the Bread of Life we are given will sate our longing.
When Vatican II called for full and active participation, I don't know that they had in mind lots of hand-clapping and liturgical dance. Instead of the priest doing all of the work, instead of the priest turning on the grace, it is ALL of us who must contribute to the sacrifice of the Mass. We do not bring gold, or jewels. Instead, we bring the material of our very lives: struggle, toil, excitement, sadness, grief, and joy. It is our hopes and dreams that we place upon the altar and then, as we kneel, we listen for the Word that speaks all words, the Word that will bury itself deep in the soil of our hearts and bear great fruit. Full and active means less that we need to perform than it indicates that we need to bring ours full selves to the liturgy and actively offer them on the altar of sacrifice.
So my suggestion is that next Sunday you leave for Mass a few minutes early. Have the kids ready and dressed and ready to go a few minutes early. Walk in, bless yourself, and take your seat. Gather yourself together. Help your children to do this: they make lists for Santa Claus, so why can't they have a list of dreams for Jesus, too? Children know of their heart's desire, although I fear that adults have often forgotten that we are SUPPOSED to have wild dreams and hopes. Name these dreams and hold them. As Mass begins, open your ears and your heart to the whole liturgy: listen for what it is that God may be trying to tell you. Trust that somewhere, whether it be in a reading, the homily, or part of the Eucharistic prayer, that you will hear what you need to hear. On the way home, perhaps you could share what it was that was in your heart with your family and what you heard and felt. Encourage them to do the same. It doesn't need to be any formal affair, but a simple conversation.
Consider how, if you were to try this for several weeks, how your view of Mass might change. If you know that each week you bring everything to Mass, perhaps you will begin to see other members of the community as fellow strugglers, burdened in ways similar to you. Your heart will know what it is to struggle, to hope, to dream, and you will be better able to empathize with others. You will appreciate that we are, all of us, sinners who are trying to be disciples, women and men who labor and desire fervently to be friends of Jesus Christ. Without necessarily knowing what weighs heavily on the heart of your sisters and brothers in Christ, you can be confident that each of them carries a burden and hungers to be fed at the Lord's table by the Body and Blood of Eternal Life. This, to my mind, is far from boring. It is, rather, the exciting drama of the Good Shepherd who gathers his sheep to himself, nursing their wounds and satisfying their hunger, as he brings his flock into his Kingdom.