The Pre-Vatican II experience.
When I was young, we were taught that it was a mortal sin to miss Sunday Mass. That worked for us, and Catholic churches seemed to be full. The Mass was something that seemed to be performed by specially appointed people. It was in a language we didn’t understand. It seemed mysterious and magical. We seemed to be observers, even when missals were introduced with Latin on one side and English on the other, so we could follow along. We seemed to be observers, but we had to be there for some reason. The only reasons I remember were to get grace and/or to avoid going to hell. We understood grace to be the help God gives us in life. I distinctly remember being taught that, even if we slept through Mass, we got some kind of grace.
Some people seem to think that we should go back to those days, with Mass in Latin and all of the mystery. They seem to think that we can recreate those days when our churches were full. We can recreate some of that. We can, of course, pray the Mass in Latin. That has always been allowed. We can even go back to the same words and phrases that were prayed before Vatican II. The pre-Vatican II liturgy is called the Tridentine Mass because it was promulgated after the Council of Trent. The Mass most of us are familiar with is often called the Novus Ordo or the “new order” of the Mass. It is the liturgy of Pope Paul VI promulgated after Vatican II. That is allowed today too. Some people really like the Mass in Latin, but not everyone. Even if we pray the Mass in Latin, though, I don’t think we can convince the majority of people of today that they either go to Mass or go to hell. There has to be another reason for the Mass to be considered important in people’s lives, no matter what language it is in, or it simply won’t be considered important.
I’ve struggled, in my life, to find out how the Mass can be meaningful to me, not just as something I do each week but something that has meaning for my life throughout the week. I’ve struggled with this throughout the years and I’ve talked to others, who participate in the Mass on a regular basis, to find out why it is meaningful to them. I think I now have some wisdom, some is mine and some is theirs, and I want to share it.
Mass is an encounter with the Lord
I think that one of the most compelling reasons one might want to participate in the Mass is for the encounter with the Lord. That is like going to the Lord’s house, knocking on the door, and saying “Hey, can we talk?” Who wouldn’t want an encounter with the Lord? I mean, look at Scripture and see how cool it was for those who met him when He walked the earth; well, that’s other than the scribes and the Pharisees, at times. But if we could have an authentic encounter with the Lord, wouldn’t that be cool?
Many people have that encounter at Mass, in a variety of ways. The Church says the Lord is really present in the Word proclaimed, in the consecrated bread and wine, in the community gathered, and in the person of the presider. But be careful. Jesus is very demanding. In any encounter, He may request of you more than you are willing to give. Yet, experiencing such an encounter is not only possible, it should be expected whenever you participate in the Mass. The trick is in opening ourselves to the encounter.
Mass is an opportunity to discover the purpose of our lives by making a gift-of-self to God
Another reason we might want to participate in the Mass is the opportunity to make a gift-of-self to God and, thereby, discover the purpose of our lives. For many, this might be more meaningful after they’ve had an encounter with the Lord but for some people, those who like to take action rather than discuss things, it might be meaningful before that encounter and might even bring it on.
As Jesus lived out his human life on earth, in communion with the Father and the Holy Spirit, he discovered that the purpose of His human life was our salvation. He was willing to make a sacrifice-of-self to fulfill that purpose. In the Mass, we ask the Holy Spirit to make that sacrifice-of-self present to our day and time and we are invited to join the offering of our own lives to His; to send up to God as one gift.
People oftentimes make sacrifices for people they love or even for issues in which they believe. Such sacrifices give our lives purpose. And, what better way is there to discover the meaning of our lives than to make a gift of self to God who created us for a purpose?
We are nourished by the Lord’s presence in the Mass
Then there is the nourishment that our Lord’s real presence provides. If you haven’t noticed, life is hard. The struggles of life can deplete our energies. The more it wears us down, the more difficult it becomes. Some people confront the difficulties of life by trying harder, immersing themselves in diversions, some more healthy than others, or by giving up. Others, find the energy to go on in their experience of the Mass.
Jesus said, “My body is true food. My blood is true drink.” (Jn 6:55-57) People who have experienced the Real Presence of the Lord, in the Mass, have discovered the life-givingness of relationship with the Lord in a special way. So many people have said to me that without the Eucharist, there is something missing in their week. They experience the nourishment, in the Eucharist, as that which gives them the strength to go on. It makes that which they do during the week life-giving instead of draining. Shouldn’t we all be searching for that?
Jesus asked us to do it
One final reason I find compelling is that Jesus asked us to do this. He asked us, as disciples, to be His witnesses and proclaim His death and resurrection until He comes again. He asked us to do this through the Mass “in remembrance of Him”. Of course, this only makes sense if you consider yourself a disciple of the Lord, but if you do, I can’t fathom how you could neglect the Sunday celebration of the Eucharist.
And, it is not just the death of the Lord. It is His death, resurrection, and ascension into heaven, the whole Pascal mystery, of which we, by faith, are partakers. It is our responsibility, as His disciples, to proclaim this good news. The word “Gospel”, by the way, literally means “good news”. That may not be enough for you, but I think, if you are a person of faith, it should be.
Are you interested?
This is Chapter 1 of my book on the Mass. If you are interested in reading it, it is available on Amazon. The link is below.