Getting more out of Mass - Catholic Courier
A woman sings during an Aug. 24, 2017 Mass at St. James Cathedral Basilica in Brooklyn, N.Y. Active participation in Mass offers a special opportunity to deepen our faith and more fully explore our relationship with Christ. (CNS photo by Gregory A. Shemitz) A woman sings during an Aug. 24, 2017 Mass at St. James Cathedral Basilica in Brooklyn, N.Y. Active participation in Mass offers a special opportunity to deepen our faith and more fully explore our relationship with Christ. (CNS photo by Gregory A. Shemitz)

Getting more out of Mass

In this issue:
Practicing a eucharistic life
Getting more out of church
Biblical origins of Mass
Food for Thought

In a nutshell

Getting more out of Mass begins with immersing ourselves in the story of salvation.

It requires giving more of ourselves — practicing the art of self-giving love not just on Sunday mornings but in every encounter we have in our families, in our work and in our homes.

Perhaps it’s time to consider a more active role at Mass as a lector, choir member or altar server.

Practicing a eucharistic life

By Timothy P. O’Malley/Catholic News Service

Pope Francis has previously noted that liturgical education is an unending process. Pope Francis reminds us that liturgical fruitfulness is not merely a matter of participating in the Sunday Mass but attuning ourselves to pray fruitfully.

It is necessary for us to learn to pray the Mass so that we discover that “the worship of God in our lives cannot be relegated to something private and individual, but tends by its nature to permeate every aspect of our existence,” as Pope Benedict XVI wrote in “Sacramentum Caritatis” (No. 71). How can we approach the Mass, open to learning to practice a eucharistic life? 

Getting more out of Mass begins with immersing ourselves in the story of salvation. The Bible is not a textbook of moral behavior. Instead, the Scriptures provide an encounter with the living God mediated through human speech. 

As the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation notes, “The church has always venerated the divine Scriptures just as she venerates the body of the Lord, since, especially in the sacred liturgy, she unceasingly receives and offers to the faithful the bread of life from the table both of God’s word and of Christ’s body” (No. 21). Whether we pray the Scriptures in the liturgy or in the privacy of our homes, we are performing an act of worship. 

This immersion into the Scriptures is not reducible to reading the Bible cover to cover. It is learning a way of reading grounded in the four senses of the Scriptures: the literal, allegorical, moral and anagogical.

The literal sense of the Scriptures relates both to the background of the text, while also attending to each and every word of the Bible. The literal sense opens up the reader to an awareness of God’s activity in history. The Bible is a historical book, showing how the God of Abraham, of Isaac and of Jacob became involved in time and space. 

Still, the Scriptures are not just about what God has once-upon-a-time done. They’re also about what God is still doing. Reading the Scriptures allegorically makes us aware of the coherency of the scriptural narrative. 

The Old and New Testament are not different stories. They’re the same story in which God’s self-emptying love is fulfilled in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. 

In the moral sense, we perceive the words of the Scriptures as immersing us into the history of this narrative — our lives are a rich space for the Word to enflesh itself once again. 

The anagogical sense leads us to desire anew God’s final action in history. 

Preparation for Mass requires us to read the Scriptures in these various ways. We must know about what happens at Christmas in the Scriptures. We must see the birth narratives as fulfillments of the great prophecies promised in the Old Testament. 

We must gaze with wonder at the humility of the infant in the manger, seeing how we too are called to empty ourselves in love. And we are to long for the entire created order to be transformed into Bethlehem, surrounded by the Holy Family, adoring in wondrous silence the infant who created the world. 

Entering into the senses of the Scriptures attunes us to long for God to act here and now. Just as God does at every Mass.  

The Mass is the memorial of Christ’s sacrifice, where our crucified and resurrected Lord becomes present among us. We eat his body and drink his blood, becoming what we have received. But Jesus Christ isn’t the only one offered upon the altar. All of us are! 

In Eucharistic Prayer 4, the church prays, “Grant in your loving kindness to all who partake of this one bread and one chalice that, gathered into one body by the Holy Spirit, they may truly become a living sacrifice in Christ.” As the church receives the sacrifice of love made present upon the altar, she is to become what she has received. 

In this sense, when we go to Mass, we’re not just passively waiting for God to make this sacrifice available. The Liturgy of the Eucharist is the work of God on behalf of the people. But, the liturgy is also the space where we offer the return gift of our whole selves to God. 

When we sing at Mass, when we listen attentively to the Scriptures, when we pray for the living and the dead, we are offering ourselves as a living sacrifice of praise. In practicing this self-gift, every dimension of our lives is to become this sacrifice of praise. Not just during the Mass. 

Getting more out of the Mass, in the end, requires giving more of ourselves. It means practicing the art of self-giving love not just on Sunday mornings but in every encounter we have in our families, in our work and in our homes. 

The Mass, at least for now, ends. But, as our preparations for Mass make clear, attending the Eucharist is a dress rehearsal for what we are called to become at the end of all time: a kingdom of priests made to adore the living God. For ever and ever. Amen. 

(O’Malley is author of “Bored Again Catholic: How the Mass Could Save Your Life” and director of the Notre Dame Center for Liturgy.)

Getting more out of church

By Kelly Bothum/Catholic News Service

At some point in our lives, nearly all of us have been stuck in the wash-rinse-repeat cycle of Sunday Mass. We go to church, listen to the Gospel, receive the Eucharist, drive home and do it all over again the next week. 

When we’re operating out of habit, we’re present but not really present. It’s a shame, too, because active participation in Mass offers a special opportunity to deepen our faith and more fully explore our relationship with Christ.

As practicing Catholics, we know this. But some days are harder to engage than others, whether it’s the drone of an underwhelming homily, the distraction of fidgeting kids or the weight of carrying heavy personal burdens. 

So how can we make sure we’re getting our faith’s worth when attending Mass? Being open to change can be a good start. Sometimes, it’s a simple shift, like swapping your regular seat in church for one with a different vantage point. If you’re a regular at the 8:00 a.m. Mass, consider instead going to the vigil instead.

The consolidation of parishes in Lynn Palcic’s diocese prompted the Bentleyville, Pennsylvania, Catholic to change up her regular Mass schedule. While she didn’t expect it, she discovered the new faces — both on the altar and in the pews — gave her a fresh take on experiencing the Mass and developing community with others. 

“Sometimes just going at a different time will shake up your routine,” she said. 

If you’re struggling to fully participate in Mass, perhaps it’s a sign to consider a more active role, Palcic added. Serving as an extraordinary minister of holy Communion or lector means assuming a hands-on role that can help you feel more connected. (The same advice goes for bored kids — being an altar server may help Mass feel more like a real thing rather than a nebulous experience.)

Music makes the difference for Joe Gawinski, 63, who has been singing in organized choral groups since he was in the sixth grade. He’s currently part of the choir at St. Helena’s Parish in Wilmington, Delaware. The choir learns new music each week to correspond with the readings.

“Often the priest will mention something in his sermon that corresponds to a piece in our repertoire,” Gawinski said. “Our director will run to our music files and distribute a piece that drives home what the priest just mentioned.”

Gawinski said singing in the choir helps him focus on why he’s there, but the benefits of the music extend beyond the church doors. “During the week, all I need to do is think of a recent song title and the words transport me to a healthier place,” he said. 

It’s also worth realizing that our needs during Mass can change depending on the stage of our life. In our youth, it may be the actual habit itself that we are cultivating. As we get older and our lives get more hectic, Mass may be valuable because of the opportunity for silent prayer and thanksgiving.

 Joanna Fitzmaurice of Great Falls, Virginia, uses the quiet time of Mass to reflect on the past week and think about the week ahead of her. Sitting in church with her husband and three children, it’s easier to give thanks to God without the chaos of daily life to distract her. She also returns to the readings and Gospel as part of her reflection. 

“If I can’t get the message from the pastor I will reread those and try to get the message on my own,” said Fitzmaurice, a mother of three. “I find it amazing that all around the world everyone is hearing the same message.”

 Rarely do we have to do anything on our own anymore, thanks to advances in technology that make our lives easier. But there’s one place we can’t be on autopilot, and that’s at Mass. Our faith depends on it.

(Bothum is a freelance writer and a mother of three.)

Biblical origins of the Mass

By Allan F. Wright/Catholic News Service

The celebration of the Eucharist is “the source and summit of the Christian life,” reads the Catechism of the Catholic Church (No. 1324). Yet even for many faithful Catholics and for those who observe a Catholic Mass for the first time, the celebration can appear mysterious if not altogether confusing.

It’s as if each time you attend Mass you receive two or three puzzle pieces that are beautiful but you never have the whole picture in front of you so that you can see where they fit, especially from a biblical perspective.

The Mass has some obvious connections to sacred Scripture such as a selection of readings from the Old and New Testaments, the singing of the Psalms and hearing the words of Jesus at the consecration of the bread and wine.

However, from the moment we walk into church and bless ourselves with holy water, we are connected with the apostles who were sent on a mission and sealed the newly baptized by marking their foreheads with the sign on the cross (Ez 9:4, Eph 1:3, Rv 7:3).

Jesus commanded his disciples to baptize in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit in Mt 28:16-20. For those who are baptized, this action of dipping our fingers in the holy water and blessing ourselves reminds us that we are redeemed and that we belong the Christ. 

As the Mass proceeds we can detect a pattern through the dialogue between the faithful and God that is mediated through the priest. Our prayer ascends to God and then his word descends to us. Our gifts of bread and wine are presented and “offered up” to the Father and the Father presents us with his best gift, Jesus, fully present, body, blood, soul and divinity in the Eucharist. 

In this dialogue we hear words that are taken directly from Scripture: “The Lord be with your spirit” (2 Tm 4:22); “Lord, have mercy” (Ps 30:11); “Holy, Holy, Holy” (Is 6:3); the Our Father prayer (Mt 6:9-13); “Lord, … I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof” (Lk 7:6); “Behold, the Lamb of God” (Jn 1:29); and “This is my body” (Lk 22:19).

In addition to the words we hear and speak during the Mass, our actions are not arbitrary but come directly from Scripture. Kneeling (Acts 21:5, Ps 95:6), singing (Acts 16:25), offering a sign of peace (1 Thes 5:26), offering bread and wine (Gn 14:18, Mt 26:26-28), gathering around an altar (Gn 12:7, Rv 16:7), the use of incense (Rv 8:4) are actions that come to us from the Bible. 

The puzzle pieces, the readings, actions and words at Mass, do indeed reveal a bigger picture: the picture of a God who loves us and died for us so that we may come alive in this life and have eternal life. The words and actions of the faithful and the priest are rooted in our “family history” which comes to us in sacred Scripture.

(Wright is the author of several books, including “25 Life-Changing Questions from the Gospels.”)

Food for Thought

As Mass concludes and the congregation filters out, it’s easy to move on to the next task, event or activity that the new week brings. How can families keep the spirit of Sunday Mass alive throughout the week? Here are some ideas:

— Post scriptural verses throughout the house. Choose passages from the Sunday Mass readings and post in visible areas as a reminder that God speaks to us through his word. Children can even choose the verses and decorate.

— Keep praying with the prayer of the faithful. Ask the parish staff to make available a copy of the prayer of the faithful. Each day pray one of the petitions to keep the intention alive in heart and mind.

— Have dinner discussions about the homily and/or readings and create family goals. Saturday or Sunday night after Mass, discuss the homily’s message or the meaning of the readings. Decide how you can live out the Gospel message this week, individually and as a family. Check in midweek at dinner to see how everyone is doing.

— Bless yourself with holy water. Keep a small font of holy water by the front door. Bless yourself as you enter and leave the house. Decorative fonts can be purchased at a Catholic bookstore or online, and parishes often have holy water containers where parishioners can fill up bottles to take home.

— Read the Mass readings in advance. Friday or Saturday evening, recite the readings, psalm and Gospel passage, available on For more context, find the passages in the Bible and read further.

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