03 September 2013
"Father, Mass is boring..."
Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time
There are few things more disappointing to a priest than the words, “Father, I think Mass is boring. I prefer going to my friend’s church because it’s more exciting and they have better music.” These words generally come out of the mouths of teens, because they generally speak their mind, whether you like it or not. But, if I had to guess, I would say that many adults feel this way too, they just have become familiar enough with the rules of decorum not to say it, at least, not to the priest’s face.
Saying that Mass is boring betrays that one does not know what’s really going on at Mass. Many of us come because we have always come. Many come because we don’t want to commit a mortal sin of missing Mass on a Sunday or Holyday. If you’re a minor, you may come simply because it’s one of the expectations for those who are provided with free room and board by mom and dad. But do we know what we are doing when we come here? Do we know the privilege we have?
In our second reading from the Letter to the Hebrews, the author tells us that we
have approached Mount Zion and the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and countless angels in festal gathering, and the assembly of the firstborn enrolled in heaven, and God the judge of all, and the spirits of the just made perfect, and Jesus, the mediator of the new covenant, and the sprinkled blood which speaks more eloquently than that of Abel.
He is talking about the worship of the Church, and contrasting it with the ways the Israelites worshipped at Mount Sinai, when God revealed Himself, and it was so terrible (causing terror)—with a mountain that could not be touched, blazing fire, gloomy darkness, storm, trumpet blast, and a voice speaking from the clouds—that they begged the Lord not to reveal Himself to them in such a way, but to speak through Moses from that point on.
As we gather here, in this Church, to celebrate Mass, we are being drawn up to heaven. The stained glass, the high ceilings, the occasional incense, the candles, the bells, the gold, the special vestments, the occasional sprinkling rite—all of this is meant to tell our senses that we have left earth and have entered into a new reality. We, at this Mass, have entered into the halfway point between With angels bowing down in worship, with the saints, our Catholic brothers and sisters who have shown us in countless ways what it means to be a faithful disciple of Jesus, we hear God’s Word proclaimed to us, the Word that brings life, the Word that saves us from sin, the Word that tells us how to live so as to not stay in the halfway point, but to truly enter in to what was promised to us in Baptism: the Kingdom of Heaven. We are able to see the miraculous, as Bread and Wine become, not as a corporate game of imagination, but in reality, the Body and Blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ. What the angels do not even dare to gaze upon, we hold in our hands or receive on our tongues and Christ becomes one with us. Our God so loves us that He will not remain separate but pierces the veil between heaven and earth and draws us up to Himself so that we can have communion—union with—Him. And because of that, our music is different, our words are different. This is no common place, this is not just another building. This is sacred space, dedicated to God, and where we are drawn up in anticipation of what heaven will be like, when we are all worshipping God in love before the throne and the Lamb, as the Book of Revelation tells us.earth and heaven.
And how do I know that at least some do not understand? I can tell because, if this Sunday is like other Sundays, or weddings, or funerals, some here are probably chewing gum as I speak. Some here probably brought in coffee to the Church, or have not observed the fast for one hour before the reception of Holy Communion. Some here were probably reading the bulletin during the proclamation of the Word of God. And because some here in coming weeks will just drop the kids off for religious ed and your children will only rejoin you more than halfway through Mass, and they will never fulfill their Sunday obligation. And that’s just those who are here. There are so many, including even parents who sacrifice to send their children to our parish school, who won’t even come on Sundays. This betrays the fact that there is ignorance about what’s going on. “Father, you don’t know me. You don’t know my circumstances. You can’t judge me!” I certainly cannot judge your soul; that is only for God to do. I cannot judge your culpability: perhaps you’ve never heard this before; perhaps you have forgotten; perhaps we priests have not done all we can to form you in understanding what the Mass is. But I can call all of us together, as the Body of Christ, to feel shame for the fact that we have the most precious gift here, and at times we treat it like going to a movie theater, or a play, or a concert. We treat it just like another weekly event on our calendar that we need to attend for whatever reason.
Right now in Egypt there are families who are risking their lives, in no exaggeration of that phrase, to go to Mass, because it is likely that radicals could blow up or try to set fire to their church. Right now in China there are groups of Catholics that gather in secret locations for Mass because if the government finds out that they are more faithful to the Pope than to the Communist government they could go to jail, be tortured, or just “disappear.” Right now there are many places in the US that see a priest once every month, or even once every few months, and that is the only time they are able to receive Holy Communion.
Our first reading and our Gospel both remind us to be humble. Let us be humble enough to recognize that we somtimes don’t understand what we are doing, or don’t show the proper appreciation for the great gift that we have in being able to gather each Sunday as the People of God and join in the worship of the angels and saints in heaven as we hear the Word of God and receive that same Word of God, Jesus, in the Eucharist. And then let us work at being formed to be receptive to the Mass through the many great books that are out there on the Mass, through adult formation sessions, and more, rather than asking the Mass to be formed according to our desires. Because, brothers and sisters, right now, at this moment, we are participating in the halfway point between heaven and earth. We are worshipping God and the Lamb, as angels bow down in adoration around this altar as Christ is made present. We are surrounded by the saints who are filling this room to capacity, joining with us in our worship of God. We are preparing to receive “Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and the sprinkled blood that speaks more eloquently than that of Abel.”