5 Tips for getting more out of Mass
By Lisa Schulte
The Catholic Voice
Have you ever tried to dance with a partner who won't move their feet or to have a conversation with someone who won't respond? It's not easy. And it's not much fun.
Well, the same happens when one attends Mass and doesn't participate. He or she might just follow the motions or complain that Mass is boring. But all Christians are called to take an active role in the liturgy, to obey Jesus' command, "Do this in memory of me," said Father Roc O'Connor, SJ, a theology professor at Creighton University and liturgist at St. John Church on the Creighton campus.
"The Mass is the prayer of the church. That's why we need to participate," he said. "Our role is to listen attentively and to enter into the acclamation."
The Mass is about being in relationship with God and others, he said.
"It's about learning to become more present to where I am with people around me and to be present to this reality that it's not just me," he said. "When I'm at Mass, it's not about me. It's about the church. That's one of the hardest conversions there is."
The Mass is the praise and thanksgiving of our God through which we enter into a deeper unity with him that culminates with Holy Communion, said Father Joe Hanefeldt, pastor at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in Omaha.
"Christ instituted the Eucharist for us to enter into union with him, with the Blessed Trinity," he said. "We're one with him in the Eucharist. We're one with him in prayer with our brothers and sisters there. We're in solidarity with those who can't be there because of illness."
Although it takes good contribution from all present at the Mass priest, congregation, reader, server, musician, etc. there are ways in which those sitting in the pews can get more out of the Mass.
1. Prepare yourself
If Mass is like a dance, then it requires preparation.
Arrive early to give yourself enough time to focus on what is about to take place in the liturgy, Father Hanefeldt said.
Whether a person is an extrovert or an introvert will determine what type of preparation they will need before Mass, Father O'Connor said. Extroverts will want to talk to people when they arrive and introverts will feel more comfortable in quiet prayer.
"Go with the stronger suit, but over time, find a balance between the two," he said. "Extroverts need to find ways to enter into solitude and introverts need to find ways to come out of themselves."
Upon entering the sanctuary, bless yourself with holy water as a reminder of our unity in baptism and genuflect to Christ in the tabernacle or bow to the altar, Father O'Connor said. That respectful gesture says, "It's the spirit of God that brings me here," he said. "It's about us before God."
Father Hanefeldt suggests coming to Mass with a specific intention that you can add on in your heart when the petitions are read and to bring up with you when you come up to receive the Eucharist.
"Everything going on at the Mass, then, revolves around a purpose or intention," he said.
Father O'Connor encourages Catholics to ask themselves these questions when preparing spiritually for the liturgy: Where am I as I come to prayer today? Am I ready to hand over myself and be a part of this Body of Christ?
2. Sing praise to the Lord
Sometimes people don't sing at Mass because they think they have a bad singing voice. Don't worry about it, Father O'Connor said. Sing anyway.
"Remember that when we sing, it's no longer about me, but about us praising the Father, Son and Spirit," he said. "Singing is about helping manifest the church in the world."
Participate by singing all the parts of the Mass, as well as the entrance, offertory, communion and recessional hymns.
The purpose of the entrance song is to form a community to introduce the season that we're in, to begin the celebration and to accompany the entrance of the ministers, Father O'Connor said. Its purpose is to manifest the presence of Christ in the liturgy, not to greet the presider.
"The singing is the praise of God now and a foretaste of what is to come in heaven," Father O'Connor said. "What we're doing doesn't just mirror what's going on in heaven, but it anticipates what we will all be doing when the world is redeemed."
3. Listen well
Part of having a conversation involves listening, which is what happens during the reading of the Word of God. Distractions are going to be there all the time, but one has to learn to focus, to tune those distractions out in order to hear what God is trying to teach through his Word.
Father Hanefeldt suggests listening to the Scriptures with your eyes closed to shut out the distractions.
Identifying a word or phrase from the readings that stood out to you and meditating on it might be helpful, too, Father O'Connor said.
"We have to be ready for attraction and aversion to the Word," he said. "What happens when a person doesn't like what they hear? That's when a person starts to develop a spiritual life."
4. Give and receive
Like in dialogue, the Mass involves both give and take.
When the gifts of bread and wine are presented to the altar, we can also give our joys and our sorrows to the Father, who in turn, gives us himself in the Eucharist, the source and summit of Christian life, Father O'Connor said.
"God gives, we return to him our gifts and then we receive them back as the Body and Blood of Christ," he said.
Father O'Connor suggests meditating on the bread and wine and thinking about the relationships that they invite you into with God and with others. Think about the economic realities, he said, how and by whom the bread and wine were made.
The word "Eucharist" means thanksgiving, and the Eucharistic prayer said by the priest after receiving the bread and wine is a prayer of praise and thanksgiving. It can be difficult to pay attention during the Eucharistic prayer, but it's important to remember that it isn't the prayer of the presider, but the prayer of the church.
At Mass, all are in communion with Christ and with one another as the Body of Christ. Think about that when the Eucharistic prayer and the Our Father are being said, Father O'Connor said.
Before going up to receive communion, sit with open hands and meditate on them, since most people receive the Eucharist in their hands.
"That gesture can help us be mindful through practice of 'Here I am. How am I ready to receive you?'" Father O'Connor said. "Again, it's about finding a way to be in relationship."
5. Go forth with Spirit
Participating in Mass helps us live fuller lives as Christians, Father O'Connor said. What happens at Mass should affect what we do outside the church walls, he said.
At the dismissal, all are sent forth as the Body of Christ to complete the mission of Christ in the world. In recognizing Christ in others at Mass, we can begin to see Christ in those we meet on the street, in our offices and at home, he said.
Father O'Connor suggests asking: From what I've heard and done today, what is my mission in the world? What new sense of identity do I have to take into the world? What have I received today that I can take into my daily practice?
The Eucharist makes us more aware of those who are in need of conversion, of knowing Jesus or of coming back to him, Father Hanefeldt said. We must use the graces we receive at the Mass to help those who need encouragement, he said.
"Take what you have received in the Eucharist out the doors into the world," Father Hanefeldt said.