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Preparing for Mass: What do I bring, what can I receive?

Preparing ourselves to become active participants in the celebration of the Mass can be the key to experiencing the fullness of the spiritual riches available to us.

The Catholic Voice recently spoke with Father Damien Cook, pastor of St. Philip Neri-Blessed Sacrament Parish in Omaha, who shared his reflections on the Sabbath and the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. 

In this second segment in a series, Father Cook talks about the spiritual disposition we should bring to the celebration of the Mass and what we can expect to receive.

 

Q. How can we ensure that we are not passive spectators but active participants in the Mass by preparing ourselves to celebrate the Eucharist?

The very name, Eucharist, giving thanks, presumes the reason why we’re coming, that it isn’t really out of obligation or duty; it’s honoring God’s third commandment (to keep holy the Sabbath), and it’s really presuming that we’re coming out of joy, to bring to the table, “What am I thankful for? What do I have to bring? What are God’s blessings?”

So it does require us to spend some time thinking about, “What are the blessings in my life? What’s good in my life?” And then to give praise to God. So, that changes the whole thing. Rather than me receiving as a spectator or as an audience member or purely passively, I’m coming and desiring to be here because I want to thank God who gives me so much. But that only works if we actually know what we’re thankful for.

 

Q. Some people may say, “Well, what do I get out of Mass?” But first, the idea should be, “What do we bring?” What are we bringing in terms of our worship and our needs and our prayers? And what can we rightly hope and expect to receive from the Mass?

It’s not wrong to ask the question, “What did I get?” because God wants to give us everything. But like many gifts that we receive, if we don’t like the gift or we want to return the gift or re-gift the gift, it’s not really showing appreciation for what the Lord’s actually giving us.

So I think the simple question of a person asking, “Is there one moment in the Mass” –  and that could be even a distraction, a holy distraction as I call them, maybe a statue or stained glass window or the way the sun comes in, whether it’s a particular piece of music or even just the melody, whether it’s the readings or the homily or the fact that you’re there with your family or whoever you’re with – that you just feel a peace or love.

It’s not that God always speaks to us in words, but it could be a fruit of the Holy Spirit, a sense of peace or joy or of generosity, a sense of wonder, the gifts of the Spirit. It could be that he really does speak to us through the homily or through the prayers, a particular song that nurtures … but just being attentive. We always have to be receiving. So that’s not a bad question, “What did I get?” 

So are you spending time after Communion or even later on the Sabbath day, to think back to the Mass? It’s not just what was easy to get, but what actually did I receive? Was there something that I heard or experienced in the Mass that led me closer to Jesus or to being a more holy, loving person?

That’s the thing to thank the Lord for. And it’s something that even could be shared as a family. I think that’s one of the things on the Sabbath day that could be beautiful … we’ve got the rest of the day to be meditating upon what we received. And even when sharing a dinner or lunch or brunch that day, and asking that question of somebody else to provoke them to think in a way they haven’t: “Where did you experience God’s love for you in the Mass?” Just ask that question of yourself, or a friend that you’re going to lunch with …. “Was there something that moved in your heart at any point?”

And it might be as simple as, “Well, I just always love that hymn that they did.” Or it could be, “Did you see how the sun came through that stained glass window?” There might be very simple, subtle things, but if you do that every time, that attunes the heart and the mind to receive. But again, we’re always receiving, it’s just whether or not we can appreciate who gave it to us.

 

Q. And what are we asked to bring to the Lord?

We bring our worship obviously, and I would say nothing less than ourselves when we have that gift of the bread and wine brought forward by a representative group or the ushers. In the early church, everybody came forward to put something in the basket and that was to help the poor or to give their offering to the priest. But really, all of that’s insufficient. God doesn’t need any of that. The only thing that he needs is what’s not fully his, which is our heart. I mean, only we can choose to give that to him.

So, if you just think of the gifts of bread and wine as, I’m presenting myself (to God.) God loves all of me, every part of me. And he knows that there’s sin in me. That’s why we start the Mass with the Penitential Rite. He wants to save the broken parts of me. And he loves the good parts of me, and he loves the struggles in me. He loves my whole self.

So that leads to that full, active, conscious participation. The greatest gift you can give is to be attentive, to actually lift a book, to say the prayers, to try to sing with whatever voice God gave you. If he gave it to you, well give it back to him, even if you’re not comfortable with it. But I think there really is just this profound sense of gift of self, self donation, which begins with even just choosing to be there.