It’s a great phrase ‘Did you get Mass?’ Often its thrown in as a question or sometimes offered as another box ticked in a list of ‘things to do’: ‘ I was in such a flurry, so many things to do, but thankfully I managed to ‘get’ Mass’. It would be silly to make a big deal of this because it’s just a manner of speaking but this and a few other things combined got me thinking. Somebody said to me recently that they came to Mass to try and say ‘a mouthful of prayers’, and I also know that for others coming to Mass, is at least in part, about meeting friends. It is all this and more. If there was an analysis of why people come to Mass there would be a whole host of reasons given from sense of duty to deep faith, including a raft of social, psychological and spiritual reasons in between. I have been thinking about how routine can deaden our sense of what is special and beautiful.
What I mean by this is illustrated in how often we use the phrase ‘I love you’. There was a time, maybe it was ‘a generational thing,’ when the phrase was not used often. This is not of course to suggest the love was not there. Nowadays the phrase is said much more readily, and in some ways it is true, it could not be said often enough, but is it reasonable to ask the question, could we over use it, could we exhaust the words, could we cheapen the phrase? Could we ‘sicken’ ourselves of a particular song, playing it over and over again? Could we watch the same movie so many times that we feel we could act a part in it? Could we have too much icecream? I think we know that the answer is yes.
Now here is an interesting question. Maybe it’s not so much ‘did you get’ Mass, as in did you fit it in, almost did you catch it? Rather the real question might be ‘do you get Mass’, as in do you understand Mass, do you appreciate or value it? This invites us to be more concerned with presence than being present. It suggests that there might be more to Mass than simply showing up. As part of the faith community, rather than bemoan at times that we did not get anything out of that Mass, to be honest enough with ourselves, to ask what did we put into that Mass? The danger for all of us who come to Mass regularly, and perhaps it is a particular danger for priests, is the danger of familiarity. Could it be, for us who believe, that Mass could become just another weekly duty or chore? Perhaps it’s timely to remind ourselves, including, and maybe especially the priest, regarding what actually happens at Mass.
I do not intend to attempt, in this little column, to pen a theology of the Eucharist, but in as direct a way as possible to enable us, myself included, to reflect on what exactly happens from we greet each other at the beginning of the ceremony to the final ‘being sent out’, all of us, to love and serve the Lord. I think there is a movement, a dynamic, or my favourite word for it, there is a dance at the Eucharist. We come in tentatively, a little bowed, maybe more than a little burdened. We come hungry and thirsty, not for belly food but the food that lasts forever. It has no sell by date or use by date, for it is eternally fresh. When we go out we are commissioned, hopefully charged up, for a task. That task is to be an ambassador for the Kingdom of God. However for a moment let’s concentrate on what happens in the middle, or at the climax of the Mass. It is here that the ‘treasure not made of gold’ lies. If familiarity takes over here, then this is a real tragedy.
Why is it that we term the Mass the greatest prayer on earth? Surely this is an outlandish claim that cannot be justified? Not when we remember that this is about body and blood, real flesh, real living life blood. The body and blood of Jesus. The body of Jesus battered, bloodied and tortured. The physical suffering of Jesus on the way to, and on Calvary, coming after the darkness and mental anguish of Gethsemane remind us of the fullness of the sacrifice he made. However the sad reality is that many people, including those who know the story of Jesus, and also those who, at least in their head know about his passion, do not really know why this happened. We miss this central truth even though it is contained in the actual words of consecration said at every Mass. The phrase of course is ‘for the forgiveness of sins.’ Wow!! So when we attend Mass we are called not to spectate or observe but to give ourselves to the action of the sacred story. So the sufferings of Jesus are directly connected with our sins. The sins that trap and enslave us, that rage, that bitter tongue, that destructive jealousy and all the other things that bind us up, destroying our freedom and making us unhappy, Jesus suffers and dies to conquer all this. So we gather to say sorry, to listen to God’s word, to be fed in the depths of our soul but it would be a pity if we failed to gaze in deep gratitude at Jesus present amongst as he promised. It’s in the gaze, at the consecration, that we can be sure, that all that binds us, especially sin, will not have the final say, because Jesus beat sickness, suffering, pain and above all sin, our sin, forever.