Appreciating the Depth of Mass

Two weeks ago I wrote my first article, “What Does It Mean to be a Eucharistic People,” on Timothy P. O’Malley’s book, Becoming Eucharistic People: The Hope and Promise of Parish Life (Notre Dame, IN: Ave Maria Press. 2022, part of the Engaging Catholicism series.) followed last week by “Understanding Eucharistic Culture.” Today I will complete my articles reflecting on O’Malley’s book.

I concluded last week where O’Malley began to discuss “banality” in the Mass. He writes, “Banality is a word that means something is unoriginal or exceedingly commonplace” (34). If we only look at Mass on a superficial level, it can get old and boring. As such Mass would seem “banal”.

The solution? Don’t look at our celebration of the Mass only as a superficial activity!

It is true that Mass has the same structure every week. Processional hymn, Sign of the Cross, greeting, Penitential Rite, Gloria, Collect (opening prayer), readings, homily, creed, Prayers of the Faithful, Eucharist, Communion, Prayer after Communion, final blessing, and recessional. You know the structure. It does not change. The readings change but they cycle every three years. So, if you have been coming to Mass for 30 years, you have heard the readings 10 times. Maybe the music offers a favorite hymn or something new. It’s all familiar.

What’s the solution? Should we totally redo the Mass to make it new? How about Protestant churches where the minister can pick their own readings from the Bible? Regarding the latter, if a church has the same minister for 30 years, do you think that because the minister can pick the readings themselves, the service seems new every time? I’m willing to bet that there is a lot of repetition. As to the former, “should totally we redo the Mass to make it new”, the answer is no.

What? Wouldn’t it get people’s attention? Perhaps for a little bit but there is something comforting in the familiar. Our Catholic Mass has the same structure it had in the time of St. Justin Martyr in the second century (see Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1345).

Instead of changing the Mass, O’Malley writes, “Liturgical banality must be healed through a remembering of what we are doing in the liturgy” (35). He says “we counteract banality by remembering why we are gathering in the first place, praying rather than reading or saying parts of the Mass, leaving room for contemplation and silence during the Eucharistic liturgy, understanding how the body matters in worship, and allowing Eucharistic devotion to permeate parish life” (34). In short, we need to know why come to Mass and actively engage in it. We stand, knee, and genuflect for a reason. Silence is not just a time when we are waiting for the next part to start. Silence is part of the liturgy to give us time to contemplate what is going on. We gather for Mass to praise God for all that we celebrate in Mass. We receive God’s Word and we celebrate the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross and thank God for the gift of the Body and Blood of Jesus in the Eucharist.

Liturgy only becomes banal when we forget what God does for us, when we forget the story behind what we do at Mass (O’Malley, 36). We become more reverent when we embrace the silence as a time to reflect in contemplation what God has done for us (O’Malley, 41). Some people come to Mass to escape the noise of the world. This alone should lead us to cherish the silence (O’Malley, 43). It is in the silence that we can hear God come to us in a tiny whispering sound as we hear in this coming weekend’s first reading (19th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A, 8/13/23, 1 Kings 19:9a,11-13a).

Some people think we should use simple words rather than “elevated language” (see O’Malley, 49). I say doesn’t the changing of the bread and wine deserve a special word that we don’t use for anything else, “transubstantiation”?

Some people think the Mass stands on its own. I agree with O’Malley that offering Eucharistic Adoration and Benediction stresses the importance of the Real Presence in the Eucharist (see O’Malley, 49). To become the Church that we are called to be, we need opportunities to contemplate the Eucharistic mystery (see O’Malley, 63). This begins with time spent in silence after we receive Communion. It continues in Adoration.

We need to think about what we hear in the scripture readings. They are not simply stories of what happened to other people. The Transfiguration is not just the story of what happened to Peter, James, and John. It is our story (see my reflection from this past Sunday’s celebration of the Feast of the Transfiguration). It is the the story of salvation history (see O’Malley, 66).

I’ll end by referring to O’Malley’s discussion for the need for “A Eucharistic Popular Catholicism” (84-93). Here he talks about customs like the “Posadas” as a Christmas custom recalling Joseph and Mary’s search for lodging (84) that can help make the Christmas story come alive for us. Such customs are unfamiliar to me. Perhaps they are something I need to take a look at.

I hope you understand that our faith is a living faith. What we read in the Bible is the story of God’s relationship with his people, including us. What we celebrate in the Eucharist is not just a reminder of what Jesus did 2,000 years ago. The celebration of the Eucharist makes present to us today Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross. It makes present his gift of his Body and Blood in the Eucharist. It makes present the empty tomb on Easter Morning. Jesus is Risen!

Before concluding, for those who are new to my blog and website, I just created a new page “All Things Eucharist” to help you find everything I have offered on the Eucharist and the Mass.


Fr. Jeff

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