By Bob Sullivan
If you prepare to go to Mass like you prepare to go to a doctor’s appointment, you will leave Mass with about as much grace as you had before the opening prayer.
The grace is always there for us, but too often, we don’t receive it because our minds wander to the missed field goal, the phone call we forgot to return, or what we are going to order for breakfast after Mass.
The Holy sacrifice of the Mass is the most powerful event in our life. To fully appreciate the grace made available to us at Holy Mass, it is wise to prepare mentally and spiritually for the miracle that will happen as the priest consecrates the bread and the wine, and they miraculously become the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ.
If you really stop and think about this miracle, you will come to appreciate the wisdom of taking the time to prepare for this before you walk through the doors of your church. You will also come to appreciate how important it is to stay engaged with all the prayers as well as the quiet moments during Mass.
You will find that the more you participate in the Mass, by listening and contemplating the prayers uttered or sung by the priest, by responding at the appropriate times, by singing, by folding your hands in prayer, and by entering into the moments of silence with a heart open to God, you will enter into a deeper relationship with Jesus.
That is simply how it happens. If you cooperate with the very carefully designed and planned liturgy of the Mass, you will often leave Mass with more grace. Sometimes you will actually feel the grace, though feeling it isn’t important. When you receive grace, you naturally enter into a deeper relationship with Christ.
But what about that screaming kid right behind you?
There is a difference between our internal distractions and the external ones. Our internal distractions are our fault, if we give in to them. They are natural and they are frequent, but we are the only ones who can have an impact on them. The external distractions are not our fault. Or are they?
You hear the familiar thump. Junior’s head has just come into contact with the wooden pew. You wait three seconds as Junior gathers the oxygen necessary to inform you as to just how much pain he’s feeling. Then the wailing begins. “That one hurt,” you think to yourself. Then you glance out of the corner of your eye to see the young mother or father, cradling the distraught and red-faced toddler in his or her arms.
As Junior shares intermittent high-pitched screams and blubbering, you wonder to yourself, “Do they know there is a cry room?”
You glance at others around you. You can tell that a few others are wondering the same thing you are, but most people seem oblivious to the fact that Junior’s acting like he just fractured his skull. Finally, Mom has Junior focused on some crackers, and everything is right with the world. Now you can get back to Mass.
Consider a different scenario. You hear the familiar thump, and instead of waiting for the wailing to begin, you immediately pray for the child, the parents, and the others at Mass. Then you focus more intently on Mass, patiently putting the potential distraction outside of your primary obligation for that hour, which is to participate in the Mass.
Which of these two scenarios is more likely to help everyone involved? Isn’t it even possible that by glancing at the young family, they might notice your impatience or your negativity and become even more nervous or anxious themselves? Isn’t it likely that others around you will notice that you are disturbed, and when it comes time for them to begin raising a family, they might opt against going to Mass as a family so as not to end up on the receiving end of some scowl-faced glances when little Susie is having a bad morning?
Herein likes the challenge. We want a beautiful, powerful, and contemplative Mass each Sunday, but we have to contend with all of the realities of life. Do we tell young families that they have to keep their kids quiet?
Absolutely not. The last thing we need is fewer families participating in the Mass, and that is exactly what happens when we look down our noses at them.
As a matter of fact, there is no better place for a family than at Mass. We want families in our parishes and, in order to have families in our parishes, we need to make sure they are not made to feel unwelcome. After all, they are the future of the parish, the community, and, as St. Pope John Paul II has said, they are the future of the world. Many non-Catholic churches have few or no families at their Sunday services, and they know exactly what that means for the future of their church.
Part of preparing for Mass is preparing your own heart for the grace you will be offered. It is helpful to read the readings ahead of time, pray the rosary, and do other things to prepare your heart.
But another aspect of your preparation is how you will react when Junior breaks his dad’s tackle and starts running toward the altar during the Eucharistic Prayer. If you handle inevitable incidents like these with patience, prayerfulness, and a quick return to your primary responsibility during the Mass, everyone benefits.
Stay tuned for “Part II” on this topic next time.