Are we too casual at Mass?


“If a non-Catholic witnessed my behavior before, during, and after Mass, would they know what I believed?” 


Traveling recently, I found myself at a Sunday Mass that seemed remarkably casual. The people were friendly and the priest was welcoming, but there was a marked feeling of imprecision or even complacency that hung in the church like incense. I came away with the thought that I wasn’t entirely sure the congregation knew what was happening at Mass. At first, the thought surprised me. And then I realized their behavior spoke louder than their words. Nothing was showing the outside observer that we were hearing the Word of God proclaimed, that the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus was being made present on the altar, or that He was present in the tabernacle before, during, and after that Mass.

It caused me to think about my own behavior at Mass. Would someone observing me know what I believed?

INTIMACY VS. NONCHALANCE

Have we become too casual in our approach to the Mass? On one hand, the great humility of God, who became one of us and walked on this earth as our brother, leads us to a familiarity with Him that is inconceivable in any other religion. He doesn’t want us to stand far away from Him in fear. There is a great mystery in the intimacy and vulnerability of God, who makes Himself a prisoner in the tabernacles of the world. He submits himself to the hands and words of a priest. Helpless under the appearance of bread and wine, he subjects himself to his creation– to our unworthiness, our irreverence, our profanity.

I am never worthy to approach the altar of God. And yet he calls me to come. If I’m not conscious of mortal sin, he calls me to receive him into my very body. If I am aware of grave sin, he beckons me to the Sacrament of Reconciliation and then still comes to me, the prodigal Father welcoming me back, without reference to what I had done to him.

And yet, have we become too casual in this relationship? He is God, and I am humbled to even be called to His presence. At Mass, the veil is lifted even the tiniest bit, and I am invited into an intimate relationship with my Creator. It is a moment, an action, an invitation, that I so often take for granted. I am called to familiarity, but it is a familiarity that must lead to intimacy, not nonchalance.

How do I behave before the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass? Like I am about to be present at the Last Supper and Calvary? Or like I am about to hang out with my friends at a family potluck?

AN EXAMINATION

I’m not proposing that we should not be happy, friendly, or joyful within the confines of the church building. Far too many Catholics have chased people away from the Way, the Truth, and the Life by their sour-faced, unwelcoming attitude. But if a non-Catholic witnessed my behavior before, during, and after Mass, would they know what I believed?

Do I genuflect to the tabernacle in a way that shows I know Who is there, a willing prisoner for my love?

Do I arrive at Mass early to speak to Him, to prepare my heart for Him? The hustle and bustle of getting kids ready, of fighting traffic, or finding a parking space can distract us from where we are going (and why!). Can I work to allow extra time in the routine so that we can get in the pew and have even a few minutes to still our hearts and minds?

If I have children, do I show them by my own behavior in Mass that I believe what is happening on the altar is the most important event of my entire day, week, and even life?

How do I listen to the readings? Have I been letting the Word of God fall to the ground, or find a home in my heart?

Do I approach the altar with an intentionality or out of habit? Do I receive Holy Communion with joy?

If I serve at the liturgy, do I prepare for Mass properly? Do I show with my posture, dress, and attitude that I know and believe what the liturgy is and what is happening on the altar?

ACTIONS SPEAK

We can’t change the entire culture of our parish or community overnight, but we can examine our own approach to the Mass and ask ourselves: if someone saw me at Mass, would they know what I believed?

The Mass is a joyful celebration. It is a time of thanksgiving and praise. It is the People of God’s participation in the work of God. Reverence doesn’t mean grumpiness.

But we also must strive to recognize that at the Mass, Heaven meets earth, the Wedding Feast of the Lamb is mysteriously made present, and we participate in that consummation of Christ laying down His life for His Bride. It is a communal meal but also a sacrifice. It is a time of joy but also a time of great awe, mystery, and silence. How can I enter into this mystery? With joy and reverence. Would someone who witnessed me in the presence of this mystery know that I knew what was happening?


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About the Author

Joannie Watson

Joan Watson was born and raised in Lafayette, Indiana, but college and graduate school took her to Virginia, Ohio, and Rome. After graduating from Christendom College with a B.A. in History and Franciscan University with a M.A. in Theology, she moved to Nashville, Tennessee to be part of the explosion of Catholic culture in the middle of the Bible Belt.

She has been blessed to work for Dr. Scott Hahn at the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology and the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia at Aquinas College. She is presently the Director of Adult Formation for the Diocese of Nashville. She also serves as the Associate Editor of Integrated Catholic Life.

When she’s not testing the culinary exploits of new restaurants or catching up on the latest BBC miniseries, she’s FaceTiming with her eight nephews and nieces and enjoying her role as coolest aunt. She likes gelato, bourbon, and the color orange.

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