Monday, April 12, 2010

Why we need to participate at Mass weekly

It appears to be a common occurrence among priests. I have met many priests who share the same experience on various occasions. And often, it begins with us meeting people who get introduced to us at social events. It could be at a birthday party, or at a wedding dinner, or when we go to someone’s home for Christmas or a simple get-together. As the conversation moves to what we do for a living, and it gets revealed that we are priests, the person we speak to says in a hushed tone “I’m Catholic too, but I’m afraid I haven’t been to Mass in a long time”. Of course, this would only happen if the person were a Catholic who has taken ‘time off’. It’s as if our mere presence appears to be a castigating presence to them, and it compels them to ‘confess’ their absence from the praying community on Sunday.

To be fair, there are many many reasons why Catholics stop going to Mass regularly. Some may have been scandalized by priests who have had scarred childhood memories, whilst others may have been poorly catechized and were never properly taught what the Mass was actually bringing us into. Some have said that they don’t get anything out of the Mass. I wince internally when I hear this, as this seems to imply that the Mass is just one among the many other ‘things and services’ in life where it only makes sense when one ‘gets’ something out of it. We seem to be suffering subconsciously from a consumerist mentality, where we need to squeeze out our maximum benefit from everything, even from something as sacred as the Lord’s supper where he gives us his very self.

While I do acknowledge that a well thought out, planned and meditated-upon homily with a clear message, engagingly delivered that ‘hits home’ is something that every Mass participant desires, not all of us may be gifted the same way. Besides, the homily is not the heart of the Eucharistic Celebration.

Whatever the reasons, I believe that when those of us who have left for a time, no matter how long, are honest about it to ourselves, we will most likely come to the realization that we have left not because of a priest, not because of not ‘getting it’, not because of a certain anger or bitterness, but because we were selfish and placed ourselves at the heart of the universe. Certainly, a priest who was abusive in the past and who did not show Christ’s face could the reason for one’s absence at Mass. But could the heart of that reason be that one was either punishing the Church or even God?

To admit honestly that perhaps one was selfish about one’s motives is something that doesn’t come easily. It takes a very, very big person to see this. But here is where it gets good. To reach that, I believe, is to reach ‘rock bottom’. That is the ‘rock bottom’ that all people in AA programmes talk about where one can only climb up and recover. Actually, ‘rock bottom’ is where one begins to find the gold nuggets.

Why we need the Mass and why we need it weekly is because God wants to touch our lives intimately and give us grace to go and become transformers of the world. Perhaps the reason why most of us are so slow to be generous, forgiving, gentle, compassionate, just and unconditionally loving is because many of us who go to Mass just don’t see that at each Eucharist, God is giving us his generous self, his forgiving self, his compassionate self and his unconditionally loving self. God doesn’t need slaves and servants. God needs images. And the more we realize this, the more we become thinking participants at Mass, and the more we become co-transformers of the world in need of so much.

The admission of “Father, I don’t go to Church anymore” is a good start. My next question usually goes along the lines of “do you know why?” And if the person takes time to go deep into his heart, to get to that sacred space where he has locked away God (and himself too, perhaps), he can begin to find that proverbial rock bottom where God’s golden nuggets can be rediscovered.


  1. There are times when we question ourselves as to why we are doing certain things, especially. the rationale behind our actions. We take stock. I don't think we are really putting ourselves "in the heart of the universe", but rather we are making an effort to live more meaningfully 'this'moment of time. So if we come to the honest conclusion that a particular action has become mere routine, does not impart relevance or does not enhance or develop us spiritually, we may decide to do without it. Is that a selfish thing to do, or isn't that an act of integrity to self ? tessa

  2. I don’t think that we consciously put ourselves at the centre of the universe when we make our plans and our agenda the focal point of our actions. That’s probably because the ego itself is so deceptive and deceitful, it has to mask itself by projecting the blame on to others and anything else outside of itself. The conscious self does want to make that effort to live more meaningfully, but if it is not trained in the discipline of self examination and deeper reflection, most of the time it will be a knee-jerk reaction rather than a well thought-through and meditated-upon act. At the heart of all our inspired and most altruistic actions and decisions, what we should strive to do is to be able to reach that level of love, where, as the Angelic Doctor St Thomas Aquinas defines real love as “willing the good of the other”. But this is a life-long task. We wish it were something that could happen overnight for most of us, but since when is love a ‘finished’ task? Thanks for the comment.

    Fr Luke

  3. Would you consider it a selfish act if I left the original parish church and "move" to another church for mass just for the sake of good homilies? If so, does it mean I ought to stay at the original parish church and with the original community?

  4. There must be good reasons why one needs to go to another parish just for the sake of good homilies. I can understand if you have a stronger bond of friends in another parish, or that you are a member of some church ministry in that parish, but just for the sake of good homilies may be a very weak reason for extricating yourselves from the parish community that you are living in.

    But having said that, this is one of the wonderful things about our Catholicity. If we truly understand that the Mass is not just something that we 'attend', but that it is something that we 'become', then one can even overlook the 'hopping' to another parish to participate in the Eucharist, so long as after that, one is very willing to BECOME eucharist back in the parish in which one belongs. My concern would be we may only be interested in going for Mass, and hardly spare a thought about being Mass. That's why the last line uttered by the Celebrant becomes our mission - to go in the peace of Christ. Go where? Back to our communities to break ourselves for each other in service and in love. That would be the more important part of the lived Mass.

    God bless you

    Fr Luke

  5. Yes frLuke, the word is participate. Only when one participates fully, will the Mass comes alive.

    When i listen attentively and respond to each prayer offered/said by the celebrant, it is my conversation with the Lord. Hmmm so there are times i could not respond with an AMEN because i have not lived the prayer!

    Attending Mass is therefore no longer an obligation but a date i look forward to and if coupled with good homilies, i am in heaven:)

  6. Dear Fr Luke

    Throughout my Catholic life, I have had occasions to take a break from church. Whatever, the reason, when I come back I come back fully present.

    Once, after mass, feeling empty and lost, I strayed to door of Father's office. He saw me, and asked "What are you looking for? For GOD?"

    I have forgiven him. I realised now, that HE is not outside of us. He is WITHIN, we need only acknowledge and be, and act as he wants us to.