Monday, October 11, 2010

Celebrating and not just attending the Eucharist

One of the quotes of the Blessed Mother Theresa of Calcutta was addressed to priests, and it was to “celebrate each Mass as if it were your first Mass, and your last Mass”.

As a priest, it does make a lot of sense, and it strikes to the very core of my priesthood to read this. The Eucharist is unmistakably the highest form of worship anyone could ever partake in, and it is pure grace that allows us to be present at Mass. An act of utter and supreme thanksgiving, we join our sacrifice with Christ’s on Calvary, which becomes a gift most pleasing to God. Eucharistia is literally ‘thanksgiving’.

God gives of himself at each Mass, and when we are literally drawn into the act of love that goes on, we cannot but be awed and overwhelmed by what goes on. It is as if one is being included in a very intimate moment when the Son gives of himself so completely, so totally to the Father simply because the Father gave of himself so totally to the Son. And the exchange that happens is the Holy Spirit of love. It is consummation at its best, and we become invited, as it were, to this holy of holy exchanges. We are not observers, we are not by-standers, certainly not voyeurs, but we are literally drawn right into ‘the action’. We really don’t deserve to be present, but we are, and this exchange is made for our benefit, and yes, for our salvation.

But we have a great problem because this love that is given and received becomes very easily watered down and under-appreciated, as most loves are wont to be. Our human nature tends to take for granted things that we see too often, and encounter with great ease. Oft quoted is the phrase “familiarity breeds contempt”, though I wonder if ‘contempt’ may be too strong a word here.

The candles that are used at every Mass even though incandescent lights are easily available, is to remind all who are present that our sacred Mass was once celebrated in secret, almost in clandestine circumstances in the catacombs, right on the very tombs of the martyrs of our faith. It is a silent reminder to never take our faith, and the Holy Mass for granted, especially in places where religion is freely practiced.

A couple of months ago, I had the opportunity to visit some beautiful atolls in the Indian Ocean. What really took my breath away was the beautiful flora and fauna that was so prevalent just meters outside of my sleeping quarters. Chatting with the boatmen who were natives of the place, I asked if they held a similar awe about the beauty just beneath them. Apparently, it was just too abundant for them to be struck by the beauty any more. It may seem strange that anyone could be blasé about such wondrous beauty lying literally at his or her doorsteps. Perhaps there is something in our humanity that requires of us a constant reminder to be present, and to allow ourselves to be enthralled afresh.

What then, should we be looking out for at each Mass? At which points should I be more present to? What should we then be attentive to?

This list is not comprehensive to say the least, but we should at least try to:
1) Be aware that the person sitting next to me, behind me and in front of me is God’s image to behold, respect and to love.
2) Truly be contrite for my brokenness when I pray the Confiteor (I confess), and knowing how undeserving I am of God’s infinite mercy, and then truly sing out with great joy the Gloria with an air of gratitude and praise because I am received with such Divine Mercy.
3) Mean my response when I am invited to chant it at the invitation of the Cantor, who is really the proclaimer of God’s word of life.
4) At the Creed, be aware that each creedal statement is an official response from the Magisterium about the truth of our faith as revealed by God, and be thankful that through the unfolding of history, there have been men and women who have fought so hard for the truth to be conveyed at the risk of their own lives, showing me that in life, some battles are really worth fighting for, and perhaps, some are really unnecessary.
5) Come to appreciate that at the Sanctus, I am invited to really join all the choirs of angels in heaven who are praising and adoring God as they behold him ‘face to face’. And when I know this, that it would be a travesty to keep mum, fold my arms and be indifferent when the priest ends his preface with “… we join the choirs of angels as they sing…”
6) When the priest, in Jesus’ words says “do this in memory of me”, recall all the acts of kindness and mercy that I have done in my life, and seen these not as my acts, but things done out of response to bring the memory of Jesus alive in my world. And when I remember that some of those times were really heartbreaking and sacrificial, that I joined Jesus in breaking the body, and pouring the blood for the good of the entire world.
7) Be fully present at the Doxology, which is the high point of the Mass, where the celebrant raises the consecrated bread and wine in a supreme act of sacrifice of Christ to the Father, and be brought present to Calvary where supreme surrender of love saved creation. And my “AMEN” then truly affirms and acknowledges this divine act of love.
8) Be in awe of the fact that when I receive Holy Communion, God wants to literally enter into me, a most unworthy host to the most Sacred Host.
9) And after receiving Communion, dare to be ‘lost’ a bit in true gratitude for this nourishment which strengthens me and beckons me to become further broken for others.

If just one person participating at Mass after reading this blog will do so with a new vision and purpose, with a new attentiveness and presence, this entry would have been worth the writing and the reading.

And when that happens, it really will not really matter even if that Mass were the first, and last Mass of his life, were he a celebrant, or laity.


  1. Good morning Fr. Luke

    Thank you for the emphasis on the importance of paying attention to the various parts of the Mass for greater awareness and participation. Indeed too, for those who only celebrate Mass once a week, this hour is certainly important for one to unite with our God in a special way. However, at the present, there are many who 'lacks the right disposition' when coming for Mass, eg. dressing appropriately, switching off/playing with the phone, talking etc. during Mass. I think the priests need to assert the need for parishioners to come, at the least, appropriately dressed, respect for God and others, without the fear that they will leave Church. We need Faithful Catholics who take their Faith seriously. It's time that we stop taking our Faith and God's Love and Mercy for us for granted.

    Love your postings. Thank you for being our Shepherd. He has indeed sent shepherds after His Own Heart into our midst.

    Yours in Christ
    Church of Christ The King

  2. For me who is baptised through the RCIA journey, it is easy to re-live the "first mass". In fact, I recall masses in the few months following my baptism had been awe-inspiring.

    What happens afterwards? Mass becomes for me movie re-runs as it is the beautiful creation becomes a repeating backdrop for the boatmen.

    Every sunrise and sunset, every spawning season, every good harvest is no longer "ritual" for the boatmen to celebrate. It is just another day to live. Isn’t this the way we celebrate our mass? Actions in the liturgy are a given. We do them because we are asked to. Every mass “attended” is a cause to “achieve” salvation. No longer is mass “attendance” an effect of God’s love, a desire and inspiration to celebrate this gift of life from our Creator.

    I wonder what will make these boatmen sit up and take notice of the creation before them. Perhaps a tempest, a storm, a tsunami, or an earthquake will? This is the same for many of us. We have to be jolted into celebrating our masses as if it is the last. These jolts are when we experience great suffering, a terminal illness, or deep sorrow.

    Will the boatmen be moved to appreciate the beauty before him by an awestruck tourist? I don’t think so. Tourists come and go. There is no one-ness between the tourist and the boatmen.

    On the contrary, will we be moved to celebrate God’s love by the gentle persuasions of a priest? I think we will if the priest keeps drawing us in at each liturgy and keeps reminding us with words. Fr Luke, thank you for sharing your vision that one day we will be all be able to celebrate mass as it is our first and our last. Help to immerse us in gratitude, to see His love and mercy in every moment, and most of all, to be present and not to miss our last mass.

    Orang Laut @9

  3. Hi Father Luke
    I remember vividly the first time attending mass celebrated by you. I told my daughter you did it with such enthusiasm as if it was your first and last time - it really woke me up!!! where I used to just "go through the motions" now I am more attentive and can at least recall what was being said during the service and since then its been a learning process..
    Thank you for enlightening me!!!
    God Bless You!!!

  4. Hello Father Luke,

    Thank you for reminding us of what the Mass is all about. One bit struck me. I think you're too nice. Familiarity does breed contempt and I'm not one to dumb down the truth.

    Borrowing from Mr. Lewis' writing right off the bat from the Screwtape Letters, it's easy to be contemptuous of the littlest and slightest, thanks to, well, us - the altar boys wearing Nike hi-tops, the droning of an ancient lector, and even certain neon-coloured flickering church decor more suitable for a jiu ba than a church.

    Personally, it's that one split second that the congregation sings too slowly in time to the music. Terrible, right?

    That said, I'm grateful for all the good and bad and especially so now for your reminder. Mass, here I come!

    Oh. And the space to post my rants disguised as comments. :)

  5. Thanks frLuke. Yes, it's worth writing and hmmm, blessed are us who read it :)