Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Why Attend Mass?

Perhaps you have a friend or relative that rarely attends Mass, but did attend at Christmas. Perhaps you asked, or at least thought, “Why you don’t come next week and the week after?” If you were so bold as to invite them back as a kind of New Year’s resolution, you may have received a polite, “we’ll see” in response, which is often translated as “of course not”.
If you persist, you’ll eventually enter a realm the separates man from beast, the realm of the intellect, the desire to know “why”. A Catholic that “believes” to some extent will eventually ask why, even if only asking the question internally. Attending Mass is nice, but why necessary? God is everywhere, why can’t I be left alone to worship in my own way? Replying back that it is an obligation or a precept of the Church tends not to satisfy. Mentioning the violation of the first and third commandments may get more attention, but can still be seen as “finger wagging”. You’d do better noting that if the first is followed, abiding to the third will come naturally.

Another tactic came about for me and my wife as we became involved with the marriage ministry at our parish. One of the things we do is to meet with engaged couples in our home to review the results of their FOCCUS questionnaire. It covers many practical topics of compatibility including finances, communication, extended family issues, sexuality issues, etc. It’s a tool to help couples work through issues before marriage.

Of course, there are religious topics as well and the topics of marriage covenant and religion can be quite awkward when speaking with interfaith couples or catholic couples in which one or both are nominal in their faith. It’s not uncommon for us to dialog with couples in which one or both rarely attend Mass (if ever), and yet they still see it as important to be married in the Catholic Church (thankfully).

The following three areas of reasoning help to satisfy their intellect, at least to some extent. Since what you know will influence what you do, these thoughts just might help you tip the scales in getting someone to Mass. As Pope Francis is actively showing us, we need to meet people where they are at without denying the reality of where they are.

In Terms of Relationship:
It’s especially easy to draw this analogy when dealing with couples in love. Imagine you were married and you spent about one hour at Christmas and one hour at Easter with your spouse with no other interaction throughout the year. What kind of relationship would that be? Suppose it was one hour per month? That’s better, but still lacking. Even if it were once per week for about one hour, we might consider it a working relationship, albeit a weak one.

God desires a close relationship with us and all close relationships require time and commitment. How would you feel if your beloved thought that one hour per week with you is too much trouble?

In Terms of Reality:
The above might be easily refuted by saying, “I pray in my own way all the time. No need to sit in a church building. The man upstairs and I have an understanding.” This is when the imagination must be put firmly in its place with a reality check.

We can think of all reality as being made up of two parts; physical realities and spiritual realities. Think of your physical life. To be a physically functioning human being there are times when you must function alone, like getting dressed for the day, or perhaps you sometimes work alone or maybe you live alone. There are also times when you must function with others, like with family, co-workers, community members, etc. We’re social beings; it’s how God made us.

This parallels our spiritual life. To be a spiritually functioning human being there are times when you must function alone, like personal prayer and spiritual study. There are also times when you must function with others, like community worship (Catholics call this Mass). Once again, we’re social beings; it’s how God made us.

Last, but certainly not least…In Terms of the Eucharist:
This goes beyond community worship; it’s the source and summit of the faith. If the body and blood of Christ is given to us a spiritual food, it stands to reason that this is the most intimate thing God can possibly give to a human being still on earth.

So, the God of the universe wants this extreme level of intimacy with us and our response is…
- Too tried
Thou shalt NOT
have better things to do!
- Too busy
- No time
- Don’t feel like it
- I have better things to do

Think of how offensive this apathetic attitude must be to God? In this context, it seems more than appropriate to refer to skipping Mass as “grave matter”.

If the truth about relationships, the social & spiritual nature of man and the Eucharist really sink in, one’s perspective about attending Mass can change from a pessimistic, "I've got to do this?" to an enthusiastic, "I get to do this!” and it may even turn out that once per week is simply not enough!

“If we attend Mass well, surely we are likely to think about our Lord during the rest of the day, wanting to be always in his presence, ready to work as he worked and love as he loved”
- Josemaria Escriva, Christ is Passing by

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