Continued from “Catechetical Homily: The Ecstacy of The Mass” posted earlier this week.
She asked me if she was normal. She felt odd for some reason because she had begun to experience the Mass as this profound reality which was moving her to the core of her being. She described with a mixture of caution and excitement the sense of being drawn into the Mass and filled with such delight that she was moved to tears.
This experience for her was embarrassing because there was a sense of being vulnerable and a sense of intimacy which exposes the heart to the pain of rejection. I will never forget as that young woman expressed her religious awakening and how her celebration of the Mass was touching her in ways that she had never imagined.
I dare say that for many Catholics, this would not describe their experience of the Mass… but let’s scratch the surface in an attempt to diagnose why many Catholics fail to enter into the ecstasy of the Mass… why for many their participation in this celebration is a kind of religious formality that is quite insignificant in the major scheme of things.
To understand the nature of the illness of spiritual sloth and how many people find no delight in spiritual things and spiritual exercises, let us expand our scope to understand the dullness of the mind that is not enlightened by Christ.
Have such souls ever been moved by the beauty and grandeur of nature? Have such souls been moved to tears at the beauty of art, or music, or some moment which opens the heart to the mystery of all things.
Being moved by the mystery of the Mass is the source and summit by which we learn to look upon all creation with wonder and awe. When human hearts fail to be moved by the Sacrifice of the Mass in which Jesus Christ is made present body, blood, soul, and divinity, these same hearts are dulled to the magnificence of spiritual things. Such people prefer the pleasures of this world and never ask the deep questions of life and take time to ponder the riches of wisdom.
This is the best context to approach the Church teaching on being properly disposed to celebrate the Mass.
At the bare bones minimum, the Church teaches that a person must first examine their heart and in such an examination be clear of mortal sin. A person in mortal sin cannot receive holy communion, and to do so constitutes a form of sacrilege whereby a person takes that which is holy and defiles it.
But in a deeper sense, believers must practice that recollection by which they prepare their hearts to receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit, most especially the gift of wonder and awe also known as the fear of the Lord.
Realize this, the gifts of the Holy Spirit are not the result of human effort or simple human engineering. Yes, some aspects of music and performance can be arranged so as to manipulate strong emotions… and while performances are not bad in and of themselves, we seek an awakening which is not the result of simple entertainment.
We seek an enlightenment which is the pure gift of grace.
To receive this gift, we must strive to live in a state of grace… confessing our sins with regularity so as to climb the ladder of divine ascent.
Have we examined our hearts today? Have we considered if we are properly disposed to receive Jesus in this celebration?
Now let us enter the Church with a clear conscience. For me, I love the architecture because it provides the space suitable to move from the outer courtyard into the holy of holies. The way I envision our parish, is that outside and in the vestibule, there should be a group of people whose sole function is to welcome newcomers and to assist people as they prepare for worship.
How often we have had people come to our parish for the first time, and yet no one is there waiting to make them feel welcome. I do appreciate that many people will spontaneously support such newcomers, but I have learned that as I get older that for an organization to be effective, it cannot rely solely on spontaneity but must be intentional in expressing its values.
In the vestibule, we learn about community events, we say hello, we share life’s joys and sorrows.
However, after we have taken some time to say hello, we must move into the sanctuary. Do you know the scripture, and with what reverence the Jews held the inner courts of the Temple? Have you read the scripture in which people have been struck dead by God for their failure to offer proper worship?
While we live in the New Covenant, our obligation is not lessened, but is in fact greater. In Ancient Israel, the Holy of Holies, the inner courtyard was an empty space that was meant simply to be a preparation for the greater glory of Jesus Christ.
If you understood the scripture, you would never say that God does not care about how we dress, if we bring food, if we are chewing gum, and other such details which many account as insignificant. God cares a great deal about every detail of our worship, or the scripture is false and our worship is in vain.
The Church teaches that we must fast for an hour before receiving communion. Understood spiritually, it signifies that we should come to this celebration hungry and empty, waiting to be filled not by the food of this world, but by the food of angels.
We come into this space and we bless ourselves with holy water, preparing our minds to be illuminated by God’s word and in remembrance of our Baptism. Before entering our pew, we genuflect as a sign of reverence for Christ here present in the tabernacle.
For the love of all that is good, do not simply perform these actions as an outward action empty of any meaning or interiority. Rather, as you do so, recollect yourself… meditate on what you are doing. Express your intimacy with Jesus Christ… gather yourself.
And then, when you come into your pew, don’t simply sit there and begin to plan your day. Perhaps start by kneeling for a moment and take time to gather yourself. Close your eyes and gaze into your heart. Where are you in this moment? Is your heart tired, stressed, sad, happy, frustrated… are you coming to this celebration with joy or with great tragedy… you must bring all of this to the Lord.
In this moment of prayer, this is the time to pray for your deceased loved ones. Now is the time to express your gratitude for all the things the Lord has done. Now is the time to stir into flame the fire of devotion.
What a tragedy it is when people hustle and bustle and never take the time to raise their minds and hearts to God. They come in late, distracted, and already lacking that stillness which is the prerequisite of devotion. They are present at this celebration in their body, but their mind is far from the Lord.
Then we enter the celebration. We express our sorrow for sins… we hear the word of God… we are enlightened by the Holy Spirit.
What a tragedy it is that more people do not devour the Word of God with excitement. We will never know Christ if we do not study the Word of God, and when we commit ourselves to this pursuit, the Liturgy of the Word will fill us with such delight. There are many people who have been attending Church their whole lives but do not know Jesus because they have not gotten to know Him through the scripture.
Then, the sacrifice of Jesus Christ is made present in the Eucharistic prayers. By the working of the Holy Spirit, bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. I cringe when people refer to the Body of Christ as mere bread and the talk about the Blood as if it were mere wine. I know this custom has become common in America, but I believe it must stop!
Acronyms and Abbreviations are not appropriate when talking about this Divine Mystery. Devotion must pour out of every part of this mystery, including how we speak about these mysteries.
That being said, we must recognize that our whole orientation must be to unite our sacrifice with this sacrifice. There is traditional practice of making a morning offering, whereby we unite our sacrifices and prayers with the sacrifice of the Mass. How many graces flow from such devotion and piety.
Therefore, we must be attentive in receiving our Lord… we must gather ourselves, make a sign of reverence, and stir the flame of devotion as we consumer our Lord Jesus Christ.
Afterwards, when there is time available, do you make an act of thanksgiving to the Lord? Or are your eyes wide open, scanning the room and paying attention to everyone else rather than the Lord of heaven and earth.
This is why it is such a beautiful thing to see a soul who after receiving communion enters into the heart and dwells there in sweet repose. Perhaps they sing with the choir until the silence, or perhaps they simply gather themselves in recollection and speak sweet words to Jesus Christ.
How unfortunate the soul that is not recollected after such an encounter. They scan the room, they check their watch, they distract themselves with a million thoughts and their mind is far from devotion.
When I celebrate Mass, I savor the moments after communion as I purify the vessels and the moment where I spend a few moments in silence in my chair. The sweetness of such an encounter cannot be expressed.
In closing, consider the word of the Songs of Songs… in referring to our Lord, this word of scripture proclaims, “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth.” The kiss of the Lord refers to the mystical encounter of the Eucharist. When properly disposed, when attentive with true devotion, when recollected, our Lord comes to us and kisses us in such a way that we are drawn out of ourselves in ecstasy.
This ecstasy cannot be reduced to pleasure or good feelings, but it is the mark of perfect self forgetting where we lose all for the sake of all.
This is the mystery I invite you to celebrate. Amen.