Here’s the point: we don’t need to ask for more grace. We need to be open to the grace God gives.
Were you ever part of the “Mass Is Boring” Club? There were some requirements for membership. You were not supposed to pay attention to the readings in Mass. You were supposed to mumble the responses, not speak them. Any song singing above the volume of lip singing was right out! Do you remember that membership? It also involved a slack moral life.
Membership in the Mass Is Boring Club took you away from other good things with subtlety. If Mass is boring and God is not really involved in my life, I might as well get in the driver seat. I might as well decide to neglect prayer, confession, all that religious stuff that messes with my conscience. Follow this line of thought for a little longer. Eventually, I become closed to what God as Father has to say to me. Eventually, I so idealize and idolize myself as the One who knows best. It was bound to happen. I mean, look at the club I joined, “Mass Is Boring.” Who does that while knowing the consequences?
Clearly, I judged Mass to be bad, or at least not beneficial. That kind of judgment presumes I know what is best. That kind of judgment often gives me the permission to create my own spirituality. It is like saying, “I know I am not the author or creator of my own soul, but I am going to live like I know what’s best for that-part-of-me (the soul) which I know least about.” It might sound silly, and I’m okay with that. I’m okay with this stuff sounding silly because I know I’m not the only one who once had membership in that club.
Can you see how a small presumption or judgment affects the way I deal with a bigger part of my life? Can you see that the interior decision to label Mass as boring influences the way I relate to God? It is from this starting point that so many of us attempt to build a sound spiritual life. It is from under this rock we work to connect with God in a close and intimate way.
That’s why the point is not to ask for more grace, but to be open to the grace God gives. All that talk about God continually loving us and holding us in existence is true. Part of that truth implies that he communicates himself to us in the present moment. It is my responsibility and yours to learn to receive God’s love. We don’t need to wrestle it out of him or create the perfect formula. In fact, he has fully disclosed and revealed his love to us in Jesus Christ. Were we only to turn to Jesus, we would learn to receive his love.
Mass As Gift: Receiving The Father’s Love
There are three ways I hope to get across that Mass is Gift and that it is the place to receive the Father’s love. (1) Docility, (2) Dialogues and Responses, (3) Encounter. Number two is an element of number one, and the point of these points is to help us encounter God and to be open to him.
First, we must learn docility. Docile comes from a Latin word that means to teach. If one is being docile it means one is being taught, or at least is ready to be taught. Think about the catcher in the baseball game. Does the catcher lazily squat behind the batter and give zero percent of his attention to the game? It is possible to not pay attention, but that would cost him his health. In this real and analogous way, we must have docility of heart. I am receptive and attentive to what goes on in Mass. I may have an autopilot button, but Mass is the improper place to use it.
It is also good to ask for better liturgy, music, preaching, reverence, and [insert your particular grievance against your parish]. But, if I all I do is ask, recommend, and complain, I am not in a receiving mode or mood. Docility acts contrary to that tendency to “need” to have things done my way. Docility of heart helps me to be open to the present moment and what is in front of me. If I am docile in the Mass, I am giving my attention to Christ himself. If I listen to the prayer(s) of the Mass, I am receiving the Father’s love. This happens in real time! Let yourself be taught that God loves you. Go to Mass and be docile.
Second, we must say the dialogues and responses. As simple and unnoticeable as this may seem, it is also essential and fundamental to learning docility. If I give my attention to the voice of my prayer, I give attention to the words of my voice. If I give attention to the words of my voice, I direct my words as a prayer to God. Think of the different dialogues and responses we vocalize through the Mass. Think of the rhythm they seem to create.
One may come back at that and think, “well, I pray better on my own,” “I don’t get anything out of the Mass.” That’s cool. I used to think like that too as a norm, and sometimes I lethargically fall into that. I have in mind Spe Salvi (nos. 32-34 especially) when I write that our prayer life must involve an intermingling of both public and personal prayer. So often I have gotten zealous and had a catalyst for sanctity. Well, sitting in the chapel for hours at a time is not the objectively best way to “get” holy. Prayer is not my initiative, first of all. Prayer must develop a “power of purification” that purges the nastiness of my heart. This power is developed by the prayer of the Church, by liturgical prayer, “in which the Lord teaches us again and again how to pray properly” (Spe Salvi, 34).
So, say the responses. If they seem boring, fine. It’s probably because you have let a bad judgment affect and influence the way we treat liturgical prayer. We do not need to ask for more grace. Rather, we need to be open to what God gives.
Finally, Mass is a place of encounter. This encounter comes from doing number one and two. “Huh?” If I am docile, I can recognize my poverty of spirit and my pride of heart. If I say the responses, I can redirect my mind to things that are above (cf. Col 3:2; Phil 4:8-9). Look, when I give my attention to the Mass, I direct my heart to Jesus himself. And, when I direct my heart to Jesus, he sees my openness and gives me that peace which surpasses all understanding.
Can you see that Mass is a place of encounter? It doesn’t happen at the snap of your fingers. No, it takes time and perseverance. It requires your diligence and attention. It requires your willful and intentional, full and active participation. The Incarnate Word himself discloses himself to us fully. He gives himself in the Word, in the Eucharist. What? This happens in Mass! If only you were docile. If only I were receptive to God’s fatherly love.
There’s a psalm that asks, when will I come to the end of my pilgrimage and see the face of God? Short answer: when you go to Mass. Here’s the point: we don’t need to ask for more grace. We need to be open to the grace God gives. I hope you set your heart right and be docile to the love of God. Go to Mass and receive the Father’s love.