Saturday, June 25, 2011

How to get more out of Mass

Homily for the Sunday after Corpus Christi

Today, we heard some words about discipleship from our blessed Lord that might seem shocking to us, but they should shape our perspective. Jesus says, “Don’t think that I have come to bring peace on earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”

Jesus warns us that in some cases, his radical call of discipleship will bring hostility within the closest of bonds—the human family. He goes on to say, “Whoever does not take up his cross and follow me, is not worthy of me.”

Jesus is speaking here of the stark reality of priorities—what is most important. When faced with tough choices, one turns to his or her priorities. Often that’s how we first find out what our real priorities are. It is said that conflict reveals character. That is, it’s only when we make tough decisions under real pressure that we discover what really is important to a person.

Jesus is warning his disciples: Before you go out there, before you face a hostile world, before things get messy in your life, you need to get your priorities in order. “In case you missed it,” Jesus tells them, “I am your number one priority.” Our main commitment as Christian disciples is to Jesus himself.

We have many things that are meaningful, important, and even crucial to us. But what is your highest priority? Food? Water? Shelter? Time? Your highest priority is not your job, your home, or your possessions; it is not your country nor your ethnic or family heritage; it is not your mother or father, nor your children, it is not even your husband or your wife or yourself. Your highest priority is Jesus Christ.

The Thursday after Trinity Sunday is the feast of Corpus Christi, the commemoration of the Eucharist as the Body and Blood of Christ. Roman Catholics in the USA commemorate it the next Sunday (today). So today, I’d like to reflect on this sacrament and how to get more out of the experience of going to Mass.

The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy from the Second Vatican Council noted: “The liturgy is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; at the same time it is the font from which all her power flows.” In terms of worship, the Eucharist is our highest priority.

And that priority is fitting in light of today’s gospel, for we celebrate the Eucharist in obedience to our Lord’s command to continue the memorial of his sacrifice on the cross, and it is even more fitting because the Eucharist is Jesus himself—his body, blood, soul, and divinity given for our salvation.

Although Jesus offers all of us the same gifts in his sacraments, the key to making better use of those graces, of getting more out of Mass, is twofold: it involves preparation and it involves participation.

Think back to moments in your life with this question, What has gone really well for which you were totally unprepared? On occasion, that does happen. Sometimes we hear about people doing extraordinary and heroic things in desperate circumstances. But those are the exceptions to the rule, and even then, consider this . . . How often is a drowning victim revived by one who does not know CPR? How often is a plane crash avoided by one who does not know how to fly? How often is conflict avoided by those who cannot talk to each other?

Preparation is the surest way to get the most out of any experience, including Mass. So how do you prepare for Mass? The most important way to prepare for Mass is through the regular examination of our consciences and through the discipline of regular confession. When the general confession comes along in the course of the liturgy, do you have specific faults to offer up at that moment? or are we on to the next thing before you can even give it some thought?

The Exhortation of the Prayer Book reminds us of St Paul’s admonition to prepare ourselves carefully before partaking in the Body and Blood of Christ. It says, “Judge yourselves, therefore, lest you be judged by the Lord. Examine your lives and conduct by the rule of God’s commandments, that you may perceive wherein you have offended in what you have done or left undone, whether in thought, word, or deed. And acknowledge your sins before Almighty God, with full purpose of amendment of life . . . then come to the banquet of that most heavenly Food.”

We should not receive Holy Communion unless and until we are truly prepared. That means examining our lives, confessing our sins, and making amends. The general confession at Mass is not a substitute for a private sacramental confession to a priest, but it is rather a continual reminder of our need for it.

To get the most out of Mass, we need to prepare our hearts each time and regularly “take out the garbage” of our hearts to make room for God’s graces. Making a private sacramental confession of devotion to a priest seasonally (such as Advent and Lent) or monthly is a good habit to begin.

Next, it is a custom of the church to fast before receiving Holy Communion. A new rubric was added to the proposed English Prayer Book of 1928, saying “It is an ancient and laudable custom of the Church to receive this Holy Sacrament fasting.” Like so many things in our church, it is a matter of custom rather than law. It means that for Masses in the morning, you should avoid food from midnight. For Masses after noon, a three hour fast has long been deemed sufficient.

The idea is to break the fast with Jesus, to start the Sunday feast with the Lord, to hunger for him (first and foremost) in our Holy Communion. The elderly and young children as well as the sick are exempted from the fast. And if you are not able to participate fully, do what you can for the Lord. For example, I am a diabetic, so I’m not supposed to fast. So I have a light meal—something very simple like a banana or toast.

Another tip is to dress for Mass. This congregation is pretty casual, and people are not going to judge you here based on the clothes you wear. But this is about you and the Lord. A state of dress puts you in a state of mind. How would you dress if working in the garden? Going into outer space? Going to a job interview? Giving a speech? Going to meet the president? How would you dress if you were going to meet with God?

Along similar lines, do things differently on a Sunday morning. Avoid distractions, turn off the radio or TV, come early, look over the readings. Preparation is very important, but it is not all that matters.

Participation is another way to get the most out of any experience, including Mass. So how do you participate in Mass? We are here to worship God, so stay focused on that. Spend some time in silence with the Lord. Kneel down and pray before Mass, and spend at least a little time in prayer and thanksgiving after Mass.

Be careful to follow the liturgy—when to sit, stand, and kneel together. Make the sign of the cross in the traditional places. If a visitor is here, help them find their place in the book. Join in singing, even if you don’t like to. It’s your offering to God.

Especially at the offertory and during the Canon of the Mass (the prayer of consecration), intercede for others and intercede for yourself. Ask for graces from God. Didn’t Jesus tell us, “Ask and ye shall receive”? What better time to do so than during the Eucharstic prayer?

Pray for those around you and for those who couldn’t be here with you. Remember those who are sick or hurting. Pray for those you know who need the light of the Gospel or who need to come home to the Lord in a spirit of repentance. Pray for the work of the church and the spread of the gospel. Pray for God to use you in this work. Pray for God’s grace to keep you faithful, avoid temptation, and stay free from sin. Pray for our bishop and for all bishops, especially the pope in Rome. Pray for all the clergy and those in religious orders. Pray for the unity of the church. Pray for our governmental leaders and our courts. Pray for peace and safety at home and abroad. Pray for the faithful departed, especially your own loved ones. Pray for them to enter into the fullness of God’s presence and become saints. Pray for the intercession of the saints and the protection of the angels.

Join in their unceasing act of worship at God’s throne, singing “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God of hosts.” When the priest holds up the sacred Host for the congregation to adore, look upon the Body of Christ and say with St. Thomas, “My Lord, and my God!”

If your heart is not prepared for Holy Communion, invite Jesus spiritually into your heart, unite your soul and your will to his. If your heart is prepared, come with it filled with faith, hope, and charity and receive the Holy Communion, cherishing all the graces God offers you in this Holy Sacrament.

As St. Thomas Aquinas wrote, “Come to the Lord’s Supper, if you wish to come to the nuptials of the Lamb; there we shall be inebriated with the riches of the house of God, we shall see the King of glory and the God of hosts in all his beauty, we shall eat this Bread in the kingdom of the Father.”

For Corpus Christi

The 1928 Proposed Book of Common Prayer of the Church of England (the Church approved it, but Parliament did not, so it never became the official Prayer Book) added the following rubric to the communion rite:

¶ It is an ancient and laudable custom of the Church to receive this Holy Sacrament fasting. Yet for the avoidance of all scruple it is hereby declared that such preparation may be used or not used, according to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.