Understand, focus and believe at Mass
Three eighth-grade girls came into my office recently and asked, “Mrs. Hunt, can we tape you as you answer our question for a religion class project?” “Sure,” I said. “What is the question?” “We want to know how to make the Mass more interesting for people our age.”
Quickly, I mentally regrouped. They wanted an answer that minute. I asked the Holy Spirit to give me something good because I had nothing! As usual, the good ole Holy Spirit was right on it. The answer came to me as I spoke:
“There are three keys to bringing the Mass to life: understand, focus, believe. First, we Catholics need to find out why we do what we do at Mass. Most of us have no idea what the four parts of the eucharistic liturgy are and what is the purpose of each. We stand, sit, and respond with no idea of what we are doing. It should be the job of each of us to find out and then discover the reasons for the awesome tradition of this ancient rite. Once you understand, it will ‘blow your mind’ (as the girls said). For instance, when we receive the Eucharist, we are to make a simple bow and say a clear ‘Amen’ after the words ‘The Body of Christ.’”
When I asked the girls why we said these words, they had no idea. I told them that during Mass they will see two kinds of bows — profound and simple. Why do we make these bows, and when do they happen? They had no idea. Then the “Amen” problem: I told them that saying amen means “Yes, I believe” and that the distributor gives them the Body of Christ only after “Amen” is said. Sadly, when receiving Communion, too many adults as well as children say nothing or just grunt at this moment of encounter with the Real Presence when Jesus waits to hear our leap of faith.
Next, focus! “Pay attention! Don’t let your mind wander,” I told the three girls. “Our minds often wander away from the profound to the ordinary: the reading from Isaiah seems boring so we start thinking about weekend sports, what’s for breakfast, how out of style Mrs. Callahan’s coat looks. Try as hard as you can to listen to the priest and pray with him,” I said. “Focus on the readings from the Bible as if it is a personal message from God meant just for you. When you listen to the homily, find one little point and remember it. Write it down and read it every day during the next week. I know that some homilies are just plain boring and that not every priest can preach well. But God can take even a boring homily and give you an inspiring message if you are willing to let Him.”
“Try to pray out loud, sing, and be mindful of what is happening. The Mass is not just a surface experience, an hour of entertainment. It is something very deep, even mystical. Only a few people seem to understand that. It is not about what you can see and hear, it is about the unseen and unheard that is happening beneath the surface. Learn to pray with your eyes. Watch what is going on: the movement of the priest’s hands over the bread and wine, the host held high while we say a prayer of adoration. Keep your heart and mind in touch with the Mass and fight distractions with all your heart.”
Then, most importantly, I concluded for the girls, “believe that the Mass is a real encounter with God. God comes to eat with us, speak to us, and nourish us. The Communion we receive is Jesus Christ. Faith is believing in things unseen, and faith is a gift. Ask Jesus to give you the faith to believe the unbelievable. The Catholic Mass is truly a mystical experience, and each of us is invited to be a mystic. What we witness and participate in at Mass is nothing short of a miracle. God enters our bodies and souls. We become one with Him.”
When my three young visitors left my office, I sat awestruck by the conversation. I realized this was not just a lesson for 13-year-old girls. It was a lesson for me, too — and you.
This edition of Jeanne Hunt’s Catholic Thoughts originally appeared in the March 2014 print edition of The Catholic Telegraph.