This is the second part of a two-part series on finding joy by living a Catholic life and how to avoid ‘going through the motions’ in your spiritual life. It is important to read the introduction of the series HERE before moving onto the rest of this article (introduction ends before the ‘Daily Life’ section).
Since we discussed ways to bring Catholicism into daily life with joy and freshness, let’s discuss how we can really find meaning and importance in the Mass. We must approach the Mass with humility and gratitude. Mass is where we receive the life-giving manna that is Christ. It is partaking in the sacrifice of THE Lamb. It is a celebration of the marriage between Jesus and his Church. This is not a simple “church service”. “Mass”, taken from the final the phrase at the end of the Latin Mass, “Ite, Missa Est”, urges us to “go forth” with the mission of spreading the Gospel in our daily lives. “Ite, Missa Est” translated to English is what most of us are familiar with (for those of you that don’t leave immediately after Communion): The Mass is ended, go in peace. How can we go forth spreading the Gospel if we are joyless in our faith and only of doing the least amount possible (or less) to be considered a Catholic?
To properly participate in the Mass it requires we are in the proper mindset leading up to and during it. We must find the meaning in every prayer we speak, we must find humility, we must yearn to understand what we might not yet understand about the Mass.
There are many structured prayers throughout the Mass led by the priest. Although it’s beyond the scope of this post, I urge anyone not sure of what takes place at Mass to seek out what each prayer means, where it comes from, and why it’s important. I think most Catholics would be shocked at the importance of the things we recite at Mass. If you read about only one part of Mass, read about the Great Amen. Vain repetition is a sin in itself, don’t mindlessly respond at Mass without knowing what you’re saying. Even a quick Google search will open the floodgates to your curiosity. Along with the structured all-inclusive prayers, there are certain times we can participate in individual freestyle praying (no, it’s not the same as improvised rapping).
Once you get in your pew, you should kneel and pray. Don’t look to socialize with other people, that’s what you do after church. You have just arrived at Jesus’s house for supper. Would you go over to someone’s dinner party without greeting them after you entered their home? You wouldn’t just sit down and talk to the person you came with right off the bat, so why would you do that here? I use this time for prayers of gratitude. We should enter His house giving Him praise, not walk in and just immediately start making demands in our prayers. If I go into someone elses house, I thank them for thinking of me before I start asking where I can get a beer or go to the bathroom. Your conversation (and actions, as we’ll see soon) should somewhat follow how you’d act in someone else’s home who’s gracious enough to have you over. We are attending the ultimate dinner party.
The Lord’s Prayer
We all know how to recite the Our Father. But do you really embrace the seven petitions that make it up? Have you ever actually read the prayer and thought it through? This is the most perfect structure of prayer that exists because it comes directly from Jesus as an example of how we should all pray. The first three petitions are those of praise and the last four are those of request. This is why every prayer should begin with praise before requests. Are you aware of just how revolutionary this prayer is? Most Catholics have go clue what it means when the priest prefaces the prayer with, “…admonished by saving precepts, and formed by divine instruction, we dare to say . . .”. Have you ever wondered why we dare to recite the Our Father? Aside from it being physically dangerous to praise a kingdom more powerful than any that might have existed in the past with mortal, secular kings that considered themselves to be God, Scott Hahn explains it very concisely in this brief passage from his book Understanding “Our Father”:
Our prayer is confident and daring because our hope is supernatural, surpassing anything that might limit our expectation of fulfillment. God is almighty, so He can deliver. God is our loving Father, so He wants to show us His love. We approach Him with confidence. We speak to Him with the fearlessness of small children before their daddy.
To the unbeliever, or the wavering believer, such hope will surely seem too bold, too ambitious. Yet we must understand it as the very foundation of our Christian life, our spirituality. We are children at play in the courts of our Father, the mighty King. We are, in the traditional formula, “sons in the Son.” We share in the life of the Trinity. We are God’s children.
-Pg 69, Par 3 & 4
Something that really has helped me find reverence and meaning in the recital of the Our Father is looking directly at His Body on the Crucifix. Looking at what He went through so we have the opportunity to approach our Father with the petitions in this prayer really hits hard. In fact, any time I get distracted during Mass, I just look towards the Crucifix and my distractions fade away–I suggest this to anyone that finds themselves easily distracted at church.
Preparing to Receive Christ
None of us are worthy to approach the Lord’s Table and receive him. Despite not being worthy, He allows us to attend the Lamb’s Supper only through His constant forgiveness of us (Jesus is the Lamb for anyone confused with my Lamb references…something you should read up on if you don’t know why). We must approach His table with this on our mind. And we shouldn’t receive Him if we have fallen from a state of grace, or, have mortally sinned since our last confession. Do not desecrate our Lord’s body and blood. Understandably, when you sit in the pew while your whole family goes to the front of the church for communion, it will raise eyebrows of other people who don’t completely get the sacredness of what is going on. But you don’t have to stay in the pew, you can simply walk to the front and place your hands on your heart symbolizing you won’t be receiving today. No one but the priest/Eucharistic minister will know. It is key that Catholics understand the importance of the Eucharist to live a full life of faith.
As you walk to the front of the church, thank Him for this opportunity of grace despite regularly failing Him. Once someone understands what’s about to happen, their eyes would begin welling up with tears of joy. Fixate your eyes on the Crucifix as you approach the alter. Approach with humility of mind and soul (we will get to body soon). Ask to receive the grace from the Holy Spirit to make the upcoming week strong and holy. Prepare your mind, body, and soul for a jolt of holiness that can only be captured if you’re in this proper mindset.
After Receiving Christ
This is my favorite time for getting lost in prayer. Immediately after receiving His living Blood, you can feel gentle strength building in your mind and soul. Thank Him once again for his saving Grace. Ask that you’re able to use this strength moving forward into the week in all that you do with your mind, body, and soul. I find it helpful to close my eyes otherwise I can be way too distracted by looking at who is going up for communion and how they are receiving communion. I know it’s interesting to people-watch but I urge everyone to avoid this because you’re missing out on the opportunity for the greatest connection to God!
Sometimes I want to grab people and say: “you’re going to meet your King and receive the Son of God, why do you think it’s appropriate to wear a Packer’s jersey and Croc’s?!” I’m not saying every man should wear a suit (even though it would be nice), but at least dress better than you would if you’re running to the grocery store! I think men should at least wear tucked-in polo shirts. I’m not trying to establish a dress code but use some common sense. Women too, don’t wear flip flops and tank tops, a pretty dress shows so much class at Mass. Our clothing (normally) reflects how much respect we have for an event.
Get to Mass Early
Being prepared for the Mass is important. It’s hard to be in a proper mindset if we’re frazzled and running into the church in the nick of time. I think it’s good to aim being in your pew about ten minutes before Mass starts–I know, easier said than done, right? The bigger the family, the more important it is to get there early. It is important to get everyone physically and mentally calm before church starts. This gives you time to take some deep breathes and find the proper disposition. This also allows you plenty of time to pray.
Take Your Coat Off
Would you go over to a friend’s house for supper and sit at their table with your jacket still on? Of course not, how rude. The same is true for the Last Supper, you don’t see John with his North Face fleece on.
Cross Yourself with Thought
We need to be aware just how important crossing ourself is. We are reminding and showing other people the powerful mystery that is the Holy Trinity. We are renewing our baptismal promise every time we cross ourselves with holy water. Don’t rush through a limp-wristed Sign of the Cross. Be purposeful in your actions.
The Right Disposition
I just mentioned how important getting to Mass early is for the proper disposition but why is it important? It’s important for two reasons. First, we don’t want any of our actions to be brainless/meaningless and, second, because we want to set a good example for other people that might be wavering Catholics or children. When we share peace and say “peace be with you”, we should do so with a smile and authenticity. Don’t mumble the words with a limp handshake while avoiding eye contact.
Respect and Humility for the Crucifix
Many Catholics mindlessly half-kneel and quickly cross themselves when entering and exiting the pew. Do they even know why they are doing this? We are genuflecting. We do this to acknowledge the real presence of our King in the tabernacle. You know if He’s present by if the nearby candle is lit. If the Blessed Sacrament isn’t present, we generally bow in reverence to the alter when crossing in front of the church.
Follow Along with the Mass Readings
And look at how the first two readings strategically tie in with each other and the Gospel reading. Then pay attention to the homily! Did you know that by going to Mass, you read nearly the entire Bible in three years? Give that info to your Protestant friends that think Catholicism is unbiblical!
The Nicene Creed
Think about what you’re reciting when you describe your Christian faith. If you’re not sure of what a line in it means, learn about it. The entire first section of the Catechism is devoted to breaking the entire meaning down line-for-line. And, for crying out loud, bow in reverence when the line about God becoming one of us in Mary is reached. It blows my mind how okay most people are with declaring something as meaningful as the Creed without knowing what they are saying. It’s kinda creepy people would just recite it in a monotone voice like a drone. Don’t be a drone!
Participate in Singing
This is a hard one for a lot of people. It used to be very hard for me too. It’s important we take part in the entire Mass. I know a lot of us have horrible voices and feel awkward singing, but you don’t have to belt out the lines like a soloist. Just quietly sing to yourself if that’s all you’re comfortable with. The more you sing the songs, the more you’ll start enjoying some of them–especially if you have an above-average choir like I do.
It’s also important that we participate in the Gloria, even if modern churches twist it into a weird pop song. It’s a prayer and we shouldn’t ignore it. The same goes for the Alleluia before the Gospel reading and singing Holy, Holy, Holy with all the angels and saints during the Eucharistic Prayer. If you only participate in some singing, make it the Gloria, Alleluia, and Holy, Holy, Holy.
You Are in the Presence of the King of the Universe
This all boils down to us understanding that when we are at Mass, we encounter the King of Kings, Jesus Christ, God. We should not take this opportunity lightly. When Jesus appears in front of us through communion, we should be particularly purposeful with our actions. When you look at the priest hold up his body and proclaim, “through Him, and with Him, and in Him,O God almighty Father….” you should have TUNNEL VISION. All you should see are his hands holding up the Body of Christ. Stay on your knees after communion until at least when the priest places the consecrated hosts in the tabernacle and sits down.
When we approach the Lord’s table to receive Him, we should bow or kneel in true humility (unless we’re lucky enough to attend a church that still has an alter rail so we can receive Him while kneeling on the edge of Heaven). I urge people to receive the Eucharist directly on their tongue too. I’m not worthy to grab His Body with my hands. If you’ve never received on the tongue, try it. Tilt your head slightly back with your tongue steady over your lower lip. I assure you that this is not new to the priest and you will end up enjoying this much more than receiving in the hand like the typical modern Catholic going through the motions of Mass.
Read, Read, Read!
It is so important to read about Christianity. Over the past 2,000 years, the Church has created some of the most amazing intellectuals in human history. The philosophic minds of people from Augustus, to Aquinas, to Lewis and many more have written countless books to expand our minds and souls. Reading is one of the most important things someone can do to grow spiritually. Make sure to always have at least one spiritual book going at a time–along with any other books you may be reading. Remember, the soul is like a muscle. The harder you work it through prayer, tradition, and especially reading, the stronger it becomes. I wasn’t even aware of this “muscle” until I started reading spirtual books and I could really “flex” it. If I don’t read for a while, I can feel the muscle starting to weaken. Remember: if you aren’t moving forward, you’re moving backward. Keep moving forward.
Speaking of reading…make sure to read the first part of this two-part series on daily life.