It’s been said that church can be boring and that going to church is usually an hour that a person will never get back. Many of us have had feeling comparable to this relating to the mass. It certainly doesn’t help if the homily is lack-luster, the readings are long, and the music is off key. There are countless reasons that we can decide for ourselves that mass or just church in general isn’t worth our time. The question remains; however, what is it exactly that we’re going to church for anyways? If we’re walking in the doors because the preaching is good or because the music is on point then leaving when one of these areas suffers makes a bit more sense. What if I told you that neither of the aforementioned elements are the point of mass?
If you’re a cradle Catholic that last sentence might have felt a bit condescending and for that I apologize. All ‘good Catholics’ know that the Eucharist is the point; it is our source and summit of faith. Even still, many of those who were raised in the Catholic tradition bolt for the door after confirmation and aren’t seen again until they need to get married or attend a funeral. Notable Catholic convert, Deacon Alex Jones, once said that being bored in mass is impossible if you understood what was taking place before your eyes. I’m paraphrasing of course; his exact statement was much more eloquent. Nevertheless, such a sentiment is absolutely true. I remember reading about the mass without relent during my journey into the Church and I grew to a place of actually hungering for the Eucharist; a spiritual hunger. My soul longed to receive Christ despite the homilies that could put me to sleep or the music that only an old soul could appreciate. Once I realized that I didn’t attend mass to see or hear from anyone and that we were all there for a common purpose it became a bit more bearable.
The physical and spiritual encounter that each of us stand to gain by receiving Christ in the Eucharist does provide substantial reason to the rhyme of it all. Yet so many of us tend to stay away and cease to make the heavenly liturgy a priority for ourselves and our family. Fortunately, the Church has these rules of engagement known as precepts. The poor public opinion of the Catholic Church is usually attributed to the countless rules she imparts unto her adherents. In fact, the ‘Catholic rules’ have been the launching pad for many [essentially] rule-free church movements. Now, this isn’t to say that the Catholic Church isn’t a ‘come as you are’ environment but that accepting attitude can be lost in the shuffle of all the ‘rules’. Something that I have come to learn is that the Catholic Church and her teachings are not even slightly legalistic. However, when someone lacks a proper understanding of Church teaching their struggle to ‘keep up’ can quickly become legalistic. Kind of like when a husband buys anniversary flowers because he is ‘supposed to’ instead of making it an act of love. The precepts of the Church aren’t another outlet for the Church to be judgmental; rather, these precepts are yet another way that a mother looks out for her children.
The first precept (“You shall attend Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation and rest from servile labor”) requires the faithful to sanctify the day commemorating the Resurrection of the Lord as well as the principal liturgical feasts honoring the mysteries of the Lord, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the saints; in the first place, by participating in the Eucharistic celebration, in which the Christian community is gathered, and by resting from those works and activities which could impede such a sanctification of these days. – CCC 2042
Ever since the time Moses the Jewish people have been called out to set aside the Sabbath and to keep it holy as a part of their covenant. When Christ came as Messiah he took these Jewish laws and translated (fulfilled) them for the good of the entire world; so that we could enter into such a covenant with God as well. This particular precept of the Catholic Church serves the body of Christ in its obligatory tone so that the Church might remain faithful to the commandments of old, even in our new covenantal faith. This brings us back to the sentiment of the Church’s role as our mother. The Church exists to sanctify us; to lead us in the way that we should go. If we are completely honest with ourselves, sin is sometimes the best motivator; which is unfortunate. When we follow the rules out of fear of sin, we become legalistic like the scribes and Pharisees.
What if sin was no longer our motivation to follow the Church’s rules? What if we attended mass faithfully because of our love for Christ and His Church? It is in that moment that our religion, as GK Chesterton would put it, has become ‘more of a love affair.’ When we look upon the precepts of the Church; these expectations of sorts, we should view them through the eyes of love. The type of love shared between a husband and a wife; especially when the husband takes up his duty to help sanctify his bride. If a husband and wife are called to lead each other to heaven through marital fellowship and accountability then rightfully so, Christ is taking His bride (the Church) by the hand and guiding her to heaven. As the bride of Christ, we are obliged to follow His lead even when we don’t understand. In mass we gain a foretaste of married life; an eternity spent in heaven. Mass, for us, is where such a union is consummated; it is where we become one with Christ in spirit and in truth. We are all called to the wedding feast.
Then the Jews began to argue with one another, saying, “How can this man give us His flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats Me, he also will live because of Me. This is the bread which came down out of heaven; not as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live forever.” – John 6:52-58