Each Friday morning during the school year, I try to make it a point to offer the 8:30 A.M. Mass in order to celebrate it with our school children. Before and during the Mass, I often ask the students some questions. One of the questions that I have occasionally asked is how often do they think that should they attend Sunday Mass. Once in a while, I’ll get an answer that says that they should to go to Mass almost every Sunday; or they say that they will try to make it to Mass on Sunday. I try to take the opportunity to comment on such answers. I remind them that the obligation to go to Mass on Sunday is not one that I have invented. Rather, God makes this expectation clear when He commands us to “keep holy the Sabbath.” I would like to try to make this clearer by referring to a scene from one of my favorite Star Wars movies, where the Jedi Master, Yoda, is teaching young Luke Skywalker how to make us of the force. Luke’s X-wing fighter ship is buried in the swamp and Yoda encourages Luke to use the force to raise it out of the water. Luke tells Yoda that he will give it a try; to which Yoda responds: “No! Try not! Do; or do not. There is no try!”
In the same way, we cannot be content just to try to get to Mass. We need to order the priorities of our life in such a way that nothing gets in the way of our getting to Mass, with the exception of extreme illness, physical inability, or the absolute unavailability of Mass. The way to be motivated to do this is not to look at this from a negative perspective, such as worrying about a punishment for not getting to Mass. If we truly appreciate Who it is that we receive in the Eucharist and the great spiritual benefits that gift bestows on us, we will not want to miss out on this wonderful blessing for anything.
The second point to examine is our participation when we do come to Mass. There’s an old saying that goes: “You only get out of something what you put into it.” Take, for example, exercise. If we don’t put much effort into getting and staying in shape, then we won’t derive much benefit from our exercise. The same is somewhat true with our participation in the Mass. I say that is ‘somewhat true’ because it is a truth of our Catholic faith that Jesus truly becomes present at every Mass, regardless of how much we put into our participation. Likewise, even if we are not putting forth much effort, as long as we are in the state of grace, we receive that gift of God’s Body and Blood into our soul when we receive Holy Communion. What can be affected by our participation or lack thereof is our openness to receiving the benefits of the Eucharist and having them make a lasting impact on our lives.
In a society in which we depend so much on being consumers of entertainment, we can easily find ourselves bringing that same attitude to Mass. We want to sit back and wait for something inspiring or moving to touch us. Even if that happens, we are just passive observers. We must resist those temptations and throw ourselves into the mystery being celebrated. While we all want to have beautiful liturgies and inspiring homilies, we can’t rely just on that to carry us through the week. We need to make a real commitment to a fully conscious and active participation in the Mass. If we focus on quieting our hearts from distractions before Mass, listening to the readings and the homily attentively, and responding purposefully to the prayers, responses, and music at Mass, then our experience of Mass and reception of the Eucharist can be quite powerful. But, our motivation must be a positive one by preparing to be as open as possible to the gifts and graces that we can receive.
The third point to consider is our bodily posture with regards to the Eucharist. The physical gestures of genuflection and kneeling are signs of profound reverence and humility before the Lord who is truly present before us in the tabernacle. The word “genuflect “means, literally, “to bend the knee.” In the ancient world the knee symbolized the strength of a man. If a man is struck in the knee, he stumbles and falls; his strength is taken from him. When we genuflect before the Lord, our human strength is not taken from us; rather, we willingly surrender our strength to the Lord and place ourselves humbly in his service. When we do so to the Lord of heaven and earth, we should hear the words of the Psalmist ever in our hearts, “Lord, I am your servant”(Psalm 116:16). The motivation to renew our attentiveness to this practice is positive in that it flows from a deep awareness that Christ is truly present in the flesh; and it is in our flesh (our body) that we want to offer a sign of our love and adoration to Him. In this regard, I heard of a story about Pope St. John Paul II that I would like to share. In 2004, St. John Paul II led his last Corpus Christi procession. He could no longer walk, so his priest secretaries helped place the pope on a platform of a specially prepared car. In front of him was the monstrance with the Blessed Sacrament. As he came towards the Basilica of Saint Mary Major, the Pope gave a sign to one of them to come closer. He said: “I want to kneel down.” The priest was surprised by this request because he felt it was physically impossible. A little further on, the Pope repeated again: “I want to kneel down.” He was told that it was better to wait a little longer, as they were getting closer to the basilica. Finally, he said firmly and loudly: “Here is Christ! Please, I want to kneel!” This holy saint truly believed that Christ is present in the Eucharist; and maybe we should ask his special intercession that we might examine how we approach this great gift in our own lives. May our hearts be enflamed with the great love that Jesus gives us in the Eucharist, and may our lives reflect our desire to be drawn deeper into that mystery each time we come to Mass through our total giving of ourselves to Him who has given all of Himself to us.