When I taught high school religion prior to entering seminary, one of the most common complaints that I heard from students was, “Mass is boring.” Whenever I heard that type of objection, I would always respond by explaining that if they really knew what was going on, they would not think Mass was boring. In fact, they would be at Mass every Sunday and every day of the week, if possible. They would also make it to the adoration chapel every day. To help them understand these extravagant claims, I would use the following analogy:
Imagine walking into a football stadium, and you have never seen a football game, you do not know the objective of the game, you do not know the rules of game and you do not know anything about the teams or their history. You have no idea what has happened prior to the game or what is at stake. From the time when the teams begin their pre-game rituals until the last second ticks off the clock, you will probably spend most of your time trying to figure out what is going on. Initially, there might be some intrigue with the action of the game and the people around you, but after hours of being confused about what is going on, you might just give up. If you did this for an entire season – or multiple seasons – there is a good chance you would be bored.
If, however, someone takes time to explain the rules and purpose of the game, then the hours of boredom can be turned into hours of entertainment. When the ball is snapped, you can watch the play develop, players run routes or defenders anticipate a pass. When a penalty flag is thrown, you will probably know what the infraction is, based on where it was thrown during the play. Because you know what is going on, you are able to participate and enjoy the game much more. You can cheer when appropriate and you can make noise to distract the other team when they have the ball. All of a sudden, a bunch of guys randomly running around on the field tackling each other can be turned into a fun game.
Analogously, if we do not understand what is going on within Mass, we will more than likely be bored. For awhile, we might go to church every Sunday because that is something that we have always done, but when we are not satisfied, we will start skipping a week or two when something else comes up. Eventually, we will stop going altogether.
If it were only a football game, it might not matter, but there is a major difference between a football game and the Mass. The football game is pure entertainment, whereas the Mass is an opportunity for us to worship the God who created us and redeemed us. It is nothing less than the divine touching the human. It is the most important thing that we ever can do or will do in this life.
St. Jean Vianney, patron saint of priests, once said, “All the good works in the world are not equal to the holy Sacrifice of the Mass because they are the works of men; but the Mass is the work of God. Martyrdom is nothing in comparison, for it is but the sacrifice of man to God; but the Mass is the sacrifice of God for man.”
As the English-speaking church prepares for the implementation of the new Roman Missal, the Archdiocese of New Orleans is using the revision of the missal as an opportunity to teach the faithful about the Mass. Beginning Dec. 3 during Advent, the archdiocese will dedicate 2011-12 to “A Year of Renewal: Offering a Worthy Sacrifice of Praise,” focusing on teaching Catholics about the treasure of the Mass.
In order to help believers come to a deeper understanding of and appreciation for the Mass, the archdiocese will be providing a variety of formation opportunities.
One of those opportunities is a weekly article in the Clarion Herald explaining a portion of the Mass. The articles will take the form of questions and will be answered in a way that can be easily understood by anyone who may not be well versed in theological concepts or church documents. The belief is that if people better understand what is going on in the liturgy, they will better be able to enter into the liturgy. If we better enter into the liturgy, we will thus be able to draw closer to the God, who is tirelessly pursuing us.
Tim Hedrick is a second-year theologian studying for the Archdiocese of New Orleans at Notre Dame Seminary. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.