Recently, I’ve noticed a decline in the number of people at Mass in the parish where I go. People are busy, of course. Some say they don’t get much out of it. Whatever the reasons, US Catholics aren’t going to Mass as they did before.
We have new texts for Mass, will they turn things around? I doubt it. Better preaching? That would help. But there’s more. We need to look at the way we pray at Mass and prayerfully participate in it. The Mass is the central act of our faith, and we need to bring everything we have– our minds, our memories, ourselves– to it.
We’re there to pray, from the moment we enter the church to the moment we leave. Only by praying at Mass will we appreciate it.
The way we pray at Mass is simple. It begins as we enter church and make the Sign of the Cross. It’s a key to a world of faith. Taking holy water we bless ourselves “In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.” We are reminding ourselves that we’re blessed by God with the gift of life and everything it means through Jesus Christ. Water is a sign of that life. The bread we take is another. They stand for the totality of blessings we receive and we acknowledge our blessings and give thanks through them.
Jesus said “If anyone is thirsty come to me.” He also said “I am the bread of life.” As we make the Sign of the Cross, we’re reminded we’re at the source of life now and of life everlasting, Jesus Christ. We’re blessed by his life, death and resurrection. We trace his sign on ourselves, on our foreheads, our hearts and our shoulders. We’re blessed in mind and heart and all our being.
So, as Mass begins, the priest leads us into this great act of blessing and thanksgiving by inviting us to make the Sign of the Cross.
Notice we bless ourselves a number of times at Mass besides its beginning. We bless ourselves as the gospel is proclaimed, asking that our minds and hearts be blessed to hear God’s Word. We bless ourselves as we leave the church at the end of the Mass, because we carry God’s blessings to our world.
Besides the Sign of the Cross, simple acclamations at Mass draw us into this blessed mystery. So, as the priest concludes a prayer or action, we often say “Amen” an ancient Hebrew word, which means “Yes” we agree. The “Amen” at Mass calls us into the blessing of God. Simple word like “Amen” draw us to the prayer of the church.
“The Lord be with you.” “Lift up your hearts.” “Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.”
Listen carefully to those words and the readings, the songs and the music at Mass. Say them and mean them. Sing them when they’re sung, for“Someone who sings well prays twice.” So we join our voices in song. At Mass we pray together.
We pray with our eyes, too, as we see the actions and signs of Mass. Walking, kneeling, standing are prayers. Simple actions, like bowing and offering our hand to receive the Host are prayers. At Mass we pray with our whole being. Our walking, seeing, listening, speaking become acts of prayer that bring us into the presence of God.
Of course, we often come to Mass with a lot of things on our mind that distract us from this great mystery. So often we’re on overload. Our faith may not be the strongest. We have our doubts. We get sunk in the everydayness of our own lives.
But God’s grace is here in this great mystery and God will draw us–weak as we are–into this great mystery. God will give us– all of us– the gift to pray and find blessings here. God draws us here to bless us.