There are certain, obvious parts of the Mass that become more automatic touchstones… easier, in a sense, for us to focus on or re-focus from. For instance, we can read along in our missals during the Liturgy of the Word – a natural way to engage. And at the Consecration, we know this is the supreme moment in the Mass when Our Lord comes to us… often there are altar bells to snap us to attention just in case.
Unfortunately, there are other moments when we lose our focus and our attention slips. It occurs to me, now, that part of the reason we glaze over is that we actually have no idea how awesome every part of the Mass is… but especially these “boring” parts… the parts that might seem like… fillers.
The Orate Fratres:
“May the Lord accept the sacrifice at your hands…” – I used to gloss over this moment in the Mass, speaking by rote the monotonous response to the priest’s invocation. I suspect I’m not alone. But years ago, I heard a young priest say something about this exchange in the Mass that blew me away, forever changing my understanding of those familiar words (and of the entire Mass, itself). Indeed, it has put into even sharper relief in my imagination that our priests truly are real-life, sacramental superheroes. There is nothing mundane or milquetoast about what they do… what they ARE.
You know how you’ll sometimes find yourself driving a familiar route – to school, to work, home from the store – when suddenly you snap out of a 5 / 10 / 30-minute autopilot trance and wonder, “how the heck did I get here?” Alas, tragically, that trance of automation has happened to me in the Mass more than I care to admit. There comes a time in the life of a Catholic when the standing, sitting, and verbalized responses all come to us so habitually that we could do them all in our sleep.
Imagining altitude. Straddling Heaven and Earth. Suspended over the chasm of chasms.
What we hear and say:
V. “Pray, brethren, that my sacrifice and yours be acceptable to God the Father almighty.”
R. “May the Lord accept the sacrifice at your hands, for the praise and glory of His name, for our good and for the good of all His Holy Church.”
What’s actually happening:
“In that moment, when the priest asks the brethren to pray that God would accept this sacrifice that he is about to offer, and the people in the pews offer their reply, “May the Lord accept the sacrifice,” what is happening is the priest is entering the great chasm between earth and heaven, ascending in persona Christi to heaven to offer the Sacrifice of the Son to God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Your prayer in that moment should be that I – the priest – not lose track of my task, not make a mistake or slip into the abyss. When you say, “May the Lord accept the sacrifice at your hands…” you’re asking God to hold me in this moment and keep me from falling into that infinite chasm between Earth and Heaven, that I can only straddle thanks to His supernatural grace, the most important thing I do in my priesthood.”
This is where our imaginations come in:
When we go to Mass every week, even every day, things risk becoming stale. We see, smell, hear the temporal trappings and can forget or fail to see the awesome supernatural, metaphysical mystery of what’s actually happening in the Mass.
Unfathomable heights & depths:
Even just the expanses and wonders of the Planet Earth take our breath away. If we can be so awestruck by scale and expanse in the natural realm… well, imagine multiplying that more “tangible” awe by infinity, to consider the difference between God and Man, between Heaven and Earth! What we can see by science and the naked eye is still very helpful, as an analogy. In all our modern sophistication, man has not yet plumbed the depths of the oceans. How could we, then, ever grow disinterested in the marvels of heaven?
The most remarkable discoveries lie beneath the surface of (what had always seemed like) the most unremarkable aspects of reality. The Mass is no different. If anything, it’s the bedrock of that reality of our daily experience. If you would not have life go stale, if autopilot is not your preferred mode of existence, start with and return to the awe and wonder of Jesus Christ who comes to us in the Mass.
Foster your thirst for the fullness of wonder of the WHOLE MASS, which is there to be discovered and quenched in all manner of books, videos, lectures, real-life conversations with Catholics. Ask Our Lord to increase your love for Him in the Eucharist and for the Mass. Go to Him there. Soak in the depths. Receive Him. And give thanks.