I have a confession to make: I’ve never been particularly fond of attending Mass.
Before today I probably wouldn’t have said that aloud to anyone other than a priest, but now having read the reflection on the Mass that’s published on as "Reflection 2" on the landing page, I feel less guilty about it.
“If you consider yourself a Catholic but do not consider the Mass as the most meaningful aspect of life, don’t worry – it probably isn’t your fault,” the reflection states, and because it was approved by the bishop, I feel much relieved.
However, having Mass as a nonessential aspect of life is less than ideal for a Catholic. To change this, the reflection suggests approaching Mass as “a significant moment in your relationship with God.”
In the coming months, the twice-monthly reflections will delve into the actions, words and symbolism inherent in the Mass, all of which focus attention on a relationship with God. These begin even before we enter the church, because we fast for at least an hour before we receive the Eucharist to deepen our hunger for the Lord. They continue the moment we step into the church, when we bless ourselves with holy water and make the Sign of the Cross. All of these actions during the Mass help lead us to a “personal and physical encounter with Jesus Christ himself in the Eucharist,” as the reflection says.
For quite some time I’ve felt that encounter with Christ in the Eucharist is lacking in my life, and because I’m too impatient to wait for the series of reflections, I’ve purchased two books to help me learn more about the Mass.
A Biblical Walk Through the Mass by Edward Sri takes the reader step by step through the various aspects of the Mass, beginning with “three key aspects of the Eucharist that every Catholic should know:” that the Eucharist is at the same time a memorial of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, the real presence of Jesus and communion with Our Lord.
Sri explains each of these aspects in the first chapter of the book, which I read shortly before going to Mass. That information was fresh in my mind when I entered the church, and I recalled it every time my thoughts began to wander. I can’ say that I felt a more profound encounter with Christ when I received the Eucharist, but sitting in the pew I certainly felt a deeper understanding of the reason I’d dragged myself into church that day.
The other book I am reading is Eucharist by Bishop Robert Barron. This book is short – it has three chapters along with an introduction and an epilogue, and clocks in at 112 pages, not including the bibliography and index.
The two books complement each other. Although they cover some of the same material, they take different approaches. Sri writes for a general audience; Bishop Barron is much more theological. For example, Sri devotes only two pages to the concept that the Eucharist is the real presence of Jesus, concluding that discussion with a quote from St. Cyril of Jerusalem: “Do not see in the bread and wine merely natural elements, because the Lord has expressly said that they are his body and his blood: faith assures you of this, though your senses suggest otherwise.”
By contrast, Bishop Barron devotes an entire chapter to the real presence, delving into the biblical background, the teachings of the Church Fathers and Thomas Aquinas, and then considering some contemporary thought on the matter.
Reading these two books brought into focus something that Bishop Daniel Mueggenborg said at this year’s Bishop’s Dinner: “… the spiritual life – the authentic life – is never something we experience passively like spectators, but always something in which we must actively participate personally. No one can do it for us. It requires all of us.”
Marie Mischel is editor of the Intermountain Catholic. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.