Why is Mass Uninteresting?
by noted Theologian Father William G.
Why is the Mass uninteresting?
Many, especially young people, are asking that question today. And there definitely is an
There are three reasons for that:
lack of Spiritual Sensitivity,
lack of Understanding
lack of Understanding
the Theology of the Mass.
So we need to look at each.
Lack of Spiritual Sensitivity
The first, lack of spiritual sensitivity is something very common today. It
is not hard to diagnose the cause: so many have grown up with a false
theology which is sometimes called the New
Spirituality, though most often it
goes without a name, but yet is almost breathed in in the early levels of school. The
central idea is this: to give up any creature or pleasure, voluntarily,
for a religious reason, does one no good spiritually. We added the tag "voluntarily". For those who follow this error commonly agree that we ought to make good
use of things that God sends us, even trials. But to give up anything otherwise - that
is not only no good, it is often harmful, they claim.
It is hard to imagine that even Screwtape
himself could think up something more devilish. For, believe it or not, this attitude
not only wrecks vocations to religious life,
but also wrecks many marriages as well. What
a track record!
The reason for saying it is harmful to
give things up is this: the new spirituality
people say that obedience is harmful. But obedience
is, of course, one of the major ways of giving things up. They say that especially in the early years of life, a person needs to
make decisions in order to mature psychologically. That is very true. But the objection
would hold only if there were only a very few decisions to be made. Actually, there are so
many. So one can cultivate two goals, namely, maturity by
decision-making; yet at the same time,
get the spiritual benefits of
obedience in other matters.
It wrecks vocations in this way: Imagine a teenager deciding whether or not to enter
some form of religious life. To do so, if
done in the right way, involves giving up many things. But if he/she thinks that does no
good -- why do it? And worse, obedience
should be part of religious life and that,
as we saw, the new spirituality people claim
is positively harmful. That is not hard to
answer: we have just done that.
Some time back, there was massive exodus of nuns from convents. Why? They came to
believe the new spirituality. So they would
be fools to stay, if they believe that. Or if they would stay, then they would try to
remake their institute to match the new spirituality.
Some have done just that, and have even gained power positions, and harass those who do
not follow their way. Liberals are
very illiberal with those who disagree
Not strangely, these remade orders are losing vocations - for they are
not really following the essential principles of the religious
life, and so cannot attract those who would really want such things.
But the new spirituality is wrecking
countless marriages as well. How does that
happen? Marriage by its
very nature must be a permanent commitment. If even one
of the two parties
is unable to make a permanent commitment, then there is no
marriage, however many flowers and
bridesmaids there may be.
The reason is this: So many grow up today breathing in the new
spirituality. The result is that they do only what feels good, and only
as long as it feels good.
As soon as it no longer feels good, they stop. Of course, if someone
has lived that way every day up to the time he/she walks up the aisle -- then that person
is really incapable of a permanent commitment. And in due time that will
show, and the marriage can be annulled.
Rather, it never was marriage at all from
the start, since at least one of the two was incapable of a permanent
The parties discover their error when the
high tide of emotion
simmers down to a normal level after marriage.
Then they find out that male and female psychology's are
enormously different. Even with an ideal couple, each one soon finds he/she has to give in
most of the time to make it work. The psychologically immature children who
grew up in new spirituality cannot make it
work. (Paul VI said "marriage is a long
path towards sanctification." That is true, for those who are really mature and who
succeed in making the indispensable adjustments).
How does this new spirituality
affect understanding the Mass? Very simple.
To grow up living a life that is in a spirit
opposite to that of Christ,
Who said: "If anyone will come after Me, let him take up his cross and follow Me"
-- to live that way is the opposite of the spirit of
Christ. No wonder such a person is not in good condition
to understand the Mass, the supreme offering of the obedient sufferings
Vatican II gave us a real help towards seeing the folly of the new spirituality. In speaking of the three evangelical counsels: poverty,
chastity and obedience,
which are the core of religious
life, it said that they
"constantly stir up the fervor of love (charity)."
(Lumen Gentium §46).
For those not in religious life what is needed: to begin to live the ideal of Christ, to make
it a practice to get in at least a little self-imposed mortification frequently, perhaps one small thing daily, of the type Saint
Therese of Lisieux taught us to cultivate. For example if a letter from
home arrived in the morning, she would not open it until evening. Or others who drive
cars, can keep their eye on the road -- good for safety -- and not let themselves satisfy
their curiosity by looking at things that turn up which one does not need to see. And
there are countless of other little ways of following the Cross.
Those who do this will find their aptitude for all spiritual
things growing. This does not mean that they will have ecstasies or be swimming in
emotion. No, they may have hardly any emotion. But they will still understand the
message of the Cross, and gladly live it,
and find a deeper kind of satisfaction.
Generously fulfilling the duties of one's state in life, whatever it may be, is another
way of cultivating mortification. Saint
Francis de Sales makes a surprising suggestion in a letter to a married woman. He
says that her husband will be delighted if he sees that as her devotion grow, she is
becoming more warm to him. She has really pledged that in the marriage
vows. She must not think that spirituality
calls for coldness in the matter.
This need for mortification reminds us of
the words of Saint Paul in Romans
8:17 where he said: "We are heirs of God,
fellow heirs with Christ, provided that we suffer with Him, so we may also be
glorified with Him." So many today are miles from that position. They
want and try to get even constant entertainment now. As soon as they return to their quarters
they turn on the TV or a stereo.
While riding in the car, they also must have entertainment on the radio.
And in everything, pleasure seeking is the
rule. Really such attempts are self-defeating.
For our bodies cannot respond at high pitch
for long periods: fatigue comes in, a natural
defense, and our reactions are blunted. The result is that people who seek
constant entertainment develop almost something like a callous, and do
not really enjoy it; instead, it is apt to cause stress, No wonder they find little
happiness. That comes only insofar as we are like Christ.
We do not mean that we will be exempt from sufferings
if we follow Him - rather the opposite. But
there is a deeper satisfaction even here and
now, which leads to happiness later beyond
that which eye has seen or ear heard, and which has not even entered into the heart of man.
Lack of Understanding of God
A second reason for lack of appreciation
of the Mass is lack of appreciation of God Himself. There are as it were two poles in our relationship to God ("poles"
mean centers around which things are grouped). One pole
is that of love, closeness,
other, a sense of infinite majesty,
greatness. If someone told me: "Joe Doaks who lives two blocks from here, loves you",
my reaction would probably be: "Ho hum. Who is that? Why
should I be interested". Similarly if we have little or no perception of
the greatness of God, to hear that He loves us makes little impact.
Saint Teresa of Avila understood well these two poles. Even though she was
privileged to often have marvelous mystical closeness
to God, yet in her
writings she regularly refers to Him
as "His Majesty." And an opening to many
ancient Jewish prayers said; "Avinu,
malkenu" - "Our Father, our King."
The liturgy of
the Mass in the Eastern rites of the Catholic Church is well designed to promote that sense of majesty; our western
liturgy seems to have done everything possible to diminish
respect: turn the altar
around, no Communion rail, let even children
with dirty hands touch the most sacred
things. Primitive people, as anthropology shows, observe a sharp division
between the ordinary, everyday things, and the sacred.
We have lost it. In the Eastern
rites, instead of a turned about altar,
they have an iconostasis, an icon-screen between the people
and the altar, which can be seen at all only
if one is in line with the holy door and the
altar. Most persons in the church hardly see
the altar at all.
We greatly need to try to recover that sense of the sacred.
One thing that would help is much meditation on some lines from the Fathers of
the Church. For example, Saint Gregory of Nyssa, in his
Life of Moses said: "The true vision of the
One we seek, the true seeing, consists in this: in not seeing. For the One Sought is
beyond all knowledge." Saint Augustine in his treatise On
Christian Doctrine wrote: "He must not even be
called inexpressible, for when we say that word, we say something."
There is of course a bit or exaggeration in these statements, but very little. To
clarify, let us think of the time the young man came to Jesus
and said: "Good master, what must I do to get eternal life?"
Jesus at once said: "Why do you call me good? One is good, God." He did not mean to deny He
was good, but He
meant to say that if we use the word good twice, to apply to God
and to apply to anyone else, the sense in the two cases
is partly the same, but mostly different. In this way the great ancient
philosopher Plotinus said: "God
is beyond being."
Astronomy could help us
too, to recapture some of the majesty of God,
if we gather together some of the staggering figures about the universe, e.g., that the
nearest spiral galaxy is Andromeda, at a distance of 2.2 million light years, and then realize that a
light year is the distance light travels in one year at a speed of over 186,000 miles per second - then we say to
ourselves: "And yet He Who made that, not with great
planning, but by merely willing it: Let it be - He loves me and permits me to call Him
Father." The line in the Mass
is very helpful here: "Jesus taught us to call God our
Father, and so we have the courage to say... ."
In a way it was easier for people in a primitive culture to feel their need of God than it is for us, who by our technology can
accomplish things that would have dazzled the primitives. And yet, if we use our increased
knowledge well, we are better off than the primitives. We know that in any speck of dirt,
there are atoms, each with a nucleus, plus electrons in several energy levels, which used
to be compared to planets in orbit around a sun.
That power in a bit of dust is so great that if it were unleashed it would blow us all to
pieces (E=MC²). Yet He Who made that by merely willing
it, tells us to have the courage to call Him Father.
Lack of Understanding the Theology of the Mass.
To make no preparation for Holy Communion,
and then to leave at once after Mass - if
not even earlier - expresses positive disrespect.
Interior respect could hardly flourish in
such an atmosphere. Pope John Paul II in his very first
hominis, pointed out that if a person does not really make a considerable
effort, he will take a loss from receiving, not a
gain. When Saint Pius X urged frequent Communion,
he had in mind the way people used to act in his day. They would commonly go to Confession the day before, then put on their very
best clothes to receive. Now they seldom go to confession.
And to come to Church dressed in a slovenly
way, or wearing short shorts - this is to show we think little of the Divine Presence. And to at once sit, and then
cross legs in a slouched position, again expresses no respect. Our interior
attitudes tend to follow our exterior
actions. So if we bring our exterior
into line, we will find the interior
Further, if we really believe in the Real Presence
- and so many Catholics today do not believe
- we would be glad to come at times other than Mass
Wonderful spiritual fruits follow upon this
It is to pay both our obligations and our love to so majestic
a Father that we have the Mass.
Probably the oldest epic in the world is the Epic of Gilgamesh,
from ancient Mesopotamia, going back to at least the second millennium before Christ,
has a remarkable passage that describes a great deluge, and shows remarkable similarity to
the account in Genesis. When the flood is over, the hero, Utnapistim,
goes out from his ark and offers a sacrifice.
Then, according to the epic, the gods, who had been cowering in fear on the battlements of
heaven - even though they had caused the flood (for no rational cause) came down and
"swarmed like flies "around the sacrifice. They had not had anything to eat for
some time!. For sacrifices were considered
food for the gods. Ancient Greece seems to have had a similar notion: the comedy, The
Birds, by Aristophanes shows the birds threatening the gods that if they would not come
around, the birds would cut off the flow of sacrifices
and practically starve the gods into submission.
Very different is our concept of sacrifice.
We get much light on it from the classic Hebrew
prophets, who picture God as complaining and
as not wanting the sacrifices, even though He had ordered them. The reason emerges from Isaiah
29:13 in which God says: "This people honors Me with their lips, but their hearts are far from
We fear God
is saying the same thing today about so many who go to Mass:
they honor Him
with their lips, that is, with the externals, with
answering prayers, singing etc. But
their hearts, that is, their interior dispositions, are lacking
So we gather that there are two elements
in a sacrifice: the outward
sign, and the interior dispositions.
The outward sign is there to express, and
perhaps even promote, the interior.
But the whole value of the sacrifice comes
from the interior dispositions.
In the original
sacrifice of the Cross, and the previous Holy
Thursday evening, the interior disposition
was that of the obedience of
Jesus to the will
of the Father. In taking bread
here and wine there, and saying: "This is
My body... . This is My blood," He
was saying in a dramatized way: "Father, I know the
commandment You have given Me. I am to die tomorrow. Very good, I turn Myself over to
death - expressed by the seeming separation
of body and blood in the two
species - I accept, I obey. He made that pledge on Holy
Thursday evening. He carried
it out the next day, Good Friday.
On Holy Thursday, the outward
sign was as we said, the seeming separation
of body and blood, standing
for death. On Friday, the interior
remained the same, or rather, continued, but the outward
sign changed to the physical separation of His body and blood. In each Mass, obviously, the outward
sign is the same as on the first
Holy Thursday evening.
The interior, His
obedience to the Father, was
really continuous since,"on entering into the world, He
said: 'Behold, I come to do your will, O God" (Hebrews
10.7). That "will" had been
continuous from His conception until His death,
and after that it still continues, for death makes permanent
the attitude of will with which one
leaves this world.
Christ at the Column -
by ANTONELLO da Messina -
from Musée du Louvre, Paris
That knowledge and that will cost Him
tremendous suffering. For the Church teaches us (Pius XII,
Mystical Body Encyclical)
that from the first instant of conception, His human mind or soul
saw the vision of God, in which all
knowledge is present. So He began to see then, in all its horrid detail, everything He was to suffer.
When we look ahead to something dreadful
that may come, we can say: "Perhaps it won't come. Perhaps
it will not be so bad". But He
could not take such a refuge. The vision
was, we might say, merciless, because it was infallible. Twice during His
public life He allowed us to
see within Him. In Luke
12:50: "I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how am I
straitened until it be accomplished." In John 12:27:
"Now My heart is troubled. What shall I say? Father save Me
from this hour." Then in Gethsemani,
the interior pressure was so extreme as to rupture
the capillaries adjacent to the sweat glands (Hematidrosis), so that the red tide
Now on the altar He still has the same willingness to accept the will
of the Father. Of
course, the Father no longer wills that He
suffer or die.
Yet that will is there, and is of infinite worth.
earned infinitely, by the infinite price of redemption, all forgiveness and grace.
Yet it pleased and pleases the Father that His offering should be continued
(as far as His will is concerned) and repeated,
as far as the external sign is concerned.
So He said: "Do
this in memory of Me." That was for two
reasons. First, He wanted us to
join in His interior dispositions.
For even though His death
earned everything for us, it would be useless for Him
to give if we were not open to receive. Hence Romans 8:17 said: "We are heirs of God, fellow heirs with Christ, provided that we
suffer with Him, so we may also be glorified with Him." This is the great
syn Christo theme of Saint
Paul: We are saved and are
made holy insofar
as we are not only members of
Christ, but like
Him. We are to imitate
His hard life
and suffering, be buried with Him
in Baptism, rise
with Him, and finally to ascend with Him
(cf. Romans 6:3, 6, 8; Romans 8:9; Colossians
3:1, 4; Ephesians 2:5-6).
But further, the Father
loves everything that is objectively
good. Hence as Saint Thomas put it (I. 19.5. c): He is pleased to have one thing in place to serve as the reason for
granting the second thing, even though that first thing does not move Him.
In other words, there is to be a reason, a title for
granting forgiveness and grace. That title is provided by
the repeated offering of the obedience of
the Divine Victim. But it is required that
we, to share in it, be like Him, so that the offering may be that of the whole Christ, Head
In this, one member can benefit another. Saint Paul told the Corinthians
(1Corinthians 12:26): "If one member [of
Christ] suffers all members suffer with it; if one member is glorified, all the members
rejoice with it."
But there is still another marvelous aspect to the redemption.
It is, as we saw, a sacrifice. It is also a
payment of the debt of sin, or, a rebalancing of
the objective order. A remarkable Jewish Rabbi, Simeon
ben Eleazar, writing around 170 A.D.,
claiming to quote Rabbi Meir from earlier in the same century,
told us (Tosefta, Kiddushin 1.14): "He
[anyone] has committed a transgression. Woe to him! He has tipped the scale to the side of
debt for himself and for the world." Pope Paul VI, in
the doctrinal introduction to his Constitution on Indulgences of
January 1, 1967 confirmed this, and wrote
that for a full make-up after sin, it is not
enough to restore friendship with God, though of course that is needed but it is
also necessary: "that all the goods, both individual and
social, and those that belong to the universal order, lessened or destroyed by sin, be
fully restored, either through voluntary reparation... or through the suffering of
takes from one pan
of the scales what he has no right to take. The
scales is out of order, out of balance. It is the Holiness of
God, Who loves
everything that is good, that wants this to
be rebalanced. If the sinner
stole property, he begins to rebalance by
giving it back; if he stole a pleasure, he begins to rebalance by giving up another
pleasure or comfort of comparable value. But we say "begins",
for the imbalance from even one mortal sin
is infinite: an Infinite
Person is offended.
So to fully rebalance, an Infinite
Person is needed, for He can
generate an infinite value or weight to
fully rebalance. That is what Jesus did by His suffering:
He gave up, though He
owed nothing, more than all sinners of all
ages had taken. That rebalanced the objective order.
That was the price of redemption.
In accepting it, the Father pledged to make
available for us forgiveness and grace without limit, since the price is infinite.
In spite of such an infinite
price, a sinner could still be lost by making himself
blind or hard through much sinning, so as to
be unable to perceive or accept the first motion
of any grace, which needs first of all to
put into his mind the thought of what God wills
that he do. The pulls of creatures, to which he
has given himself so much by much sinning, can prevent him
from seeing. We are thinking of a mental meter, something like a compass
needle with a coil of wire around it. The current
in the coil, grace, should
make the needle register what God
calls for. But just as such a needle can be so strongly pulled by outside
power lines or magnetic steel as to be overpowered and
thus unable to register the current in its own coil, so
too, our mental meter may be unable to perceive the first movements of grace, if we let these outside
pulls get so strong a hold on us.
Since no one can be saved without grace,
such a man is lost, eternally
lost. This is true in the ordinary course of graces
- but there are extraordinary graces,
comparable to a miracle, that can still get
through the resistance, or even keep it from ever developing. Then such a man can be saved. But since such a grace is comparable to a miracle,
it cannot be given
When is it given:? When someone else puts
into the pan of the scales an extraordinary weight,
by extraordinary prayer and penance. That will call properly for an extraordinary grace, and so the man can be saved. Saint Paul was
doing this sort of things as he says in Colossians 1:24: "Now I rejoice in my suffering for you, and I fill up the things
lacking of the sufferings of Christ, in my flesh, for His body, which is the Church."
Of course, Christ the Head
as an individual did not lack any suffering
- but His members may lack,
through their own fault. Yet, thanks to the goodness of our Father,
someone else could make up for them, so they would be saved.
If one has a relative or friend who is in hopeless
spiritual state, such an extraordinary grace is probably needed. To get it, more than ordinary work is needed: heroic
work, joined to the sufferings of
Christ can bring the result. It is
precisely to the Mass that we should bring such offerings in
union with the sufferings of Christ.
We read in the lives of the Saints that when one of them went after a hardened sinner, the sinner
was usually converted. That is
because the Saint did such extraordinary
prayer and penance as to
call for an extraordinary grace. Saint
Augustine's Mother did that for him.
So there is much indeed to be done at Mass.
As we said, we are to join our wills, that is, our obedience
to the Father, to that of Christ at the Mass.
It would be good to take a few moments
before a Mass and ask ourselves; What have I done since the last Mass in fulfilling the will of the
Father? If I have done well, I have something to join to the offering of Christ
the Head. If I have been deficient, I must beg pardon. But I can also look ahead to the near
future after the Mass. Not always, but
sometimes, I will see something that is coming up, in which I know well enough what He wills - but I am not so much inclined
to do it. Then I ask: Do I really mean to do it? If not, this is not the place for
So Mass in this way becomes the focus
into which the past and the future are both channeled. It dominates all of life. That
is hardly dull.
what point in the Mass do I bring my offering? To
the very point at which Christ Himself makes
His offering, namely, the double consecration, which is the very means He Himself used in the first
Mass, on Holy
Thursday. It is not the kiss of
peace, nor the great Amen, nor
the Our Father - it is simply this one
moment. These other things especially the prayers after the consecration can be as it were an extension of
that one critical moment, to help us to have
more time to join.
One tragic missalette in the month of May
said that at Mass we must leave our Blessed Mother aside. How far from the truth! Vatican II (On Liturgy
§10) said that the Mass is the renewal of
the new covenant, in the making of which she
had so great a part. Vatican II taught (Lumen Gentium §61):
"... in suffering with Him as He died on the cross, she
cooperated in the work of the Savior, in an altogether singular way, by obedience, faith,
hope and burning love, to restore supernatural life to souls." The redemption included three
aspects: it was a sacrifice, but she,
by her obedience
to the Father, joined in that obedience, even to
obediently willing His death
at that time; it was a new
covenant, as we said, in which the essential condition was and is obedience; it is
the repayment of the debt or rebalance of the objective order, in which Jesus gave up more than all sinners
had taken from the scales, and she joined
with Him in doing that. Pope
Benedict XV wrote of her (March 22,
1918): "Together with Christ she has redeemed the human
Every soul is required to will
positively what the soul knows the Father wills. At the Cross, she
knew all too well what the Father willed:
that He die,
die then, die
so horribly. So she
was called on to positively will
that, in spite of her love
which was so great that as Pius IX wrote in 1854
"None greater under God can be thought of, and only God can
comprehend it." (Speaking of her
holiness, which is the same as love). So her
cost was beyond the ability of any actually
existing creature to comprehend: only God Himself
can do that!
She did this not as just a private person
looking on, but "by design of divine providence"
as Vatican II said twice (Lumen Gentium §§ 58
&61), as the New Eve sharing with the New Adam in the "struggle
which was common to the Blessed Virgin and her Son"(Pius
XII, in the document defining the Assumption).
At Mass, the body and blood
being offered are still the same that she provided.
The interior offering of
His obedience is that in which she joined her
obedience, and still joins in from heaven, as we have said. Vatican II
three times in Lumen Gentium (§§56
and 61) spoke of her obedience
as her cooperation. So she
does have a role in each Mass.
Therefore it is no rhetoric,
but sober theology to say: The more we are united with Christ in
each Mass, the more we are united with her; and the more we are united with her, the more
we are united with Him. Even if we do not think of the fact, yet it is objectively true, and it is good
that we do think on it.
Rightly then did Pope John Paul II tell a crowd assembled in Saint
Peter's Square on February 12, 1984:
"Every liturgical action... is an occasion of communion...
and in a particular way with Mary.... Because the Liturgy is the action of Christ and of
the Church... she is inseparable from one and the other
. Mary is present in the
memorial - the liturgical action - because she was present at the saving event.... She is
at every altar where the memorial of the Passion and Resurrection is celebrated, because
she was present, faithful with her whole being to the Father's plan, at the historic
salvific occasion of Christ's death."