â€œI love you.â€
When did those words mean the most to you — on your wedding day, holding your child for the first time, seeing a family member after a long absence? Even if youâ€™ve said or heard those words a million times, on certain occasions they just mean more. And at other times, they can be flat and rote, so habitual that they hardly mean anything.
â€œI love our quality time together, honey. Itâ€™s the best.â€
The Mass is the same way. Sometimes we have an transcendent experience of Godâ€™s presence and love, and sometimes we look up and the Mass is over, and we already forgot the homily (Iâ€™ll be first to confess it!). Whatâ€™s the difference between those two experiences? We might say it was the homily, the music, the priest, or our situation outside the Mass, and maybe thatâ€™s part of it. But putting the responsibility for the quality of our Mass experience entirely into someone elseâ€™s hands is taking the easy way out. Itâ€™s like saying that your favorite book is totally ruined if itâ€™s written in Comic Sans font and has a stupid cover. (Annoying? Yes. But it doesnâ€™t change the story.)
Well, maybe a little harder to take seriously…
Just like talking to a loved one, your experience of the Mass is dependent in many ways on you. The good news is that having a consistently rich experience of the Mass is easy! Barring liturgical breakdancing happening, here are four ways you can enrich any Mass experience by staying focused and intentional. Weâ€™ll use M.A.S.S. as an acronym. (Not M.A.S.H. Thatâ€™s totally different.)
M: Mean every word.
The difference between â€œI love youâ€ and â€œI love youâ€ is simple: are you just saying it, or do you mean it? When you mean what you say, you speak with focus, youâ€™re aware of what youâ€™re saying, you intend every word. For example: â€œI confess to Almighty God, and to you my brothers and sisters, that I have greatly sinned.â€ You could drone it out like a robot, but hello! Youâ€™re publically confessing to be a sinner. Thereâ€™s comfort in numbers, yeah, but itâ€™s pretty serious stuff.
The face of penitence.
And the Creed? You can probably say it in your sleep (maybe not the new translation, yet), but listen to yourself sometime. Youâ€™re declaring that you believe in some amazing things, like that God died for you, and that youâ€™ll be raised from the dead someday! And in some parts of the world, you could be killed for saying those words. Donâ€™t sound like youâ€™re bored out of your mind. Say it with joy and with purpose. You know the greatest truths in the world. Be happy about it!
A: Adjust your attitude.
Do you know the definition of â€œdiscord?â€ I learned it firsthand at a Mass in a small, rural parish. My family was at the lake for the weekend, and we attended a vigil Mass, the music of which was led by two older women. Nothing was wrong until they both began to sing simultaneously. Even that wasnâ€™t bad, except that the notes were off juuust enough so that every song was about as pleasant as running your eardrums across a cheese grater.
The temptation was to plug my ears until the sign of peace and be frustrated the entire Mass. But I knew that they were probably the only people in the parish who had the time and the desire to do the music, something everyone else was probably grateful for.
Whenever your least-favorite hymns are sung or the homily isnâ€™t stellar or someone is whistling along to the Gloria (Iâ€™ve heard it), donâ€™t let those things dictate how you feel, because then you give those irritations power over you. Maybe that hymn you hate goes perfectly with the readings. Maybe the priest was up late giving someone last rites the night before. Maybe the whistling person knows they canâ€™t carry a tune and just wants to participate.
If youâ€™re ever in Mass and catch yourself getting frustrated or in a bad mood, just ignore those things and pray a silent Rosary. Youâ€™re there for God, not the other way around. Certain parishes may be more your style, and thatâ€™s fine. But especially if youâ€™re dropping in to another parish, spend more energy being grateful than critical. Youâ€™ll definitely feel better, even if you still want to donate singing lessons to the parish.
And remember, nobody wants to turn around smiling at the sign of peace and be greeted by someone who appears to be having an aneurysm.
Peace be with YOU!
S: Stare at the crucifix.
Bad thing about Mass: other people are there, and other people are distracting. Not only do they bring certain auditory distractions (lack of singing ability, etc.) but visual distractions as well. Everyone struggles with this. From what someone is wearing (or not wearing), their crazy hairdo (or radiant bald scalp), their children running rampant (or making faces at you) to the altar servers moving in precise, military fashion (or stumbling around), there are a bazillion things that can distract you from the Mass and from worshiping God.
The good news about Mass? Thereâ€™s always a crucifix. If youâ€™ve got to look at anything, look at that. I know people-watching is a blast, but donâ€™t stare at the people going up to Communion; look at the crucifix. It will help eliminate distractions and help you focus on why youâ€™re there. It was also prevent you from being scarred for life by something you never, ever wanted to see. So itâ€™s an all-around good idea.
S: Stick around.
Letâ€™s get a bit technical here. When the Eucharist is consecrated, whatever on the altar is bread becomes the body of Christ. Even tiny bits of the host, so small that if they were specks of dust on your plate you wouldnâ€™t even care, are still entirely Jesus. So when you receive communion, as long as the host is still bread — as in, not broken down by your stomach — itâ€™s still Jesus. The digestive process usually takes about 15 minutes. But hardly any Mass Iâ€™ve been to is still going on even 10 minutes after Communion.
So maybe when the priest exits, your church explodes into chatter which the musician tries to drown with blasts from the organ. Sure, the ceremony of the Mass is over, but the purpose of the Mass — communion with God — is not.
Stick around for a minute or two. Talk to God! Iâ€™m not saying you should set your timer as soon as you receive communion or anything; just maximize your time with the Lord. Unless thereâ€™s something pressing, you can say hi to people over coffee and donuts in the parish hall. This is a precious time where you can focus on being there with Christ without worrying if the collection basket is headed your way again. Make the most of it.
So there it is: four ways to enrich your Mass experience. And remember, even if you get distracted, itâ€™s always easy to get focused again; just remember the acronym, and be at peace. (Unless thereâ€™s liturgical breakdancing. Then you just better fashion a whip out of hymnal markers and cleanse the temple a little bit.)
Do you have any other tricks or tips for focusing at Mass? Share them in the comments!