How we prepare for something tells us so much about the value we place on a particular task or event. When I was a middle school teacher, I scripted the entire first week of classes before the first day of school. Everything from the example sentences I would use in English class to the jokes I would make in Religion class were there.
That job and those students were incredibly important to me so I prepared for months. As prepared as I thought I was for the job, I quickly learned I was barely one step ahead of the students. However, my willingness to come each day prepared -- to know the material and even to anticipate possible questions -- made it increasingly fruitful and fun.
The same mindset applies to our participation at Mass. When we come prepared to pray, to encounter the Lord, we get something out of it. On the other hand, when we come without any preparation, it shouldn't be a surprise we get so little out of it.
At 8:55 pm every Sunday, there are never more than 50 people in St. Paul's. By 9:05 pm, there are usually around 200. There have even been Sunday night Masses when I start up the aisle and discover the congregation has doubled by the time I reach the altar.
It is one of my great joys as a priest to serve the Mass and I am grateful for each and every person who comes to Mass on a campus where it has almost negative social value. I also realize people are coming from chapter, meetings, you name it. But, I have to ask: Can you really get that much out of Mass when you come running in at the last minute each week?
Last week, I covered some basics on how our daily life enhances our participation at Mass. This week, the focus is our immediate preparation for Mass which starts -- believe it or not -- the moment we leave Mass the preceding Sunday. In no particular order, here we go.
Read the Readings
Every college student has been there: attending a lecture when you have done none of the reading for that day's class. Even if you are paying attention, it might take the entire class for you to form your own ideas and opinions on the readings, but, by then, it's too late to contribute. At Mass, we move so quickly from readings to homily it is almost impossible to take in what the Word is saying to us unless you come prepared.
Moreover, for many people, the homily is one of the most important elements of the Mass. In its essence, the homily is a reflection upon the Word of God we have just heard. If the Mass itself is the first time you have encountered the readings for that Sunday, you are probably still trying to make sense of the first reading by the time of the homily.
To get more out of Mass, spend time reading and meditating upon the Scriptures for the upcoming homily earlier in the week. Then, on Sunday before you head to Mass, read them once more. Come into Church ready to go even deeper into the Word.
Dress the Part
We tend to get dressed up for important occasions. When you see a friend in formal business attire walking around campus, you can most likely assume she has a presentation or an interview. In other words, she has something important. Otherwise, why get so dressed up?
Before I go any further, it's important to state I would rather someone come to Mass under dressed than to skip Mass altogether. However, to get more out of Mass, dress the part.
We believe Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Second Person of the Trinity, the Incarnate Word, physically and literally is made present on the altar during Mass. We encounter him in His Word and in His Sacrament. He feeds us His flesh and His Blood. We are going to the most important Supper we will ever attend each time we step foot in Church.
To get more out of Mass, dress the part. It's called "Sunday Best" for a reason. At an interview, you dress up to show the interviewer you are serious about the job. At Mass, you dress nicely to show Our Blessed Lord how much He means in your life.
Fast before Mass
It's Church law for each of us to fast from food for one hour before receiving the Eucharist. (Water and medicine are exceptions.) We do this to prepare our hearts and our physical bodies for the reception of Jesus in the Eucharist.
A few years ago, I spent the summer in Vietnam teaching English to the Dominican Friars there. A big adjustment for me was the diet. I had never really eaten much rice before going to Vietnam and dairy was almost completely absent from their diet. When I returned to the US, my parents offered to take me anywhere for dinner. I chose Italian. I had a huge portion of pasta and plenty of cheese. It was one of the best meals of of my life. Why? I had to wait for it. By denying myself cheese and pasta for three months, my experience of cheese and pasta was amplified.
To get more out of Mass, deny yourself (for an hour or more) food and drink so when you eat the True Food and drink the True Drink of the Eucharist your soul's eternal hunger and thirst will be satisfied.
Arrive Early. Prepare a Spiritual Offering.
In the early Church, the offertory consisted of bread and wine (obviously) as well as the gifts of the people. Farmers offered the first fruits of their harvest. Milk and honey were often offered too. The people gave what they produced for the life of the Church. They offered the very best of what God had given to them back to God.
These offerings also symbolized the spiritual offerings of the people of God. The farmer's first fruits were also a sign of his offering of prayers for his family and friends. The sacrifice of the Mass was joined by the sacrifice of the people.
Today, this is very much still the case. All of our prayers, all of our offerings are united with the priest's and with the Church's on the altar. When the priest offers up the bread and wine, he is offering to God all of our prayers and our needs.
To get more out of Mass, arrive 10-15 minutes before Mass. Silently prepare yourself for what the Lord is about to do in your life and in this Church. Prepare and offer to God your spiritual offering for the Mass. Unite your prayers for your sick family member or a friend in need to those of your brothers and sisters and to the perfect offering of Jesus Christ on the altar.
Invite and Encounter
No one is truly alone at Mass. Sadly, so many people go to Mass and sit alone. Even worse, too many Catholics alone at Mass are left alone, never greeted, rarely invited into an authentic friendship with someone more connected.
To get more out of Mass, invite a friend to go with you and prepare to encounter someone new. Whether you are already socially involved or are one of those who flies solo, make a commitment each week to greet someone new; to invite an acquaintance out to lunch or coffee; to sit with someone you've never met before and get to know his or her story.