It's hard to pay attention at Mass. On the spiritual side, you have the hymns and prayers. On the more earthly side, you have crying babies and long (and sometimes, but only sometimes, boring) homilies. Sometimes it's hot. Other times it's cold. And somebody or something smells.
Even if those factors aren't present, the Mass is such a step outside of our usual daily lives it can be jarring. In what other place and time do we sing, pray, stand, kneel, and eat together? Moreover, our use of modern technology makes long periods without notifications or opportunities to mindlessly scroll through social media almost unbearable. Oh, and I forgot to mention the million things running through your head all pop up at once when you finally have a few moments of quiet and prayer.
It's no wonder we struggle at Mass to pay attention but, as I mentioned last week in the build up to Mass and the week before about our daily life, our preparation for Mass helps the actual experience. Once in the doors, however, there are some helpful tips to get more out of Mass.
When I make my daily holy hour, I always have a particular intention for whom I offer the hour. Now, I'll pray for a lot of other things and people during the hour, but there is always one particular person for whom I pray during the hour. This helps me when my mind starts to wonder to draw myself back, to stay focused, and, during especially difficult hours, to know I at least got something out of my prayer.
For instance, the past few months, I've prayed often for my two new nephews. When I start to get a little distracted, I think of Glenn or Liam, how cute they are, how much of a blessing they are, how beautiful it is to see the joy they bring my siblings and their spouses, all of that. No matter where my mind wonders, that intention draws me back to the reason for being in the chapel.
To get more out of Mass, have and keep your spiritual offering, your special intention at the forefront of your mind from the moment you step into church until the moment you leave. Mass can get a little stale at times, but when your attendance is for someone or something, the power and importance becomes so much stronger.
My first job was as a middle school teacher. It was great preparation for religious life because I became so comfortable with silence that year. For example, I'd ask, "Who is the President of the United States?" and the room was completely quiet. Oftentimes, at weddings and funerals, the same thing happens when I say, "The Lord be with you."
Conversations of any substance require two people listening and responding. Thinking, talking, listening, a back-and-forth.
To get more out of Mass, say the responses and prayers. The Mass is, in many ways, a dialogue between the priest and the people, as well as, and more importantly, between God and you. God speaks to you and wants to hear back.
The oft quoted line is "He who sings; prays twice." I don't really like this phrase, as it is used, because it seems a somewhat deceptive way to convince people to sing. However, in the Scriptural and liturgical tradition of the Church, song plays an important and pivotal role in worship of God. As Pope Paul VI notes, "Liturgical worship is given a more noble form when it is celebrated in song, with the ministers of each degree fulfilling their ministry and the people participating in it."
To get more out of Mass, sing. Sing the hymns, the Psalms, and encourage your priest to sing the prayers. We are worshiping the Living and Loving God, God who deigned to dwell with us. If that is not worthy of song (even bad singing) I don't know what is.
I am usually the first to argue many contemporary Masses use too many minister. Whether they be acolytes or extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion. In fact, I once attended a Mass with no more than 50 people. There were 15 extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion. However, there are many ways to serve the community during Mass both within the Liturgy itself as a lector, in the choir, as an acolyte, or an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion, and in the pews as an usher or simply helping those around you. For instance, you can read at Mass or you can help the family with a few young kids by offering to hold a bag (or even a child when mom or dad's hands are full). The Eucharist always pushes us outward toward God and neighbor.
To get more out of Mass, serve other during Mass; use the gifts Our Good Lord has given you to build up the community and yourself.
Fr. Patrick is a Dominican priest and the Campus Minister.