Today’s readings are framed by a meal or, in the case of the second reading, a communal gathering of praise and thanksgiving. In the religious context of Christ’s time, worship and meal are one act.
People believed that when an animal is sacrificed, the spirit of God descends upon it, and to eat it is to be infused with the spirit of the divine.
This same experience is replicated on a broader scale in what we now know as the celebration of the Eucharist.
Liturgy originally started as passion plays, produced and staged with very deliberate drama in order to heighten the emotions of the congregation. The members of the congregation understood the story. The purpose of the experience was to unite with God.
This Sunday, let us reflect on how we prepare ourselves and our families or communities for the experience of the communal Liturgical celebration of the Eucharist. Let me share some stories to highlight some helpful tips.
One of my favorite stories as a principal and priest to high school students was talking to them whenever they confess they have stopped going to Mass. My standard response was, “Please be honest and candid. If I tell you to go to Mass, will you go?” Nine out of 10 would say, “No.” To which I would retort, “Then I will not tell you to go, but can you do me a favor?”
The student would say, “Sure, Father.” Then I would ask, “Whenever you pray, can you pray that God gives you the grace to have a deep devotion to the Mass?”
I do not know how many of them actually did pray or were blessed with a deep devotion to the Mass. But I hope I have communicated to them that devotion is important in making the Mass an important part of one’s life.
Ignatius of Loyola said that avoiding sin must be motivated by love for God. But if this doesn’t work, then one can start by using the threat of the flames of hell. The ideal, though, is to be inspired by love.
The second “tip” is the importance of preparation. In the Mass, preparation is made on both sides, the congregation and the priest.
There is one important rule for priests to remember: Do your homework. Prepare the homily, which most people appreciate or despise, but which sets the tone for the entire celebration.
For the congregation, preparation is equally important. The easiest yet most important preparation is predisposing one’s self for the liturgy.
One of the best “practices” was what Aga Muhlach told me 10 years ago.
He said that many complain about longwinded homilies, but added that he made a choice. The one hour of Mass every Sunday, he looked forward to as his special time with God. Regardless of external factors, he simply put himself in the mind-set, “I am here for you. This hour is all yours. I am all yours.”
Preparation will always help for optimum performance. In this case, it is to encounter, in a more meaningful and life-transforming way, the presence of Christ, of God in our community liturgy.
The third and final “tip” is to allow genuine encounter. Professor Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes flow as basically an optimal experience in which a person feels the moment as so integrated that it becomes transforming. We get a peak moment, a high from the experience.
Csikszentmihalyi writes that “flow and religion have been intimately connected from the earliest times. Many of the optimal experiences of mankind have taken place in the context of religious rituals. Not only art but drama, music and dance had their origins in what we would call ‘religious’ settings; that is, activities aimed at connecting people to the supernatural powers and entities.”
We rest our case with quotes from the words of St. Augustine: “Late have I loved you, Beauty so ancient and so new, late have I loved you! Lo, you were within, but I outside, seeking there for you…
“You were with me, but I was not with you… I tasted you, and now I hunger and thirst; you touched me, and I burned for your peace. When at last I cling to you with my whole being, there will be no more anguish or labor for me, and my life will be alive, indeed, alive because filled with you.”