Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

What The Mass Is And What It Isn’t

By FATHER JOHN CATOIR, CNS | Published May 13, 2004

“Serve the Lord with gladness; come before him singing for joy” (Psalm 100:2).

The liturgy of the church is the place where we all come together to admit to one another that we need God in our lives. Father James Moroney, a liturgist for the American Catholic bishops, wrote this interesting commentary:

“It doesn’t matter if you have a presider who is a professional liturgist, or even one who understands what the liturgy is all about theologically or ritually. What we need is a priest who believes in loving God.”

It is important that the celebrant at Mass is willing to empower the people to worship in the correct spirit, the Spirit of Love. Father Moroney says we also need in our Masses a sense of the people loving one another, of the priest loving the assembly, the assembly loving the priest and everyone loving Christ.

To accomplish this, and thereby to avoid the perfunctory routine of heartless repetition, we need a welcoming hospitality. If the Mass is not a celebration of joy, it is not fulfilling its purpose.

The entrance rite should be a joyous form of welcome to one and all, an invitation to unite as one in giving ourselves to God. No one should feel like a stranger. Hospitality means that there is a spirit of kindness to the newcomer. This is the natural outgrowth of an authentic belief in Jesus. If you really have met the Lord and understood his loving nature, you cannot help but be hospitable to the newcomer.

The point of all this is that the community is “the mystical body of Christ” worshiping the Father and loving one another. A good liturgy occurs when you can see the effects of it in people’s lives.

Do you see the people becoming more and more Christlike? Are there signs that people care about the less fortunate in the community? Are there food collections for the local pantry or soup kitchen? Are there other signs that the community is becoming more unified in their prayer?

Holy Mass is not a place for individuals to come together and dial “G” for God so that each person can have a long private conversation with God. The Mass is a ritual in which people give worship to God as a living community. We stand together in his presence. Group prayer is more powerful than individual prayer. Together we pray for the intentions of others, and they in turn pray for our intentions.

In addition to worship, the liturgy gives purpose and direction to our lives. It refreshes the spirit and reminds us to banish fear. All of these elements taken together help us to experience the joy of belonging to a 2,000-year-old family that still is thriving in the name of Jesus Christ.

Besides serving as a unifying activity, the Mass supplies us with the power we need to carry out our duties and obligations to those we love. It helps us maintain what Dorothy Day called the duty of delight. We have an obligation to give back a joyful presence to the Lord for all that he has given to us.

Public worship is a perfect antidote to the excessive, unbridled individualism of our age. The privatization of religion is not what God wants. We are taught to say “our Father,” not “my Father.” The Lord wants us to worship him as a family. Let’s try to do that with joyful hearts.