By ERIKA ANDERSON REDDING, Special to the Bulletin | Published June 7, 2018
COLLEGE PARK—The crowd was on its feet before he uttered a single word. This was the speaker so many of them had come to see and hear.
As the founder of Word on Fire Catholic Ministries and host of the “Catholicism” series on PBS and in thousands of parishes, Bishop Robert Barron is familiar to people on every media platform as a gifted messenger of the beauty and truth of the Catholic faith, from parish teaching series to YouTube videos that have received more than 25 million views. He is one of the most followed Catholics on social media.
Attendees at the 2018 Eucharistic Congress at the Georgia International Convention Center gave him a standing ovation when Bishop Barron walked to the podium.
The bishop began by expressing his delight in visiting Atlanta, a city in which he has many connections, including a spiritual relationship with Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory. Both were ordained priests for the Chicago Archdiocese.
“Your dear archbishop was my spiritual director during my first year in the seminary—so many, many years ago,” he said.
Bishop Barron, now an auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles, was the final keynote speaker of the English track at the Eucharistic Congress June 2. He chose to speak about the significance of each part of the Mass.
Vatican II called for a revival of the Mass, he said.
“One of the great unrealized dreams of Vatican II is precisely in this area,” he said, adding that in those years, 50 percent to 60 percent of Catholics attended Mass regularly.
“Can you imagine those numbers today? Now it’s closer to 20 to 25 percent who attend Mass. And we’re doing well compared to other Western countries,” he said.
As a priest of 32 years, Bishop Barron said that it occurred to him that even those who attend Mass regularly do not quite understand what the Mass is. He said he often looks out at the young people he confirms and wonders how many have a true sense of the meaning of Mass.
“Is this more of a religious-themed jamboree? What is the Mass to them? What are we fully, consciously and actively participating in?” he asked.
The Mass is mystery, beauty
Mass, he said is the privileged place of encounter with Jesus Christ.
“We think Christianity is a relationship with Christ—and where does that happen? It happens at Mass,” he said. “Think about when you encounter friends—when you have someone over for dinner. Typically you sit down and you visit—you talk. Then you have the meal. Look at the basic structure of the Mass. First we listen to the word and we speak back to Jesus. Then we sit down at the great banquet.”
Second, he said, Mass is the great mystery.
“There are physical things, objects, activities, rituals, that when we bump into them, it puts us in contact with God,” he said. “What is the greatest mystery? Mass.”
Mass is also the “supreme form of play,” Bishop Barron said.
“We often get it backward. We think work is serious and play is kind of trivial—just the opposite,” he said. “Work is something you do for the sake of something else. We work on things to get us where we want to go. Play is something done for its own sake. Play is simply beautiful in itself.”
Bishop Barron talked about his love for baseball.
“The thing about baseball is, it’s useless. Baseball is a waste of time. I’m not trying to get somewhere else or accomplish something else. I’m just contemplating the beauty of this game,” he said. “Mass is the most useless thing we can possibly do. And that’s the highest compliment I can give. The Mass is what is utterly beautiful for its own sake.”
The fourth significant observation about the Mass, Bishop Barron said, is that it’s the “supreme form of worship.”
“One of the most important insights I’ve gotten is that you become what you worship,” he said. “Whatever you place of highest value you tend to become. When you go to Mass, you put Jesus Christ at the center of your life. You are becoming more aligned with him—becoming more like him. We don’t just see him from afar.”
Mass transcends social barriers
The last insight into the Mass in general is that it’s the “great call and response.”
“The Mass is not a theatrical production in which a passive audience assists,” he said. “No, the Mass is a call and response in which members of the mystical body become knit together.”
The bishop then went through the major parts of the Mass. The introductory rites show that, in some ways, Mass begins before it begins, he said.
“How we gather—we come together from all places, all locales, all educational backgrounds, both genders,” he said. “You have the highest members of society kneeling side by side with the immigrants, the unemployed. We gather together in contradistinction to how the world is organized. … The liturgy is a place where we form a whole new society.”
Bishop Barron went through the other parts of the Mass, including the Kyrie, during which, he said, we acknowledge the “smudginess of our souls” and ask for forgiveness.
“Don’t run from that—don’t parody that as Catholic guilt. That’s good spiritual honesty.”
The Gospel is the “deepest part of the divine heart” of God, while the homily is in some ways an explanation and continuation of the Gospel. In another way, he said, “The homily is our response to the Gospel.”
The Eucharist is the climactic moment of the Mass, Bishop Barron said, where, because of God’s self-sufficiency, “the sacrifice redounds to our benefit.”
But also important is the final blessing.
“We who have been formed and fed by the word and the body and blood of Christ must go forth into the world,” he said.
Concluding his presentation, a compressed-by-time “little romp through the Mass,” Bishop Barron questioned why “75 percent of our brothers and sisters are staying away from it.”
“The source and summit of the Christian life—the great encounter with Jesus Christ—the transfiguring moment. Why are 75 percent staying away from it? My challenge is to everyone in this room. Can we get one person to come back to Mass? We all know someone in our family, among our kids, our friends, our coworkers,” he said. “I challenge all of you—bring one person to the source and summit of the Christian life. God bless you all.”