Prayer Intentions

This post is part of a series on Getting the Most Out of Mass: tips to best dispose yourself to receive the graces available during Mass (this will be specifically about Sunday Mass, but some of these ideas will also apply to daily Mass). We’re in the section on preparing yourself before Mass.

What:

Catholics bring with them to Mass particular things about which they want to pray.

Why:

Mass is the greatest form of prayer. It is the best time to bring with us things about which we want to pray.

Remember, Mass is the re-offering of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. Part of the reason He gave it to us is that He wants us to unite our prayers to His sacrifice, thus making them more powerful.

Going Deeper:

Reflect on the different types of prayer:

  • Adoration & Praise – worshipping God as God & acknowledging things that are great about Him
  • Contrition – expressing sorrow for sins
  • Thanksgiving – expressing gratitude for what God has done for you
  • Intercession – asking God for help for others
  • Petition – asking God for help

Think about all the different areas of your life. He wants you to bring everything to Him.

For all their works, prayers and apostolic endeavors, their ordinary married and family life, their daily occupations, their physical and mental relaxation, if carried out in the Spirit, and even the hardships of life, if patiently borne—all these become “spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” [1 Pt 2:5] Together with the offering of the Lord’s body, they are most fittingly offered in the celebration of the Eucharist. Thus, as those everywhere who adore in holy activity, the laity consecrate the world itself to God.

Lumen Gentium 34

Other ideas for intentions include:

  • What makes you anxious?
  • What is exciting in your life?
  • What questions do you have?
  • For what are you hoping?

Ask other people if you can pray for them and what you can pray for. Bring those intentions, too. 

Utilizing Social Media

On most Saturdays, my wife and I reach out to friends via Facebook, stating: “Like this post and we’ll pray for you by name at Mass tomorrow. Comment or send a personal message for particular intentions.

We’ve been doing this for a while now and people have come to expect our Saturday posts. I’ve gotten to know a lot more about friends’ lives.

Answered Prayers

Here are some examples from my life of the power of prayer. While they both were answered directly after prayers outside of Mass, we also had been praying for these things at Mass beforehand:

What About You?

  • How has bringing intentions to Mass with you changed your participation in the Mass?
  • Have you tried bringing to Mass a written list of things to pray about?
  • Do you have any stories about answered prayers?

Fast

This post is part of a series on Getting the Most Out of Mass: tips to best dispose yourself to receive the graces available during Mass (this will be specifically about Sunday Mass, but some of these ideas will also apply to daily Mass). We’re in the section on preparing yourself before Mass.

What

Except for water and medicine, Catholics must refrain from all food (including gum) and drinks for at least one hour before receiving Holy Communion (unless some physical/medical needs require otherwise). 

For many Masses, Communion is late enough to only require a 15-minute fast before Mass.

We may fast longer. The rule used to be fasting for three hours before Communion, and before that, the rule was fasting from midnight until Communion,1 which would “break fast” (hence the term “breakfast”). Some people choose to continue to offer the greater sacrifices that were previously required.

Why

Out of respect for Jesus (whom we’re about to receive into our bodies via Holy Communion), we both:

  1. make sure there is no regular food in our bodies so that only Jesus is present in our digestive systems (giving Him special treatment) and
  2. offer up the small sacrifice of our hunger as a preparation for getting to have God “enter under our roof.” (Matthew 8:8)

Remember that our salvation was won for us through an act of suffering. Our Savior wills for all men to be saved, but for certain souls, He wills that they come to Him through the prayers and sacrifices of others. That is what St. Paul means by stating:

Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the Church.

Colossians 1:24

Whether we actively allow ourselves to suffer (e.g. fasting) or we passively receive unexpected suffering, it can be offered as a sacrifice to God, offering Him worship, thanksgiving, and praise, and pleading for our good and the good of others. This is called active or passive “mortification.”

Actively mortifying ourselves  (bodies and minds) also gets us in the habit of turning suffering into sacrifices, so that when faced with passive suffering, we’re more likely to see and use it as an opportunity to help more souls to go to Heaven.

Jesus also underlined the importance of fasting to improve the effectiveness of your prayers when He explained to the disciples that the demons they could not exorcise required prayer and fasting:

This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer and fasting.

Mark 9:29

Going Deeper

Consciously offer the fast to God. Many times we fall into a rut of just happening to not eat during that time instead of intentionally sacrificing what food we could be eating. The more consciously we offer our pre-Communion fast to God, the more we dispose ourselves to receive the graces He is offering us at Mass.

For Parents

While children who aren’t receiving Holy Communion don’t need to fast, it’s a good practice to not give them food during the hour fast, so they get practice before being obliged to fast. Yes, this means no Cheerios during Mass. I know this can be a tempting way to pacify kids, but I think helping them to learn self-mastery is much better in the long run.

What About You?

  • In what ways have you noticed fasting affecting your disposition to receive grace (during Mass and/or at other times)?
  • In what ways have you noticed fasting affecting your dispotition to accept suffering and offer it as a sacrifice?
  • Do you have any special practices with regard to fasting?

Footnotes

  1. https://canonlawmadeeasy.com/2017/08/31/canon-law-changed-fasting-communion/

Get a Good Night’s Sleep

This post is part of a series on Getting the Most Out of Mass: tips to best dispose yourself to receive the graces available during Mass (this will be specifically about Sunday Mass, but some of these ideas will also apply to daily Mass). We're in the section on preparing yourself before Mass.


What:

Go to bed early enough to be well-rested when you wake up on Sunday.

This might require giving up certain activities that would keep you up late on Saturday night.

Why:

You would get a good night’s sleep before a big interview, a big game, a big test, etc. Since Mass is the most important thing you will do in your whole life, even more so, you should try to be well-rested for Sunday mornings. The greater your mental clarity, the better you will be able to focus on and participate in the Mass. This will help you be disposed to receive the most graces, grow in holiness, draw closer in your relationship with God, and most fully live the life to which God is calling you.

Going Deeper:

Before going to bed, offer to God your sleep in preparation for Mass.

Also sacrifice to Him what you might otherwise be doing if you were to stay up. I’ve quoted Maria Trapp earlier posts from her chapter about Sundays. In it, she mentioned how Austrians of her time would specifically go to bed early to prepare for Sunday.

Saturday night is a quiet night. There are no parties. People stay at home, getting attuned to Sunday. They go to bed rather early.

Maria Trapp, Around the Year With the Trapp Family: The Labs Without A Sunday

She goes on to explain how she and her family came to realize how important these Saturday customs were as a preparation for Sunday. Later, she described her experience when they moved to America.

As we got more used to being in America and as our English progressed, we made a startling discovery Saturday night in America! It was so utterly different from what we were used to. Everybody seemed to be out. The stores were open until ten, and people went shopping. Practically everybody seemed to go to a show or a dance or a party on Saturday night. And finally we discovered the consequence of the American Saturday night: the American Sunday morning. Towns abandoned, streets empty, everybody sleeping until the last minute and then whizzing in his car around the corner to the eleven o’clock Sunday service.

Ibid

Fr. Mike Schmitz has a great video about getting enough sleep. In the video, he mentions that before going to bed, Pope St. John XXIII would pray an act of faith that by going to sleep at a reasonable time, he trusted God to provide for all the things he would have otherwise stayed up to try to work on. It was something like “Lord, it is your Church; You take care of it. I’m going to sleep.”

Early to Bed, Early to Rise

I remember, in my early young adult years, regularly staying up late on Saturday nights, trying to squeeze as much fun out of them as possible. I also remember (or perhaps don’t remember) many sleepy Sunday Masses.

The more I’ve come to understand the importance of Sunday Mass, the more I’ve been okay excusing myself from social events or other activities that would keep me up too late. The more I see the Mass as the most important part of my week, the more willing I am to sacrifice other activities so that I can better participate in Sunday Mass.

Put on Your Sunday Best

This post is part of a series on Getting the Most Out of Mass: tips to best dispose yourself to receive the graces available during Mass (this will be specifically about Sunday Mass, but some of these ideas will also apply to daily Mass). We're in the section on preparing yourself before Mass.

What:

Catholics try to wear their best clothes to Sunday Mass. Often they have special Sunday outfits.

On Sunday everyone puts on his finery. The Sunday dress is exactly what its name implies—clothing reserved to be worn only on Sunday. We may have one or the other “better dress” besides. We may have evening gowns, party dresses—but this one is our Sunday best, set aside for the day of the Lord. When we put it on, we invariably feel some of the Sunday spirit come over us.

von Trapp, Maria, Around the Year With the Trapp Family

While we do wear good clothes, we try not to wear “flashy” clothes, and we definitely avoid anything immodest.

Women may cover their heads at Mass with a hat or a mantilla, etc., but men may not.

Why:

Why Dress up for Mass?

Sunday Mass is a formal event. We are going to the King of Kings. We would dress up to see the president or the Pope. Even more so, we ought to dress up to visit God in His house.

Wearing your “Sunday best” shows a special honor for God, the Catholic Church, the Mass, and the specific place where you are worshipping. It also gives the other people who might see you a good example of how to show that respect.

We avoid any clothing that might draw attention to ourselves during Mass. For example, a nice suit is great Mass attire, but a tuxedo is over the top. It would draw too much attention to the wearer unless he is involved in the Mass (e.g. groom at a wedding Mass, Knight of Columbus color guard, etc.). I’ve seen young people attending Mass prior to a formal dance, dressed in their tuxes and dresses. This seemed to me to be an appropriate exception to not wearing flashy clothing to Mass, but I’m open to other opinions.

Study to be neat, and let nothing about you be slovenly or disorderly. It is an affront to those with whom you associate to be unsuitably dressed, but avoid all conceits, vanities, finery, and affectation. Adhere as far as possible to modesty and simplicity, which doubtless are the best ornaments of beauty and the best atonement for its deficiency.

St. Francis de Sales, Introduction to the Devout Life, III.25

Modesty

A risque outfit is never appropriate in public, but it is especially inappropriate at Mass.

Modesty in dress and bodily adornments inclines a person to avoid not only whatever is offensive to others but whatever is not necessary.

Modern Catholic Dictionary: Modesty

Modesty protects the intimate center of the person. It means refusing to unveil what should remain hidden. It is ordered to chastity to whose sensitivity it bears witness. It guides how one looks at others and behaves toward them in conformity with the dignity of persons and their solidarity.

Modesty protects the mystery of persons and their love. It encourages patience and moderation in loving relationships; it requires that the conditions for the definitive giving and commitment of man and woman to one another be fulfilled. Modesty is decency. It inspires one’s choice of clothing. It keeps silence or reserve where there is evident risk of unhealthy curiosity. It is discreet.

CCC 2521-2522

While Church is a good place to find a spouse, you will not attract the right kind of spouse by dressing immodestly.

Head Coverings

Hats off to the men

For men, wearing something on one’s head is traditionally a sign of position and authority. In times past men had different kinds of hats depending on what position they had in society. However, before God, we are all equal. To show this, men don’t wear hats in church (except for those involved in the Mass: during certain parts of the Mass, priests may wear a biretta, bishops wear a miter, Knights of Columbus might wear their regalia hats, etc., but they all take their hats off during the Eucharistic prayer). “Any man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head…” (1 Corinthians 11:4)

Not too long ago, it was customary for a man to “doff his cap” (tip/lift his hat) as a “cultural expression of recognition, respect, gratitude or simple salutation and acknowledgment between two persons.” (See Wikipedia on Hat Tip”) A man removing his cap for Mass is doing the same for God’s presence in the church. Yes, God is present everywhere, but He is most especially present in the Eucharist (CCC 1373), so we men remove our hats as a sign of respect for the house in which His True Presence remains.

An A-Veil-Able Option

For women, wearing something on one’s head is a sign of humility. “Any woman who prays or prophesies with her head unveiled dishonors her head.” (1 Corinthians 11:5) In the past, it was mandatory for women to cover their heads in Mass. While it is not mentioned in the current Code of Canon Law, it is still a commendable practice. Many women wear a veil or hat as one more way of marking Mass time as special. (e.g. They don’t normally wear a veil, but they do for this special time in God’s house.) Veils can particularly also act as partial blinders (to keep out distractions and focus one on the Mass). Lastly, veils can also help keep other people’s attention on God by covering a woman’s hair, which can be a distraction because of its beauty.

A man removes his hat in Church to show those same signs of respect, gratitude, and submission to Almighty God. He recognizes that particularly in this place, God is present. Yes, he knows God is everywhere, but God is particularly present at Mass, most especially in the Eucharist. (see also CCC 1373)

Dressing for Daily Mass

Daily Mass is a different etiquette. Many people attending daily Mass are taking time out of their work and so will probably be dressed in their work clothes, tradesmen and businessmen alike. If a mechanic takes the time on his lunch break to participate in Mass, he probably doesn’t have much more time than it takes to clean his hands. I wouldn’t expect him to change for Mass.

In the Church, we have a concept of “progressive solemnity.” More or less: the higher the celebration, the fancier the Mass. On the highest days (Sundays and solemnities), we put out all the stops. On medium days (feasts), we have many extras, but not always all of them. On lower days (memorials, optional memorials, and weekdays) we tend to have more reserved celebrations. One simple example that many parishes so to express this is the number of candles lot at the altar. Six for high days, four for feasts, and two for lower days. We can reflect this idea in our choice of attire. Sunday best for Sundays and solemnities, next best outfits for feasts, and something nice for lower days.

Going Deeper:

Ask God to help you choose and/or acquire good clothes that will honor Him when you wear them to Mass.

Show intentionality by putting your clothes out the night before. You could even pray over your Sunday clothes and ask God’s blessing on them. I have not found an official Catholic prayer of this sort, but you can always ask God that through you wearing these special clothes, He might draw you and those around you closer to Himself.

As you get dressed, you might think of some of the scripture verses about being spiritually clothed:

  • “…clothed with power from on high” [in reference to the Holy Spirit] (Luke 24:49)
  • “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.  For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the equipment of the gospel of peace; besides all these, taking the shield of faith, with which you can quench all the flaming darts of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. (Ephesians 6:11-17)
  • “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, and patience, forbearing one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” (Colossians 3:12-14)
  • “Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” (1 Peter 5:5)

Suiting Up:

Growing up, I attended a Catholic school with a dress code. What I wore to any given Sunday Mass wasn’t much different from what I wore to school. If you would have asked me, I would have been able to say that yes, the church building was a special place, but I had no idea how special of a place the church really was. Naturally, my choice of Mass attire didn’t really distinguish what I was doing at Sunday Mass from what I was doing the rest of the week.

As I grew in my understanding of what the Mass is, I wanted to find ways of consciously making Mass (especially Sunday Mass) extra special. I decided to start wearing some blazers I was given. Later, I had to purchase a suit as a groomsman in a wedding party. After that wedding, I wore that suit to almost every Sunday Mass. I eventually wore holes in the knees of the pants from kneeling in them so often. That simple act of changing my wardrobe to reflect the nature of the action in which I was taking part affected my experience of the Mass. Granted, it wasn’t a seismic shift, but it was, like many of these ideas, one extra piece contributing to an ever-opening disposition, allowing me to receive more and more grace.

What About You?

  • Do you have any tips for dressing up in your Sunday best for Church?
  • Do you have any stories about dressing up for Church?
  • How has dressing up affected your experience of Mass and/or recognition of the True Presence of God in the Eucharist?

Make an Examination of Conscience and Go to Confession

This post is part of a series on Getting the Most Out of Mass: tips to best dispose yourself to receive graces available during Mass (this will be specifically about Sunday Mass, but some of these ideas will also apply to daily Mass). We're in the section on preparing yourself before Mass.

What:

Catholics review their lives, considering all the ways they have failed to live up to Jesus’ call to “be perfect.” (Matthew 5:48), to Love God with their whole heart, soul, mind, and strength and their neighbors as themselves (Mark 12:30-31). This is called an “examination of conscience.” We make a list (mental and/or physical) of all these failures (sins).

We privately confess those sins to God via a Catholic priest or bishop and ask forgiveness. As long as we are sorry, God forgives our sins through the ministry of the priest or bishop.

Why:

Why do we go to Confession?

If we make a full confession of our sins (i.e. laying them all bare, not willfully hiding any sins) and we are sincerely sorry, God completely forgives all our sins. In forgiving them, He removes those sins from us forever. There are still temporal effects of our sins (e.g. if I stole something, I still need to give it back–and maybe add a little for restitution), but the guilt of the offense before God is completely gone. My relationship with Him is restored.

Why do we go to a Catholic priest or bishop for Confession?

God uses priests as His instruments of forgiveness

Jesus gave to certain men the ability to be channels of His forgiveness (John 20:23) and those men ordained other men to carry on the ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor 5:18). This ability has been passed down through ordination to all Catholic and Orthodox bishops and priests. They are the only ones who are officially designated by God for this ministry.

Why do we have to tell our sins to the priest or bishop?

When Jesus gave those men the ability to forgive sins, He said: “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (John 20:23, emphasis mine). Those are big “ifs!” Either this man is going to forgive my sins or he is not. This can mean the difference between Heaven and Hell for me. But how is he to know A) what sins to forgive, and B) whether to forgive them? Only if we confess our sins to them (James 5:16) will they know what the sins are and be able to judge whether we’re actually sorry.

Why do we go to Confession in preparation for Mass?

Firstly, Confession prior to Communion is necessary if a person has committed a serious sin (e.g. murder, sexual sins, skipping Mass, etc.). In this case, he cannot receive Holy Communion until he first goes to Confession. If he receives Holy Communion without being forgiven from his serious sin via Confession, he commits another serious sin (sacrilege). That is why St. Paul stated:

 Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself. (1 Cor 11:27-29

If I have committed a serious sin and I receive Holy Communion, I “eat judgment upon myself” (i.e. I commit yet another serious sin—and with only one mortal sin I have chosen now to go to Hell when I die, now I’m adding more). Thankfully, God is so bountifully merciful that with one good Confession He wipes away every sin I’ve ever committed (or just all the ones I’ve committed since my last Confession since He wiped all the previous sins away then).

Secondly, clearing away all of one’s sins (even if one doesn’t have any serious sins) allows the person to be more open to the graces God is offering. Grace is God’s life in you. Going to Confession is like cleaning your house in preparation for hosting the most important guest ever.

Going Deeper:

The Church requires going to Confession at least once per year and recommends going at least once per month. You can get more in-depth advice by finding a trusted priest or bishop who can lead you in spiritual direction, which can often involve Confession.

I find it helpful to make an “Examination of Conscience” every evening. This is a simple reflection on the day, considering all the ways I failed to live up to Jesus’ call to “be perfect,” (Matthew 5:48) and writing them down in a notebook. That way, when I go to Confession, I already have a list of things to confess. This can also be very helpful for noticing patterns of sins and trying to root them out. Each day, you can set goals regarding sins you want to conquer and at the end of the day, you can compare how you performed compared to your goals.

The more I pay attention to even the small ways I’ve failed, and humbly admit them in Confession, the more God opens my heart to receive more grace and to love Him and others more deeply. Of course, this also helps me to see even more ways that I had never noticed I was turning away from God in minor ways, but that is a good thing. Sin is like cancer and Confession is like surgery. As I confess each tiny sin, it’s like pointing out to the surgeon what things need to be removed. If I fail to take note of a particular sin, it will grow into something worse. We should all want to be as thorough as possible in confessing our sins because we want to be as close to God as possible and should want to remove anything that could lead us away from Him.

I Confess:

It wasn’t until I was in my mid-twenties that I really began to understand the power of Confession. Growing up going to a Catholic school, we went to Confession occasionally, but it never sank in that God really wanted to forgive me—that He loved me so much right where I was, but He loved me too much to let me stay there. I happened to be given the opportunity to hear a talk explaining Confession and extolling the benefits of laying every sin bare before God as though they were all little cancers, so that He as the Divine Physician) could remove each of them and stop them from festering in my soul.

Afterward, there was an opportunity to go to Confession. I took a long Examination of Conscience and made what I consider the first real Confession of my life. It was amazing to walk out of the confessional knowing for certain that all the baggage of guilt and shame from my life up to that point was completely forgiven. I was given a new start on life and truly felt like a new man with a great weight lifted off my shoulders.

Unfortunately, prior to that point, I had developed some fairly serious addictions to sin, and it wasn’t long until they started creeping back. However, God supplied for my lack. Something about that experience of new life stuck with me and gave me hope. So I doubled down. I went to Confession as often as I fell, and God led me to develop a couple devotions: visiting Jesus in the Tabernacle and praying the Rosary. Through this tri-part spiritual attack, God freed me from my addictions and I have been free for over fifteen years now. I’m a living witness to what Jesus said “if the Son frees you,  you will be free indeed.” (John 8:36)

What About You?

  • What impact has Confession (especially regular Confession) made on your life?
  • Have you found any great Examinations of Conscience for yourself or your kids?

Preread the Scripture Readings for Mass

This post is part of a series on Getting the Most Out of Mass: tips to best dispose yourself to receive graces available during Mass (this will be specifically about Sunday Mass, but some of these ideas will also apply to daily Mass). We're in the section on preparing yourself before Mass.

What:

Usually, every Catholic Church around the world will be hearing the same set of scripture passages and particular prayers assigned to that day’s Mass (Catholics have Mass every day, but Sunday is the main day for Mass). Each day has its own particular celebration(s) with specific Bible readings and specific prayers that are used throughout the entire Catholic Church on that day.

If you are able, familiarize yourself with these texts (especially the Bible readings) prior to Mass.

You can find these readings and prayers in a Catholic Missal or any of a number of Catholic periodicals, websites, apps, etc.

On Sundays, there will be three main scripture readings (two on weekdays) and a Psalm. Normally the first reading is from the Old Testament, then there is the Psalm, then the second reading is from the New Testament (but not from the Gospels), and always a Gospel reading (a direct account of Jesus’ life from either Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John) to finish.

Why:

Benefits of Reading Scripture

The Bible (Scripture) is God’s revelation written down and the Church is constantly trying to steep us in that revelation (getting us to absorb it through daily life): Mass, Liturgy of the Hours, Bible study, scriptural Rosaries, other prayers, documents, etc. 

The Church forcefully and specifically exhorts all the Christian faithful. . . to learn the surpassing knowledge of Jesus Christ, by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures.

cf CCC 1331

The more we learn and absorb the truths in the Bible, the better we can come to know God, the better we can live the Christian life, and the better we will be at helping others to love God and live His life.

“Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.”

St. Jerome, Commentariorum in Isaiam libri xviii prol.:PL 24,17B

Universal Set of Readings

Reading the same Bible readings together is a sign of our global unity as the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. Reading the same readings together both expresses our oneness as the single Church that Jesus founded and expresses the “Catholicity” (universality) of the Church–it’s the same everywhere around the world.2

In a way, it’s like we’re a part of the world’s largest Bible study. Every week, about a billion of us get together, read that week’s readings, and get taught more about them. Some of us even gather every day to do the daily study.

Going Deeper:

Pray the readings

Pray through the readings using Lectio Divina—a Catholic form of prayerful meditations on Scripture. For help on how to do this, see Dr. Tim Gray’s Praying Scripture for a Change.

Figure Out the Day’s Theme

Often, there is a theme between the readings and prayers of the day (particularly on Sundays). Usually, there is a more direct correlation between the Old Testament reading and the Gospel (often showing how the Old Testament is fulfilled in the New). Often the particular prayers of the day will highlight that theme in the readings. Try to discern if there is a theme to the day and what the Church might be trying to teach us with that theme.

Learn how to apply them to your life

It can be very helpful to use some form of guided meditations that explain the readings and how to apply them to your life. There are many Catholic meditations on the Mass readings. Some of them are better than others. Some good Catholic resources for guided meditations available today are:

Learn how the readings fit in the context of the whole Bible

To get a greater understanding of how the readings for this particular Mass fit within the context of the whole Bible and God’s work in history, take a faithful Catholic Bible study.

Taking Kids Deeper:

During Saturday dinners, I read the Sunday Gospel for our family and then we discuss what it means. For a broader understanding of the faith, I also teach my children religious education (catechesis) at home. We call it “daddychesis.”  It is particularly effective for fathers to lead the religious education of their children.

The website HolyHeroes.com offers free weekly videos to prepare children for Mass. They include a description of the readings and questions that kids can try to answer by being attentive at Mass. They also have many other materials for helping kids understand the Catholic faith. I normally read the In Conversation With God reflections aloud as we travel to Mass. It’s good preparation for my wife and me, but I know my children are also absorbing great ideas of the faith on a higher level through the reading and the conversation. They’re invited to give their reactions and sometimes we’re quite amazed by their understanding and their answers.

What About You?

  • If you have tried pre-reading the scripture readings for Mass, how has it helped you get more out of Mass?
  • Do you have any favorite tools to help you understand scripture better (either reflections on the daily/Sunday readings and/or Bible Studies to understand the big picture, etc.)?
  • Do you have any stories that you would like to share about how studying scripture has changed your life?

Footnotes

  1. Dei Verbum 25; cf. Phil 3:8
  2. The Church is One (CCC 813-816). The Church is Catholic (CCC 830 – 856)

Set Aside Sundays and Holy Days as Days for God

With this post, we start on our first section of Getting the Most Out of Mass: Preparation. In order to be best disposed to receive graces during Mass, it's best to get ourselves ready (this will be specifically about Sunday Mass, but some of these ideas will also apply to daily Mass). That starts with setting the day aside for God.

What

Sundays and other Holy Days of Obligation are the main days of gathering for Mass, but Mass may be celebrated almost any day and time.

On Sundays and other holy days of obligation, the faithful are obliged to participate in the Mass.

Code of Canon Law (CIC) 1247

If possible, take Sundays and Holy Days off from all work (your job, housework, lawn work, shopping, sports practices, etc.). Catholics try to work enough on the other days to allow for a true leisurely rest on Sundays and Holy Days. Often, this will take extra planning ahead to make sure you are prepared for Sunday.

Moreover, they are to abstain from those works and affairs which hinder the worship to be rendered to God, the joy proper to the Lord’s day, or the suitable relaxation of mind and body.

 Ibid.

We are required to attend Mass every Sunday and Holy Day (“holiday”) of obligation. Depending on your diocese, you may have more or fewer Holy Days.

Why

Why Sunday?

The Resurrection Mural, Ron DiCianni

Whereas God began creation on Sunday (the first day) and finished by resting on Saturday (the seventh day), Jesus’ Resurrection on Sunday becomes both a capitulation of creation (the eighth day) and a start of something new (first day of a new week). Combined with the Holy Spirit’s descent on Pentecost Sunday, it was obvious to the Church that a new day of the Lord1 had been established. Catholics celebrate every Sunday as a “mini-Easter.”

We celebrate Sunday because of the venerable Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, and we do so not only at Easter but also at each turning of the week”: so wrote Pope Innocent I at the beginning of the fifth century, testifying to an already well established practice which had evolved from the early years after the Lord’s Resurrection. Saint Basil speaks of “holy Sunday, honoured by the Lord’s Resurrection, the first fruits of all the other days”; and Saint Augustine calls Sunday “a sacrament of Easter.”

Dies Domini 19

Jesus rose from the dead “on the first day of the week.”2 Because it is the “first day,” the day of Christ’s Resurrection recalls the first creation. Because it is the “eighth day” following the sabbath3, it symbolizes the new creation ushered in by Christ’s Resurrection. For Christians it has become the first of all days, the first of all feasts, the Lord’s Day (he kuriake hemera, dies dominica) Sunday:

We all gather on the day of the sun, for it is the first day [after the Jewish sabbath, but also the first day] when God, separating matter from darkness, made the world; and on this same day Jesus Christ our Savior rose from the dead.4

Sunday is expressly distinguished from the sabbath which it follows chronologically every week; for Christians its ceremonial observance replaces that of the sabbath. In Christ’s Passover, Sunday fulfills the spiritual truth of the Jewish sabbath and announces man’s eternal rest in God. For worship under the Law prepared for the mystery of Christ, and what was done there prefigured some aspects of Christ:5

Those who lived according to the old order of things have come to a new hope, no longer keeping the sabbath, but the Lord’s Day, in which our life is blessed by him and by his death.6

The celebration of Sunday observes the moral commandment inscribed by nature in the human heart to render to God an outward, visible, public, and regular worship “as a sign of his universal beneficence to all.”7 Sunday worship fulfills the moral command of the Old Covenant, taking up its rhythm and spirit in the weekly celebration of the Creator and Redeemer of his people.

CCC 2174-2176

Why Rest?

The Gathering of the Manna, James Tissot

We imitate God by resting once a week. The weekly rest has been an explicit expectation of God’s people since the Exodus when God gave the Israelites manna in the desert and commanded them to only collect it 6 days a week. (Exodus 16:5, 22-30)

Rest is something “sacred” because it is man’s way of withdrawing from the sometimes excessively demanding cycle of earthly tasks in order to renew his awareness that everything is the work of God.

Dies Domini 65

 This weekly rest is also a foreshadowing of the eternal rest we hope to enjoy with God in Heaven. We work now and will rest later.

Why Holy Days Too, and Not Just Sundays?

Certain celebrations (e.g. Christmas) are considered so important that they act like another Sunday within the week. We attend Mass on those days and try to take them off from work (if possible). We call them Holy Days of Obligation (a.k.a., “Holy Days” or “Holidays”).

Going Deeper

“Sunday is a time for reflection, silence, cultivation of the mind, and meditation which furthers the growth of the Christian interior life.”8 Don’t let Mass be your only prayer on the Lord’s Day. Dedicate the whole day to God through:

  • Prayers (Liturgy of the Hours, Reading Scripture, Angelus, Rosary, Divine Mercy Chaplet, Singing Hymns, Freely talking to God, etc.)
  • Learning about the faith (Bible Study, Catholic Study Classes, books on Catholicism and/or living the Catholic Life)
  • Wholesome leisure activities (sports9, games, reading, writing, drawing, etc.)
  • Time with family
  • Time building up Catholic community
  • Service to those in need
  • Etc.

Some people and (even whole cultures) have established rituals that mark these days as different from the rest of their week—like the old Austrian tradition of ringing bells on Saturday afternoon/evening to tell everyone they may stop working and start preparing for Sunday:

Here I must first tell what a typical Sunday in Austria was like in the old days up to the year before the second world war. As I have spent most of my life in rural areas, it is Sunday in the country that I shall describe.

First of all, it begins on Saturday afternoon. In some parts of the country the church bell rings at three o’clock, in others at five o’clock, and the people call it “ringing in the Feierabend” [FIE-er-AH-bend]. Just as some of the big feasts begin the night before—on Christmas Eve, New Year’s Eve, Easter Eve—so every Sunday throughout the year also starts on its eve. That gives Saturday night its hallowed character. When the church bell rings, the people cease working in the fields. They return with the horses and farm machinery, everything is stored away into the barns and sheds, and the barnyard is swept by the youngest farm-hand. Then everyone takes “the” bath and the men shave. There is much activity in the kitchen as the mother prepares part of the Sunday dinner, perhaps a special dessert; the children get a good scrub; everyone gets ready his or her Sunday clothes, and it is usually the custom to put one’s room in order—all drawers, cupboards and closets. Throughout the week the meals are usually short and hurried on a farm, but Saturday night everyone takes his time. Leisurely they come strolling to the table, standing around talking. After the evening meal the rosary is said. In front of the statue or picture of the Blessed Mother burns a vigil light. After the rosary the father will take a big book containing all the Epistles and Gospels of the Sundays and feast days of the year, and he will read the pertinent ones now to his family. The village people usually go to Confession Saturday night, while the folks from the farms at a distance go on Sunday morning before Mass. Saturday night is a quiet night. There are no parties. People stay at home, getting attuned to Sunday. They go to bed rather early.

Trapp, Maria. Around the Year With the Trapp Family

Keeping the Lord’s Day Holy

Growing up, I remember numerous times learning the Ten Commandments, and that the third commandment “Keep Holy the Lord’s Day” meant that we were supposed to go to Mass and to rest on Sundays. Prior to having a job, I didn’t really notice people doing work on Sundays. I never really considered it much—it was just nowhere on my radar. The experience of my first job requiring that I work on Sundays was a shock. After getting out of the restaurant, my eyes began to open to see just how casually I treated Sundays. I made a point of not having a job where I would have to work on Sundays. Beyond Mass and not going to work, however, I still struggled to fully understand what “keeping the Lord’s Day holy” meant.

The quote above from Maria Trapp is part of a chapter about her experience of Sundays from her days in Austria and the cultural changes she saw as she moved to the United States. When I first read it, something in me saw so much good in those pre-World War II traditions of Austria’s Sundays. How I wished to have had traditions like those growing up—a bell that marked the end of work on Saturday afternoon and everyone would use the rest of Saturday to prepare for Sunday. Sunday would include Mass and other activities (hiking, playing, resting, visiting—especially the sick, etc.) that were dedicated to glorifying God through healthy leisure and service to others. Of course Maria noted that each person needs to interiorize these actions. Many people in her time simply did the things others did without reference to God. We each need to learn the significance of Sunday as the Lord’s Day and offer to Him our leisure and service.

What is Considered “Work”?

At first, it seems very cut-and-dried—don’t work on Sundays—but over the years, I’ve found a number of situations that have made me question what is considered “work.” For instance, as I mentioned above, God’s original command not to do work on the Sabbath was specifically directed at gathering food (the manna in the desert). It would seem inappropriate, then, to go shopping (modern man’s way of “gathering food”) on Sundays. However, I’ve had a few times when someone in our family got sick on a Sunday and I’ve needed to run to the store for some supplies. While shopping to stock the cupboards seems inappropriate, emergency needs seem appropriate.

I spent a year as a farmer and I now have a small garden. While I recognize that harvesting on a Sunday would be inappropriate (gathering food again), eating a snack directly out of the garden while I’m walking through my backyard is totally fine—like Jesus’ disciples eating the heads of grain as they walked through a field on the Sabbath. (Matthew 12:1-8) So it seems okay to pick something and eat it, but to pick food for later is more like work. Much of the rest of garden/lawn work, however, should be saved for other days of the week.

When we lived in a suburb of Philadelphia in our second year in this country, we found that the rich man’s Sunday delight seemed to consist of putting on his oldest torn pants and cutting his front lawn, or washing his car with a hose, or even cutting down a tree (doctor’s orders — exercise!); while the ladies could be seen in dirty blue jeans mixing dirt and transplanting their perennials. There was none of that serenity and peace of the old-world Sunday anywhere until we discovered the Mennonites and the Pennsylvania Dutch. They even rang the church bells!

Ibid.

Sunday Workers

There are many instances of people whose work is necessary on Sundays: priests, first responders, those taking care of the sick, military personnel who are needed for defense, etc.

Sanctifying Sundays and holy days requires a common effort. Every Christian should avoid making unnecessary demands on others that would hinder them from observing the Lord’s Day. Traditional activities (sport, restaurants, etc.), and social necessities (public services, etc.), require some people to work on Sundays, but everyone should still take care to set aside sufficient time for leisure. With temperance and charity the faithful will see to it that they avoid the excesses and violence sometimes associated with popular leisure activities. In spite of economic constraints, public authorities should ensure citizens a time intended for rest and divine worship. Employers have a similar obligation toward their employees.

CCC 2187

Family needs or important social service can legitimately excuse from the obligation of Sunday rest.

CCC 2185

Also, there are certain chores that must still be done on Sundays: feeding our families, feeding animals, watering plants that need daily water, etc. It can be helpful to try to do as much as possible on Saturday and Monday. We have been trying to implement getting all dishes washed and put away on Saturday evening so that nothing is left for Sunday.

Service to others is very appropriate to do on Sundays.

Those Christians who have leisure should be mindful of their brethren who have the same needs and the same rights, yet cannot rest from work because of poverty and misery. Sunday is traditionally consecrated by Christian piety to good works and humble service of the sick, the infirm, and the elderly. Christians will also sanctify Sunday by devoting time and care to their families and relatives, often difficult to do on other days of the week.

CCC 2186

The Gray Areas of Sunday

Other situations are even grayer to me. Sunday should be intentional; we should plan well so that we are prepared to worship and rest on Sunday (gathering extra food during the week, getting clothes and other supplies ready on Saturday, etc.). However, what if we forget something or what about spontaneous opportunities for which we’re not prepared? For example, we were planning to spend a day at the beach after Mass, so we packed up our beach gear on Saturday and put food in a cooler on Sunday morning, but somehow we forgot to get ice on Saturday. Either we risk food spoilage with no ice, we cancel the trip, or we buy ice on a Sunday. I don’t know what the appropriate thing to do is, but I broke down and bought the ice. Another time, we were enjoying a Sunday afternoon with some friends and the idea of our families making a meal together came up. We thought this would be a great way to continue to celebrate the Lord’s Day, but we didn’t have all the food we needed for that meal—I think we had decided to make tacos together (something easy for a large group with some dietary restrictions), but didn’t have enough shells or chips or something similar. That was a tough one, but I think someone ended up going to the store on that occasion, too.

I really enjoy playing team sports, but I’ve found a great difference between playing a pick-up game on Sundays and playing in a league or having a practice for league play on Sundays. There’s definitely a different mentality between the two types of games. I’ve played in many sports leagues and tournaments throughout my life, but I’ve found that pick-up games are much more relaxing and fun-natured. Somehow, when there’s something official about the game, it changes—becomes less leisurely. I wouldn’t say that leagues are inherently bad, in fact, CCC 2187 seems to say if you work in a leisure profession (like sports or restaurants), your work on Sunday is providing others with the opportunity for leisure. However, if it’s not my profession to provide leisure for others, it seems like an official sports league practice or game on Sunday might be on the darker side of the grayscale. I probably would not sign myself or any of my family members up for a sports league that practices and/or plays on Sundays. In contrast, as a young adult, I used to organize a weekly Sunday pick-up volleyball game at the beach in the summers. It was a great event. We played hard—there were many well-played games—and we definitely got better over the years, but it was a friendly competition—pushing each other to become better but still generally keeping it light-hearted. When it was warm enough, many of us would jump in the bay afterward. As I learned more about Sundays, we even started praying for God’s blessing on our games.

Sabbath Made for Man

In all this, let’s also remember Jesus’ words: “The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath.” (Mark 2:27) Resting on Sunday is ultimately for your benefit. It’s good for us to take a step back from our workaday lives. It’s also good for us to take steps to increase our relationship with God and our love for other people.

In Short

I have noticed that the more I have tried to set aside Sunday for the Lord, the better I have been at focusing myself on the Mass and disposing myself to receive more graces.

All in all, I think if on Sundays you’re attending Mass, trying to avoid work (including yard work, shopping, etc.), and offering everything you do to glorify God, you’re off to a good start. Continue to pray and ask God to show you how to properly use His day.

Further Reading

To learn more about this topic, I recommend St. John Paul II’s letter Dies Domini, the Catechism of the Catholic Church’s section on the Third Commandment (paragraphs 2168-2195), and Maria Trapp’s chapter The Land Without a Sunday as a good start to deepening your understanding of Sunday. All of these have been quoted here, but reading them in their entirety will provide more context.

What about you?

  • How have you seen Sunday best lived out as the “Lord’s Day”?
  • What are some ways you dedicate Sundays to God through rest, prayer, etc.?
  • What resources have formed your understanding of the third commandment?
  • What challenges have you faced in keeping the Lord’s Day holy?
  • Do you have any stories or anecdotes about keeping Sunday as the Lord’s Day?

Footnotes

  1. First day of the week (Acts 20:7); “The Lord’s Day” (Rev 1:10)
  2. Cf. Mt 28:1; Mk 16:2; Lk 24:1; Jn 20:1
  3. Cf. Mk 16:1; Mt 28:1
  4. St. Justin, I Apol. 67:PG 6,429 and 432
  5. Cf. 1 Cor 10:11
  6. St. Ignatius of Antioch, Ad Magn. 9,1:SCh 10,88
  7. St. Thomas Aquinas, STh II-II,122,4
  8. CCC 2186
  9. There is a difference between a pick-up game of basketball and a mandatory practice/game because one is on a league team.

Get the Most Out of Mass–Intro

I'm working on a series of posts about how to get the most out of attending Mass. For this post, I just want to lay the groundwork.

I hope, God willing, to walk through the Mass step-by-step and offer advice on how you can use each step to draw you closer to God. Some day I hope to turn this series into a book, but for now, I feel the Lord keeps pushing me to simply make the information available so as many people as possible can get the most out of Mass.

The Value of the Mass

There is no greater worship of God than participating in a Catholic Mass. That is, there is nothing any of us can do that presents anything more valuable to God than a well-offered Catholic Mass.

You might be thinking I’ve been to Mass before. I’ve seen what happens there. How is that so special?

The Catholic Mass is valuable for many reasons, among them:

  • It is the only form of New Testament worship that God Himself gave to us: At the Last Supper, Jesus commanded the Apostles to “Do this in remembrance of me.” (Luke 22:19) He was commissioning them as His first priests of the New Testament. They were to do what He just did (turn bread and wine into His Body and Blood: “This is my Body”) and do what He was about to do (offer that Body and Blood as a sacrifice to the Father). This is the “worship in spirit and truth” that Jesus spoke of in John 4:24
  • It is a sacrifice that offers to God a victim of infinite worth: Himself. In the Mass, we re-offer Jesus’ one-time sacrifice on the Cross to God the Father.
  • We have an infinite font of grace available to us particularly in receiving Holy Communion, for in doing so, Jesus gives His real self to us to eat in the form of bread & wine: “I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.” (John 6:51)

Graces Available at Mass

God doesn’t benefit from us offering Him the Mass. He is perfect in Himself, so He cannot improve. Rather, He gave us the Mass for our benefit.

Not only does the Mass offer to God the greatest possible worship, but it also offers to each participant an infinite number of graces. God’s graces are both His abiding presence in our souls—His Life in us (Sanctifying Grace)—and what enables us to do good and avoid what is evil (Actual Graces). Even something as small as choosing to spend some time in prayer we cannot do without God’s grace. Jesus said: “apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)

God’s goodness enables us to receive those divine inspirations that help us to come close to God. He helps us to finish off a piece of work with perfection, to accept or perform a particular mortification, or to make an act of faith. He helps us to conquer ourselves, for the love of God, in something we find difficult. These are actual graces, free and transitory gifts from God that affect each soul in their own particular way. What a lot of actual graces we have received each day! What a lot more we will receive so long as we do not close the door of our soul to that silent and most effective action of the Sanctifier!

Through grace, God grants to each man, to each woman, not only the facility to do good, but the very possibility of doing good, because as creatures we are quite unable, with our strength alone, to keep the Commandments, or to do anything at all that is supernaturally good.

Fernandez, Fr. Francis. In Conversation With God. Vol. 3, 84.2 (p.550-1)

This is not to say that we don’t have any part in doing good works. There is good on our part in corresponding with grace to do those good works, but they are first and foremost God working through us (His unworthy instruments) to do the good. Imagine, if God wants us to be the light of the world1, that we are all little candles and the flame that makes us shine is His grace. God chooses to make His light glow for the world through us—however imperfect we may be—so that the unlit candles around us may be drawn by our light and catch fire themselves.

Not only do graces allow us to do good works to help other people, but they allow us to do the greatest work: that of drawing close to God. God is constantly offering us graces to cultivate a deeper relationship with Him, to grow that Life of His within us. He especially offers us grace through the Mass. If you want the deepest possible relationship with God, if you want to be as holy as you can be, there is no greater source for this than Holy Mass.

Better Disposition, More Grace

“Well, I’ve been to Mass,” you might say, “why am I not yet a saint?”

Grace comes to us in the degree to which we are open to it. The more we open ourselves to grace, the more we receive. What’s more, the more we receive, the better disposed we are to receive even more grace. “For to every one who has will more be given, and he will have abundance.” (Matthew 25:29)

Although Our Lord through his death on the Cross merited an infinite treasury of grace, those graces are not granted to us all at once, and their greater or lesser abundance depends on how we correspond. When we are prepared to say yes to Our Lord in everything, we attract a veritable cascade of gifts. Grace, love for God, inundates us when we are faithful to the small insinuations of grace each day – when we live the heroic minute in the morning and try to give our first thought to God; when we prepare well for Holy Mass and struggle to reject those distractions that try to separate us from what is really important; when we offer up our work…

Fernandez, Fr. Francis. In Conversation With God. Vol. 3, 84.3 (p.552)

We can only experience the graces available at Mass to the degree that we are open. “[T]he fruits of the sacraments also depend on the disposition of the one who receives them.”2 The more we are open to receiving grace, the more grace we receive. “The Sacraments produce a greater effect proportionately if the dispositions of the recipients are better…”

The ends [purposes, goals] of the Mass that refer directly to God (adoration, praise  and thanksgiving, are always produced infallibly and with all their infinite value . . . However, the other ends of the Eucharistic Sacrifice (propitiation and petition), which are for the benefit of the man and are called the “fruits” of the Mass, do not in fact always achieve the fullness of which they are capable. These fruits – of reconciliation with God and of obtaining from him what we ask for from his bounty – could also be of infinite value. They too rest on the merits of Christ. We never receive these fruits to that perfect degree since they are applied to us according to our personal dispositions. The more ardently and intently we take part in the Holy Sacrifice of the Altar, the greater application of these fruits of propitiation and petition we shall receive. Christ’s own prayer multiplies the value of our own prayer to the extent that we unite our petitions and atonement to his in the Mass, on the Cross itself.

Fernandez, Fr. Francis. In Conversation With God. Vol. 3, 103.1 (p.664-5)

Imagine you are desperately thirsty, but you happen to be swimming in an ocean of the most refreshing water ever. How would you satisfy that thirst? Obviously, you would simply need to open your mouth and drink. Every one of us is thirsty for God’s grace (some realize this thirst better than others). In Mass, we are all immersed in the most abundant font of grace, but we have to dispose ourselves to receive those graces that await us. We have to, as it were, spiritually open our mouths and drink deeply of that ocean.

The Holy Mass is designed in such a way that each element is supposed to help the participants to open themselves to God’s grace. In this series of blog posts, I hope to show their design for helping you receive grace. And help you to learn how to better dispose yourself to receive those graces.3

Active Participation

“Mother Church earnestly desires that all the faithful should be led to that fully conscious, and active participation in liturgical celebrations which is demanded by the very nature of the liturgy.”4 Here, I hope to show what you can practically do during each and every Mass to more actively participate and thereby give God more glory and become more disposed to receive grace.

If you wish to participate in the Mass actively, you must follow with your eye, heart and mouth all that happens on the altar. Further, you must pray with the Priest the holy words said by him in the Name of Christ and which Christ says by him. You have to associate your heart with the holy feelings which are contained in these words and in this manner you ought to follow all that happens at the altar. When acting in this way you have prayed Holy Mass.

Pope St. Pius X

Pope St. Pius X explained the overview in the above quote. In this blog series, I will be attempting to drill into each element in the Mass and describe how you can take advantage of it to let it open your disposition for that deeper life of grace that God wants for you.

Mass Awakening

Growing up, I knew very little of this. My family went to Mass on most Sundays. I was an altar boy for many years. I could lip-sync the Mass by about 5th grade, so it wasn’t a question of knowing the words and gestures of the Mass. That was easy, but it wasn’t until I was in my mid-twenties that I was taught how much more there is beneath the surface. It was as if my spiritual life was like playing in a mud puddle or a kiddie pool my whole life and I suddenly stumbled across the deep end of the pool—only this deep end was an infinite chasm of beauty, goodness, truth, love, and grace.

Early on, God planted a seed of truth. As a young boy, I knew there was something good about going to Mass—something special. Little did I realize just how good and special it is. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but my Grandmother’s example as a Mass-going woman was always something that struck me as good. In junior high, however, I began hearing people talk about how Mass was “boring” or other comments to the effect that Mass was just a useless empty ritual. With my Grandma now deceased, my outlook on Mass was getting weakened. As a freshman in high school, I ended up getting a job at a restaurant and though I stipulated that I wouldn’t work Sunday mornings, they would schedule me for those times anyway. With some encouragement from my mom, I fought it, noting that when I was hired I said each week I had to have off either Saturday evening or Sunday morning (the only Mass times available in my city at the time). Whether I was sick of fighting the schedule and having to ask them to fix it, or I was beginning to enjoy the money I had coming in, etc., my resolve weakened. I began only fighting the times that I was also scheduled to be an altar boy. Then I quit being an altar boy and just let the restaurant schedule me whenever I was needed. No longer regularly attending Sunday Mass, my relationship with God grew stale—not that God grew stale (for He cannot), but that I stagnated. I didn’t realize until later that I had lost Sanctifying Grace (God’s life in my soul).

After a few years of that downward spiral, I eventually allowed God’s constant draw to act on me. As a junior in high school, I received the Sacrament of Confirmation, and not long after I started waking up from my spiritual slumber. That summer, my dad invited me to work for him in his silkscreen printing business instead of the restaurant—and he said I could set my own hours. The former suggestion was music to my ears—not only was I able to get out of that restaurant, but I was going to be able to work with my dad! I didn’t realize it until much later, but the latter suggestion was subtly even more moving. As he suggested that I could make my own schedule, the thought popped into my head5 that I could start going to Mass again and that Grandma would like that. I gladly accepted his offer and performed most of my work on weekdays after school, so I would have open weekends both. This way, I could have fun on my days off, but I could also attend Mass on Sundays. Shortly thereafter, I attended a retreat with my Catholic school classmates, during which God moved me to resolve to never miss Mass again without a serious reason.

On my first weekend staying at college, I decided to attend St. Luke’s Church, right across the street from the school—very convenient, I thought. As I walked in, something seemed off to me. There was no holy water, no crucifix, and no Tabernacle. It all seemed somewhat familiar, but eerily different… lacking. It wasn’t until I walked out that reality dawned on me. The sign read St. Luke’s Lutheran Church. This experience, though humbling, taught me to recognize the difference between the Catholic Mass and Protestant services. It gave me an appreciation of the Mass even though I didn’t know what made up the distinction. At that time it was more felt than understood. I later found a Catholic Church and continued to attend, though my real understanding and development didn’t occur until a few years after college.

Moving forward, I was helped in my appreciation of the Mass and the spiritual life through retreats, World Youth Day, Confession, reading books and internet articles about Catholicism, and hearing Catholic talks. Through talking with Protestant friends, and trying to answer their questions, I got interested in studying Catholicism. It began with looking up Purgatory and landing on Catholic.com. This opened my eyes to realize that I was totally wrong with what I thought Purgatory was and here were biblical and historical reasons why we believed in Purgatory. Wait… if I was wrong on Purgatory. What else don’t I know? And why do we believe all of those things? I began to see how little I knew about Catholicism, despite a Pre-K through High School Catholic education. I particularly remember reading the page on the Eucharist and having many light bulbs suddenly glow in my head. So the bread and wine literally become Jesus! That’s why we have a Tabernacle, and why it’s gold, and why we genuflect (and we genuflect toward Jesus inside it, not the cross, the altar, or [as I’ve seen some do—and I probably did at some point] the wall). It took me back to my second grade First Communion prep class when our teacher tried to describe for us that “it still looks, feels, tastes like bread, but it’s actually Jesus..” and it all made sense now.

One specific talk was given by Fr. Joseph Fessio (founder of Ignatius Press) on Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger’s (then-Pope Benedict XVI’s) book The Spirit of the Liturgy. In it, he described how the Mass isn’t just a gathering to hear the Bible readings and be fed the Eucharist, but in the Mass, we step outside of time and are put at the foot of the cross as Jesus offers Himself to the Father, and the priest leads us as we all re-offer Jesus’ one-time sacrifice. This was the key that I was missing to be able to understand what we are doing at Mass. Now knowing these things, Mass has transformed from a simple ritual into an ever-deepening experience of God’s presence. 

I hope this series will help you experience the same type of ever-deepening understanding of and appreciation for what God offers each of us in the Catholic Mass.

Some Notes on the Blog Series

Throughout the rest of this series, I will be walking through a typical Sunday Mass and breaking each piece into a few categories:

  • What – This category will be familiar to all Church-going Catholics. It’s the surface-level of what you see and do at Mass.
  • Why – This category takes the next step by giving reasons why each “what” is done. Without the why, the what becomes empty ritual. This is something we Catholics are often accused of, so these whys will be good points to study to help you grasp the deeper meaning of the Mass.
  • Going Deeper – This category takes a step beyond why and into how–how to take advantage of this piece of the Mass and tap into that infinite font of grace.
  • Others – Extra categories will be added to help color the commentary with stories from my experience, extra pointers, or other anecdotes.

Footnotes

  1. “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid. Nor do men light a lamp and put it under a bushel, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16)
  2. Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) 1128
  3. N.B. Not all Masses are offered well. Often one might find that the particular priest offering a given Mass might fail to choose the best options for disposing people to receive the most graces, but that is a theme for an entirely different blog series. Thankfully, even in poorly offered Masses, great graces are still available.

    This is the meaning of the Church’s affirmation that the sacraments act ex opere operato (literally: “by the very fact of the action’s being performed”), i.e., by virtue of the saving work of Christ, accomplished once for all. It follows that “the sacrament is not wrought by the righteousness of either the celebrant or the recipient, but by the power of God.” From the moment that a sacrament is celebrated in accordance with the intention of the Church, the power of Christ and his Spirit acts in and through it, independently of the personal holiness of the minister. (CCC 1228)

    Here, I will concentrate on what the average layperson in the pew can do to improve his/her reception of grace.
  4. Sacrosanctum Concilium 14
  5. As I’ve grown older, I’ve come to learn that this is often how God speaks to me.

11 Practical Tips for Catholics Receiving Communion

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Here are some tips for Catholics as they prepare to Receive Holy Communion (these were originally sent to families as their children were preparing to receive Holy Communion for the first time):

Communion Tips

  1. Reconciliation Before Communion – It would be very healthy for you to establish a routine for your whole family of going to Confession monthly
    • Find your local Confession times, or call to make an appointment
      • If possible, get in line together and go one-after-the-other
    • If anyone has committed a mortal sin, he/she must be absolved of that sin (via Confession) before receiving Holy Communion (otherwise he/she commits another serious sin: sacrilege)
    • Keep in mind St. Paul’s warning not to profane the Body and Blood of the Lord:
      • Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord . . . For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself. (1 Cor. 11:27, 29)
  2. Refrain From Food & Drink for an Hour – We are required to not eat or drink anything except water and medicine (as needed) for an hour before receiving Holy Communion
    • Special circumstances can relieve you of the requirement to fast (e.g. pregnant women or others who need to replenish nutrients more frequently, etc.)
    • We had to remind our daughter who was preparing for her First Holy Communion that she would no longer be able to have a mint on the way to Mass because she would need to observe the hour fast in preparation for receiving Jesus
      • If you happen to have other things you normally consume while you travel (coffee, other non-water drinks, gum, snacks, etc.), remember not to have them while traveling to Mass (or, for that matter, any time within an hour before receiving Holy Communion)
  3. Reverence Jesus to Greet Him – When you enter a Catholic church, look for the tabernacle. At some point (generally, as you get to your pew), it’s customary to genuflect as a sign of honor and greeting to Jesus.
    • Orient your body and your mind toward Jesus in the tabernacle as you genuflect
    • Genuflect slowly and deliberately
    • Touch your knee to the floor
    • The knee is a sign of power and bending it is a sign of your respect of greater power and you placing what power you have at the service of someone else (we obviously do both for Jesus)
    • Traditionally, we lower our right knee
      • If Jesus is exposed in the monstrance, we traditionally use both knees
      • There is also an old tradition of genuflecting on your left knee for your bishop, the bishop of a diocese you’re visiting, or the Pope)
    • A traditional prayer (for which there is an indulgence) whenever you reverence the Eucharist is to say “My Lord and My God!”
    • While genuflecting, you may also bow your head and/or make the Sign of the Cross
    • We also genuflect as we pass in front of the tabernacle (i.e. when walking across the church we stop and genuflect at the middle line of the church instead of just passing in front of Jesus without showing Him any sign of respect) and entering/leaving the Sanctuary (the raised area where the altar and tabernacle are)
    • If you are physically unable to genuflect, no worries! Genuflection is a custom, not a rule. If you are able, you can make some other form of reverence.
    • When we offer acts of reverence like this, we help train our bodies and others around us (e.g. our children) to see/understand Jesus’ Presence in the Eucharist
  4. Remove Your Mask – When approaching to receive Holy Communion, before you get to Father, please remove/lower your mask.
    • Since mask-wearing was implemented, we’ve had a number of people who have dropped Jesus because they were trying to negotiate transferring Our Lord from their hands to their mouths while taking off a mask
    • The King of the Universe humbles Himself to take the form of bread so He can come to us in love. We ought to take the greatest possible care to treat Him well.
    • It’s much safer if you simply remove your mask before getting to Father, so you can receive Jesus without any fear of dropping Him
  5. Recognize Jesus – As Father holds up the Sacred Host, look at it and remind yourself that the thing in his hand is actually God Almighty
    • Consider, since this is God Almighty, how ought you treat Him?
    • What can I do to show Him the respect and honor He is due as God?
    • There is nothing in the entire world more valuable than what the priest is holding and you are about to receive
      • If you really believe this, how ought your life change?
  6. Reverence Him – As the priest presents the Eucharist to us, we reverence Jesus by either bowing or kneeling
    • If you bow, bend your head far enough that the top of your head points to Jesus (your face will be pointed toward the ground)
  7. Respond “Amen” – After the priest says “The Body of Christ,” we respond “Amen.”
    • This means not only “I agree,” but “I stake my life on this”
    • It is not simply an agreement that what the priest is holding is Jesus (which, in itself, is a lot), but your “Amen” says “I believe all that the Holy Roman Catholic Church officially teaches”
      • As such, only Catholics may receive it, and Catholics may not receive communion in any other religion
      • Receiving Holy Communion is a sign of unity within the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church today and throughout time
      • Holy Communion makes us the Church (i.e. we receive the Body of Christ and thus He makes us the Body of Christ–the Church
  8. Receive Communion – It’s important to note that we never “take” Communion (e.g. grab the Sacred Host from the paten or from Father’s hand). We always “receive” Communion (i.e. allow Father to place the Sacred Host on your tongue or hand). This echoes how we receive all graces from God (as free gifts).
    • On the Tongue (the historical and worldwide norm)
      • Stick your tongue out as far as possible (your head will naturally tilt back slightly)–this will give Father a good surface on which to place the Eucharist
      • The host will stick to your tongue–just don’t pull back before Father has given you Communion
    • On the Hand
      • Make a throne for Jesus – put your right hand below your left. Receive with your left hand; transfer Jesus to your mouth with your right hand
      • Give Father a good surface – make your “hand throne” nice and flat
      • Hold your hands high – show God that you are eager to receive Him by lifting up your hands (shoulder height–or right below his hand level)
      • Every Crumb of Communion is Jesus
        • Reverently consume all crumbs as Jesus
        • Don’t wipe the crumbs off your hand (we don’t want to be brushing Jesus onto the floor to be trampled on); rather, reverently bring them to your mouth
    • Most people make the Sign of the Cross after receiving Holy Communion
  9. Reflect on Our Lord – After you have received Jesus in Holy Communion, you have time to just sit and be with Him
    • Whereas most of the rest of Mass is communal prayer, this time after receiving Communion is an intimate time for you and Jesus
      • primarily worship Him as God
      • tell Him how much you love Him
      • praise Him
      • thank Him for His providence
      • ask forgiveness for your sins [receiving the Eucharist forgives small sins if we ask]
      • you can also ask for help to live a better life
      • ask for your needs and the needs of others
      • tell Him what is on your mind–hopes, fears, anxieties, sadnesses, joys, etc.)
    • Many people will bury their faces in their hands to block out distractions or they will stare at the crucifix to better focus on Jesus (obviously, we still have to be mindful of our children, but, to the degree you can, focus on Jesus as much as possible)
    • Kneeling is normal during this time as a sign of honor to Jesus, but you can also sit–the important thing is to focus on Jesus
    • This time lasts until the priest says “Let us pray”
      • Many people wonder when is the appropriate time to switch from kneeling to sitting. There is no particular time because you can either sit or kneel during the entire time.
      • Whether you’re kneeling, sitting, or you do a little of both, take this entire time to talk with Jesus very intimately inside you until Father says “Let us pray”
  10. Return Thanks After Mass – It’s customary to offer prayers of thanksgiving after Mass has ended
    • Thank You, Jesus, for allowing me to receive You
    • Thank You for this great gift of Yourself to me
    • Thank You for being in Your Catholic Church
    • Thank You for my faith
    • Thank You for being able to go to Mass (without being persecuted for it)
    • Thank You for our parish
    • Thank You for our priest
    • Thank You for my life and Your plan for my life
    • Thank You for my family
    • Thank you for all you provide for me
    • etc.
  11. Respect Jesus’ Presence in the Church – Jesus’ Presence remains in the uneaten hosts that are placed in the Tabernacle
    • The nave (where the pews are) and the sanctuary (where the altar and tabernacle are) are special because they have Jesus’ Presence.
      • We respect Jesus’ Presence by leaving those spaces as a room for prayer
      • Please try to move socializing to the narthex (gathering space) so people in the nave (where the pews are) can better focus as they pray
    • A great way to respect Jesus’s Presence in the Tabernacle and build your relationship with Him is by visiting Him outside of Mass (this is called “Eucharistic Adoration”)
      • Whether you can come and spend an hour in Jesus’ Presence or you can simply stop for a minute on your way to work, visits to the Blessed Sacrament are some of the best time you can spend on Earth
      • The practice of visiting Jesus in the tabernacle has been the springboard that started many ordinary people on the path to sainthood

Kneeling Before the Majesty of God

I just gave a talk on Eucharistic Adoration for Sacred Heart Church of Gladwin, MI and St. Athanasius Church of Harrison, MI.

Kneeling Before the Majesty of God: Eucharistic Adoration by Casey Truelove

Updates:

  1. In answer to how many times a day someone may receive Holy Communion: Canon 917 implies a max of twice.
  2. Around 12:45, I mention that there is no Eucharist in Protestant communities, especially because of their rejection of the sacrificial aspect of the liturgy. In that comment I mentioned King Henry VIII and the Anglicans (along with Lutherans). I meant to refer to Calvin and Luther as ones who explicitly rejected the Mass as sacrifice. Anglicans have their own reasons for lacking a valid Eucharist and among them is rejecting transubstantiation, but I’m not sure Henry VIII actually rejected either transubstantiation or the sacrifice of the Mass (it appears that later Anglicans were the ones who rejected those).