Fr. Anthony Ruff recently wrote an article on, “Blessed captivity,” which comes from the writing of St. Peter of Damascus, circa the 12th century. Writing about losing track of the text of the liturgy during prayer, Peter of Damascus said, “When God’s grace kindles a sense of deep penitence in the heart, you should allow your intellect to be bathed in tears of compunction, even if this means that your mouth stops reciting psalms and your mind is made captive to what St. Isaac the Syrian calls ‘blessed captivity.’ For now is the time to harvest, not plant. You should therefore persist in such thoughts, so that your heart grows more full of compunction and bears fruit in the form of godly tears.”
Does your mind every wander at Mass? How much work does it take for you to concentrate on every word for an hour. I’ll admit,……….my ability to concentrate is lacking, it certainly takes a lot of work and intentionality on my part, but I figure that’s why God called me to be a music director… by the time I’ve participated in 5-6 Masses on a weekend, one would hope I would at least get the main idea!
On the other hand, I do think we can be obsessive about not missing anything, and too hard on ourselves when we fail to soak in every word. At any given Mass, there are three unique presidential prayers, three readings, a responsorial psalm, usually about a 10-minute homily, and several different options for preface prayers and Eucharistic prayers. Not to mention about 6 unique pieces of music. These are the things that change every week. It’s a lot, I would argue possibly too much, and rather intimidating. It’s understandable to say it’s just too much to take in, and give up.
There might be a better way rather than trying to digest it all, which I think Peter of Damascus is touching on. It could be useful to try approaching worship with a spirit of openness. For many of us, this is completely foreign. For us to spend an hour or more of our time, we insist on knowing what we are getting out of it, what the plan is, what we can expect, and want to know how best to be prepared to maximize value. But it can be wonderfully liberating to just show up, and see what God has in store. And when we might hear a certain phrase from a prayer or scripture, or think about that question the Priest is raising in the homily, or experience a beautiful song that speaks directly to our hearts, give ourselves the permission to stay in that moment, to, “persist in such thoughts” rather than worrying about moving on to the next thing.
Sometimes our minds bring up things going on that seem unrelated to Mass or our spiritual life, such as a task at work, how we are going to get the kids to all their activities tomorrow, or remembering if we fed the dog before we left. Rather than chastise ourself for letting our mind wander, perhaps we could offer a prayer for these things, that might help relieve some of our anxiety, and put them into a larger context. Sometimes it is these very things that we are distracted by that we need God’s help with the most.
Let’s rejoice in the fact that God loves us so much that he wants to be a part of our entire life, and he can help us even with the things that we find the most mundane and unworthy.
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– Jeff Rice, Pastoral Associate of Liturgy & Music