Source & Summit: Liturgical Q&A 2/18

So we’ve spent the last four weeks thinking about Christ’s presence in our celebration of Mass. 1) in the Sacraments (especially under the sign of bread and wine), 2) in the proclamation of scripture, 3) in the assembly, and 4) in the person of the ordained priest. But what is our experience? We know these things intellectually, but how do we experience Christ’s presence? Do we experience it at all? I’ll go out on a limb and suggest that many of us do not, at least regularly. He’s really there, so what’s the problem?

For me, and maybe many of you, it’s lack of openness. And sometimes the knowledge gets in the way. Since my job involves knowing all of the details of the liturgy, what comes next, how such and such should be place, what should be read, what will be sung, etc., I get distracted by these details. I’m constantly evaluating what is happening. And when I go to Mass on vacation, this habit is not easily shut off. Instead of just being in the presence of the Lord, like Mary in that beautiful Gospel story, Luke 10:38-42, I am Martha, worried and upset over the smallest things, missing what is most important.

The idea when we come to Mass is that we bring all of our issues, the good and bad, struggles and joys, all those things that annoy us, all that we rejoice in. And we give them over to God. We empty ourselves, so that we can receive what God has in store for us. Maybe you are like me, and you tend to hold onto to these things. It takes a good bit of trust and faith to hand ourselves over, to give what we have accumulated over the week. One thing I tend to accumulate is expectations. I anticipate that something is going to go well, or poorly, or it should happen this way, but not the other. But then we can’t be surprised or inspired by what God offers, which is always beyond what we can conceive. As we sang last week, “Eye has not seen, ear has not heard what God has ready for those who love him.”

When I’m at Mass, but seem to be missing the presence of Christ, I try to remind myself of that refrain from the responsorial that we sing several times a year: “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.” It’s all about disposition. When I come to Mass with my own expectations, with a hardened heart, I miss what God has ready. But when I remember to let go, to empty myself of my burdens, and have an open heart, there I encounter God.

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– Jeff Rice, Pastoral Associate of Liturgy & Music