Most reading this are probably not part of such a group right now. Wouldn’t it be better if you could be part of a community that saw Sunday Mass as something to prepare for together? Wouldn’t it be better if you approached Mass expecting to leave with something to savor with friends in the Lord? Wouldn’t it be worth the effort to form and maintain such a group’s commitment to the Mass and to the Sabbath? Wouldn’t you be more likely hear all the good that could be found in a homily if you prepared for Mass this way? Innumerable Church documents speak of the Eucharist as the “source and summit” of our faith; we’re more likely to experience the Eucharist that way if we give the “source and summit” of our faith the time and attention it deserves.
I will pause for a moment while some folks marshal their objections to what I’ve proposed: Such a group could not be found or formed in your parish; you’ve children needing to be wrangled to/from Mass and thence to/from soccer; you have other obligations keeping you from coffee and prayerful conversation after Mass, etc. Ok—fair enough. But surely just about anyone can get a subscription to Magnificat magazine where all the Scripture readings of the month’s Masses are found, along with fine commentary. Surely, we can take at least some time during the week to read prayerfully the Scriptures for the upcoming Mass. Surely we all can resolve to approach the proclaimed Word of God at Mass with a sense of expectation.
What about proximate preparation for hearing homilies better? I will suggest what some people have told me is surely impossible—get to Mass early. (People with children under the age of 10 get some leeway on this one.) Take 10 or 15 minutes to quiet yourself in church. Ask the Holy Spirit to ready your senses, mind and heart for this Mass. I know this may seem a lot to ask. Priests (half) jokingly speak of “the miracle of the processional hymn”—the size of the congregation doubles between the start and end of the hymn as Mass begins. Most people can get to work on time daily. Can’t we manage to arrive 15 minutes early for the “source and summit” of our faith?
In sum, improving liturgical preaching is everyone’s responsibility. My brothers and I who have been ordained to preach must bear the blessing and burden of liturgical preaching with both discipline and joy. The congregation can help us through prayer and through review before and after homilies are delivered. The people in the pews can help themselves can by helping each other prepare for Mass—through Scripture prayer groups during the week, an atmosphere of reverent silence before Mass, and prayerful conversation after Mass (outside of the church!). Jesus said, “Whoever has ears, ought to ear.” With commitment and practice, we can learn to keep our spiritual ears open.
When I write next, I will talk about gratitude, which is the natural and graced response of those whose spiritual eyes and ears are open. Until then, let’s keep each other in prayer.
Father Robert McTeigue, S.J.is a member of the Maryland Province of the Society of Jesus. A professor of philosophy and theology, he has long experience in spiritual direction, retreat ministry, and religious formation. He teaches philosophy at Ave Maria University in Ave Maria, FL, and is known for his classes in both Rhetoric and in Medical Ethics.