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Is the Mass a private time with God?


Simcha Fisher - published on 01/14/16

In my essay about how to help kids learn to behave during Mass, I said:

The Mass is not a private time. It’s a time to worship God with other people. We feel that kids belong at Mass, both for their benefit and for the benefit of the congregation.  We gradually increase our expectations of our kids until they eventually participate as fully in the Mass as any adult.

A few commenters objected to the idea that Mass is not private time. The most vociferous response was this:

Where did you get  YOUR Catholic education??? The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass most assuredly IS a private time for me to enter into a private union with Christ in the Holy Eucharist.  It is a time for me to “life up my spirit” and my quiet time away from the noise and materialism of the world to enter into that sacred prayer of union.  It IS most assuredly a private time, between God and soul.  That you do not understand this, and view the church as your “community” time, explains your rudeness in allowing your children to disrupt the Holy Mass.

Well, my essay listed seventeen ways to avoid letting your children to disrupt the Holy Mass, so I’m not sure which rudeness he means. Also, I wonder what Ignatius of Antioch, pictured above, would say about the distractions and disruptions that one may be forced to endure when one is trying to spend a little quiet time with God. Grr!

The main point, though, is that the commenter flat out wrong that the Mass is private time and not community time. Here is what the Catechism says (emphasis mine):

Liturgical services are not private functions but are celebrations of the Church which is ‘the sacrament of unity,’ namely, the holy people united and organized under the authority of the bishops. Therefore, liturgical services pertain to the whole Body of the Church. They manifest it, and have effects upon it. But they touch individual members of the Church in different ways, depending on their orders, their role in the liturgical services, and their actual participation in them.”7 For this reason, “rites which are meant to be celebrated in common, with the faithful present and actively participating, should as far as possible be celebrated in that way rather than by an individual and quasi-privately.

So it’s possible to celebrate Mass with only the priest present, and it’s possible to have a “private” Mass (say, for a wedding or funeral), but that is not ideal. The ideal Mass is a Mass that includes the community. Like it or not, the community by definition means people who are not you.

Next time you go to Mass, listen closely for all the expressions of this idea that we please God when we come together with other people to worship Him. This is what the Communion of Saints is all about: we join together with those in Purgatory and Heaven, and with the other faithful here on earth, to worship God. This is how He wants us to do it. With “so great a cloud of witnesses.” Not at our personal, private latitude and longitude, but “from East to West.” Heck, when Jesus taught us to pray, He instructed us to say “our Father,” not “my Father.”

It’s not all about us. We remember this every time we hear a reading or a sermon that doesn’t apply to us, and doesn’t seem tailored to our particular needs or concerns. That’s not a sign that someone is doing the Mass wrong; it’s a sign that this is how God wants us to do it: together with other people. That is what all the apostles did, on Jesus’ command: they went out and started drawing in as many other people as they could. The Prophet Jonah wanted to hog God and His salvation all to Himself, but God took away his sheltering shade and insisted that he go out and be with people. Noisy people. Undeserving people. People who distracted Jonah from spending his lovely, private, sacred communion with God.

Why? Why does He want us to do it this way? Wouldn’t it be better if we could just be with God one-on-one, without anyone to distract us?

I don’t know! Okay? I don’t really know. I do know that only a very select, very holy, very scary few — think holy, scary Moses — were able to see God face to face and survive. I do know that I’m not one of these people.

And I do know that when I turn away from other people, those are the times when I’m also furthest from God. In retrospect, I can see clearly that when I seclude myself, hide from other people, refuse to help them and refuse to ask for help, I am also driving God away, hiding from Him, fearful of Him, resentful, afraid, closed off, bitter, and unwilling to hear the invitations and demands of love. When I am most open to other people, and when I work the hardest to put up with their noise and mess and fuss and otherness — and when I work the hardest to allow them to put up with me — then those are the times when it’s easiest to hear God.

Heck, that was the point of the Incarnation. Right? We’re not alone. We’re not orphans. We’re not down here alone, looking up at a faraway God. We have a Brother, and we have to learn how to live with Him, and all of His other belovedmbrothers and sisters, too.

Weird, right? But that’s how it works. The Communion of Saints is a real thing, and I can’t be a part of it if I’m always trying to figure out who needs to shut up and get away from me.

So, other people. I hate ’em. They drive me crazy. They don’t do right, and I wish they would shape up and stop bothering me, especially when I’m trying to pray.  But other people is where God is. That’s all there is to it. I don’t like it, but I can no longer pretend that it’s any other way. So, bring on the cloud of witnesses! If I want Jesus, it’s a package deal.

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