Learning what it means to participate at Mass

"Adoration of the Lamb" by Jan van Eyck (1429)

“Adoration of the Lamb” by Jan van Eyck (1429)

What does it mean to participate at Mass?

It took the calendar page changing from February to March to clarify for me what the difference is between attending or going to Mass and participating at Mass. Every March since I don’t know when, this proverb from my childhood pops into my head: “March comes in like a lion and leaves like a lamb.” Hey, I thought, that is just the opposite of the way Jesus blew into my soul.

As gentle as a lamb, Jesus embraced the desolate landscape of my soul, melting its hardness from years of selfish choices. With a desire to always feel His warmth, I returned to His Church and my Catholic faith to be with Him as closely as possible in the way He gave us; His Presence in the Eucharist.

Softly and patiently He guided me until I was ready to fully embrace my place that He has prepared for me in His Kingdom. I transitioned to repentant sinner, grateful believer and committed disciple. It was at this point, Jesus revealed Himself to me as King; Creator of Heaven and Earth.

Be still and know that I am God, supreme among the nations, supreme on the earth. (Psalm 46:11)

"The Lion of St. Mark" by Vittore Carpaccio (1516)

“The Lion of St. Mark” by Vittore Carpaccio (1516)

The best way I can describe it is that I witnessed His awesome power at the same time He tenderly held my hand. Jesus Christ first as a lamb and then as a lion conquered my soul with His gentle might. And just like the powerful lion that defends his pride, Jesus the King stationed Himself at the gates of my soul both protecting me from the evil outside and from the enemy within. His mighty roar both lifted my heart with trust in His protection as it brought me to my knees in His awesome Presence.

With this revelation of His power and might after first knowing Him as friend and redeemer, the Mass changed for me. Yes, I desire Mass so as to receive His love; but it’s no longer just about me. When He revealed His majesty to me He called me to serve Him; and the best way for me to do that is to come to His altar and worship Him as He deserves and that means my full participation. My duty as a Catholic became a privilege as His daughter, friend and disciple.

I no longer call you slaves, because a slave does not know what his master is doing. I have called you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father. It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain… (John 15:15-16)

Our Catholic faith teaches us about this. The Second Vatican Council produced a document on just this subject titled, Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, in which they write:

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. Such participation by the Christian people as ‘a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a redeemed people’ (1 Pet. 2:9; cf. 2:4-5), is their right and duty by reason of their baptism.

In the restoration and promotion of the sacred liturgy, this full and active participation by all the people is the aim to be considered before all else . . .

So what does participation at Mass mean? A few points:

  • We arrive before Mass starts and present ourselves before the Lord.
  • We vocally pray and sing in communion with our brothers and sisters.
  • We actively pay attention to the readings and homily.
  • We mentally offer our prayers, needs and our life at the Offertory in union with Christ.
  • We reverently receive Communion.
  • We stay until Father recesses, leaving in unison with one another.

If Mass has become a dull routine for you; consider the roles our Lord has called us to: a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation and a redeemed people and what now may simply be a box to be checked off as your Sunday duty will become an honor and the joy of your week.

About Nan Balfour

Coordinator for the annual Catholic Women's Conference, an apostolate of the Pilgrim Center of Hope - Catholic evangelization ministry in San Antonio, Texas. The Pilgrim Log is the blog of the Pilgrim Center of Hope, a Catholic evangelization ministry, providing weekly spiritual reflections to help you journey toward a deeper relationship with Christ. Learn more about the Pilgrim Center of Hope by visiting www.pilgrimcenterofhope.org.

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