Why have I come to Mass, this time? This is a good question to ask, now and then, because determining one’s motives for anything can really help focus one’s attention. People come to liturgy for all sorts of reasons: a need to pray and/or receive God through Scripture or Eucharist; a sense of obligation or duty, based on God’s commandment to keep holy the Sabbath (3rd commandment); a desire for community; an appreciation of certain aspects of liturgy, such as the music or the homily; or any combination of these or other reasons. Why people come will most likely be reflected through their attitude and participation level.
Whatever our personal reasons for attending, it is refreshing to hear a few foundational aspects of liturgy as put forth from a document of the Second Vatican Council, “Sacrosanctum Concilium,” calling us to a “fully conscious and active participation (#14). It is ironic to hear these words promulgated almost fifty years ago (12/4/63) because even today there are still people who desire a liturgy that permits them to be passive spectators. Furthermore, the document (#10) reminds us that, “the liturgy is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; at the same time it is the font from which all her power flows.” The liturgy, “moves the faithful . . . to be one in holiness . . . and draws the faithful into the compelling love of Christ and sets them on fire.” Finally, (#11) in order to catch that fire, “it is necessary that the faithful come to it with proper dispositions . . . . that they should cooperate with divine grace lest they receive it in vain.”
We need to add to our list of motives for attending the liturgy the need to be on fire with God’s love. Full participation in the liturgy can help us achieve that goal.
Here are a few ways to engage being “fully conscious and active” in participation at the liturgy:
1) Sung Prayer – There are people who disclose that, because they are not good singers, they will not be joining in the singing of hymns and acclamations at liturgy and furthermore, nobody would want to hear them. As true as that might be, it is important to at least pick up the hymnal or worship aid and follow the text of the hymn, perhaps praying it softly. Liturgical music is named as such because it contains the words of scripture or derives its text from scripture or Church prayers. Follow along as best you can and at least join the prayer.
2) Common Posture – Ritual achieves power and value in our lives through repetition: doing the same thing over and over. Liturgical postures are set by the ordinary (bishop) for each diocese or archdiocese. Joining in common posture helps the assembly to achieve unity and become one body in prayer. When we visit churches in other dioceses we should be attentive to the common postures for that diocese, regardless to what we are accustomed. When we deviate from the common posture and kneel, for example, when the rest of the assembly is standing or sitting, we draw attention to ourselves and break from the liturgy’s goal of unity.
3) Attentiveness – Focus on the action at liturgy! Listen attentively to the scripture readings and prayers; in the silent moments before the collect prayers (after the words, “Let us pray”) be attentive to the prayer in your heart and offer it up to the Lord. Finally, follow the flow of liturgy, from the introductory rite, to liturgy of the Word, to liturgy of the Eucharist, to the dismissal; each of these has a character and prayer form all its own, inviting our full participation.