I love Mass now, of course.
I loved Mass back in 1963 when I was an altar boy and “Ad Deum qui laetificat juventutem meam” was rolling off my tongue although I had not a clue what it meant.
I loved Mass in the late ‘60s when we had guitar Masses in the high school gym – and 1,100 high school guys – yep, all guys – belted out “Sons of God, hear his holy word, gather ‘round the table of the Lord.”
And I loved it when we had “low Masses” for just our homeroom in the high school chapel and the presider invited all of us to come close around the altar to better see and know and understand what was happening at the Liturgy of the Eucharist.
A prayer for all times and places
I loved Mass in the Bradley Hall auditorium when the Newman Center took it over for us Catholic college kids Sundays, and I loved it in the dark and sparsely populated old church at what used to be St. Pat’s on the south side of Peoria, Ill., before it was closed.
I loved Mass in the crowded church basement at St. Bernadette in Drexel Hill, Pa., in the quiet of the weekday Mass at Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago, in the boisterous cacophony of joy-filled Catholics at St. Joan of Arc in Minneapolis and in the comforting community prayer of Presentation of Mary in Maplewood, Minn., where at the end of Mass a spontaneously erupting round of applause for some terrific liturgical music is not uncommon.
So when we Catholics begin praying new words at Mass the weekend of Nov. 26-27 instead of the words we’ve prayed for more than 40 years, I’ll still love Mass.
We can deal with change
When as we are praying the new words of the Creed and get to the word “consubstantial” I’m probably going to still shake my head and wonder how in the world anyone thought that was a good idea. But I’ll probably get used to it.
Thinking about that change in particular led me to consider other words we use infrequently in every-day life but all the time in prayer. We seem to be okay with asking the God to “forgive us our trespasses” – and how many of us regularly use the word trespass as a synonym for sin?
But this wasn’t meant to be an exercise in apologetics on behalf of the new Roman Missal. I’ve read at least a dozen explanations explaining the need for the changes and just as many commentaries questioning those explanations.
Frankly, neither matter.
I’ll still love Mass.
Why Mass matters to me
At Mass my whole person is lifted up by thoughts I don’t usually have the rest of the week, thoughts on a higher plane, a level beyond my work, my loved ones, my hobbies.
At Mass I’m challenged to be a better person than I have been. I feel as though I absorb ideas of how to follow Jesus and the ways he said we need to live.
I’m challenged to reform and I’m inspired to keep on the journey – not just do what I’ve been doing but do it better, maybe do more.
At Mass – no matter where or who or how many people are in the pews or folding chairs – I feel affirmed in my choice to be part of this 2,000-year-old tradition. Note that word “choice.” Nobody is forcing me to be at church. I go because I want to. Because I get something out of it. And what’s affirming is that I feel part of something good and valued by others.
I love Mass because when I kneel down after receiving the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ at Communion I feel something deep inside me pushing me to imitate that Jesus in every part of my life, reminding me of what kind of person I’m supposed to be, comforting me that because I’ve taken Jesus into my heart he is with me, fortifying me and giving me the nourishment I need to be that person God made me to be, that God expects me to be.
I’m not the only one who loves Mass
I understood a lot more about loving Mass when a fact-finding tour took me to Lithuania just after the fall of the Soviet Empire.
Our group of Catholic journalists went to Eastern Europe to see how we Americans might help our brothers and sisters as they brought their publications from their underground existence into the light of freedom.
The priests in our group presided at Mass in a hotel room in Vilnius, and we’d invited an American to join us. She’d been working in Lithuania doing development work for two religious agencies.
Rebecca Martin cried her eyes out through the entire liturgy.
“I’m sorry,” the 25-year-old from Indiana said, drying her eyes. “I’ve been here for two and a half years. You don’t know how much it means to hear Mass in your own language after so long.”
Bob Zyskowski is associate publisher of The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.