John F. Baldovin
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Not every Mass is going to be a great and deeply moving experience, not for the vast majority of us anyway. But there is a great deal to be said for simple fidelity to our worship. St. Ignatius Loyola says in the Spiritual Exercises that the person who is experiencing some desolation (dryness, “downness”) in prayer can be helped by remembering times of consolation in the past. I think that is true not only of individual prayer but of communal, liturgical prayer as well. In any case, the Mass may not always be a deeply emotional experience, but it is always an experience of the Lord giving himself to us in his word and his sacramental presence and calling forth our self-giving in return.

 

Why bother? Why bother going to Mass at all when we can worship God anywhere?

1. Participation in the salvation of the world. The most important reason for participating in the Eucharist is that God has invited us to share in the experience of the world’s salvation in the death and resurrection of the Lord every time we celebrate. We are invited to participate in God’s redeeming act each time we participate in the Eucharist and thereby commit ourselves to working for God’s reign.

2. Experiencing the glory of God. St. Irenaeus, a second-century Christian theologian and martyr, wrote that the glory of God is the human being fully alive, and that the human being fully alive is the one who is in Christ Jesus. The Mass is where we experience sacramentally our destiny as members incorporated into the body of Christ. This is what God wants the world to look like: human beings who give of themselves to others in faith, hope and love.

3. Discipline of faith. A third reason to bother is the formation of the habit of worshiping and glorifying God. Human beings ordinarily develop by forming habits, some good and some bad. These are patterns that shape our lives. The discipline of worshiping God helps us to grow into being habitual “adorers of God,” even when we do not feel like it.

4. Hearing the Scriptures communally. The Bible is the word of God, but let’s face it, individualistic and idiosyncratic readings of the Bible have led to some pretty wacky and even destructive interpretations. We need to experience the Scriptures both alone and in community. This is what Christians mean by tradition: the way we have learned throughout history as a church to interpret the Scriptures together. Hearing the Scriptures in community is a way of deepening as well as safeguarding our experience of God’s communication with us.

5. Developing the moral life. If the basic structure of the Eucharist is taking, blessing, breaking and giving in imitation of the Lord’s passion, death and resurrection, then the habit of weekly (or even more frequent) celebration of the Mass ought to help us in our development as moral human beings. If we celebrate faithfully, we ought to be conforming more and more, as individuals and as a community, to the image of generosity and love of the one into whom we were baptized. The final test of whether the Mass “works” is: “By their fruits shall you know them.”

6. Companionship with Christ. If I believe that Christ is the savior of the world, God incarnate, who has given his very self for me, then I want to share in the most intimate experience of self-giving—holy Communion—and I also want to recognize him in the brothers and sisters with whom I am sharing the act of self-giving. We have a vital human need for both food and meaning. The word “companionship” is derived from the Latin cum (with) and panis (bread). We find companionship in sharing food with others. There is no companionship without sharing what our bodies need. There is no companionship with Christ except by sharing in his body—sacrament and church.

7. Focusing my needs. From the earliest days of Christianity, men and women have brought their deepest needs and desires to the table of the Lord, confident that they can be joined to Christ’s great act of intercession before the Father (Heb 7:25, 10:1-22). This is why we pray for the dead at Mass; we place them before the merciful and compassionate God in the midst of this great work of our redemption. I can bring my deepest desires to the table of the Lord, confident that I will be heard.

8. Praying for the world. Of course we bring not only our own personal needs but the state of the world to the celebration of the Eucharist. There is a kind of cosmic dimension to every celebration in which the realities of our world (bread, wine, men and women) are transformed into the body and blood of Christ. The world with all of its needs, joys and struggles is present every time we celebrate the Eucharist together, and our consciousness of the world helps to make the Mass the experience of Christian life in a concentrated way.

9. Welcoming the kingdom. If the Eucharist is the celebration of how God wants the world to look, then every time we celebrate, we anticipate the banquet of God’s kingdom “when every tear will be wiped away.” In other words, the reign of God looks like human beings who, recognizing their sinfulness, know that God’s mercy is far greater. The reign of God looks like people who are gathered to receive his word gratefully. The reign of God looks like people who allow God’s Holy Spirit to form them into a community that accepts life from God, blesses God with everything that is in them, are broken and poured out for others in imitation of the Lord Jesus who has given us this pattern. The reign of God looks like people who share the most unimaginably precious gifts freely because they know that all is gift in Christ. The reign of God looks like people who are sent forth to do the works of faith, hope and love with courage.

10. Pure joy. A final reason for celebrating the Eucharist is that here God invites us to the deepest peace and joy that is possible—sharing in his own divine life. St. Augustine wrote in his Confessions: “O God, you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” The Mass is a foretaste of that perfectly joyful rest. The Mass is an obligation to be sure, but it is an obligation that comes not so much from the outside as from the nature of what it means to enjoy Christian fellowship. We are who we are because of our sharing with our brothers and sisters. And what we share is Jesus Christ himself. How could that not be the cause of pure joy?

In the Gospel of John, Jesus invites his followers to “come and see.” Nowhere is that invitation from the Lord clearer than in the invitation to share in the celebration of the Mass.

John F. Baldovin, S.J., is professor of historical and liturgical theology at Weston Jesuit School of Theology, Cambridge, Mass. This essay is an excerpt from the author’s new book Bread of Life, Cup of Salvation (Sheed

Comments

John Bosco | 6/19/2011 - 2:49pm
I have never been satisfied with the answers given to the question, "Why go to Mass?".   The assertions made in this article, though true, in my humble opinion, also fall short.  They do not adequately describe the role the Mass plays in relation to the good news of great joy.

There is an economy of salvation. It is dynamic not static.  It flows.  The Mass plays a specific role in the economy of salvation.  If we were but aware of the role of the Mass in the economy of salvation, we would not be able to contain the crowds that would flock to our Churches for Mass! All Christians possess the glory of God in the liturgy of the word.  The glory of God in the Eucharist, however, is a distinctive gift of the Catholic faith that other Christian choose not to enjoy.

Here is what our children need to know in order to self-motivate them to go to Mass. Here are the words.



Why go to Mass?




To understand the Mass we must be mindful of two historical events: 1) our first mistake and 2) God’s attempt to fix it.  Like children, we ran away from home. It started in Eden when we abandoned happiness in paradise and the stampede into godlessness continues today.  So our Father sent his Son to invite us to come home to happiness with Him.  This is the good news of great joy.  If we but take the first steps, God Himself will come to greet us and escort us home. “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.”  (Luke 15:20)   




After we accept God’s invitation to come home to happiness with Him, our next question is, "how do we get there from here?".  God established the Mass to facilitate our journey home. In the liturgy of the word,  God provides the directions to the landmarks through which we must pass in order to get home.  In the liturgy of the Eucharist, Jesus, the bread and wine of God, offers us Himself as nourishment for the road home.  Think of a Mass as an oasis for travelers on the road home to happiness with God.  It is a place of respite, refuge and instruction.  Our Father established the Mass for our benefit not for His.  It is a another gift from Him to us.




The job of the Church is to make sure we know that God’s invitation to come home is personally extended to each of us. Our job is to decide whether to accept the invitation, to ignore it or to reject it. The Mass is a major landmark on the road that takes us home to happiness with our Father. Passing through it tells us we are headed in the right direction.  Is your life headed in the right direction? Join us on the road home. Come to Mass.



"I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." (John 14:6)


                                                       Executive Summary: 

Our Father wants us to come home to happiness with Him.  He established the Mass as an oasis where we can get directions, food and drink for the trip.


John Bosco
Kimberly Cakebread | 5/1/2004 - 5:48pm
Why go to Mass? One reason to attend Mass that I would emphasize is our obligation to the other members of our faith community. Our membership in the Catholic community includes a commitment to one another. Even if we see ourselves as being beyond the "need" for support from that community, the other members might not be so lucky. And if we attend only when we need comfort, aren't we just like the relative who only shows up at family gatherings when in need of funds? I know that I draw support and strength, whether I need it or not, simply from the number of parishioners in the neighboring pews.
Peter J. Ruel | 6/11/2004 - 4:30pm
When I was a youngster, many Fords were still rectangular in shape, films were talkies but in black and white, and the commandment to keep holy the Sabbath was adapted by the Catholic Church as the obligation to attend Mass on Sundays and holy days. Ahh, those were the days! To miss Mass was a mortal sin. So I found the essay: "Why Go To Mass?" by John F. Baldovin, S.J. (5/10), refreshing, welcome and thoughtful. I have condensed the ten reasons given for attending Mass so they can be easily posted to the refrigerator door as a reminder to all of us who occasionally ask that question: Why go to Mass? Andrew Greeley pointed out (6/7-14) that our churches today are only half full.

1. The world is saved through the death and resurrection of Christ. God invites us to share in that experience every time we celebrate the Eucharist.

2. The glory of God is present in the one who is fully alive. The one who is fully alive is the one who is in Christ Jesus. Therefore, the glory of God is present in the one who is in Christ Jesus (St Irenaeus).

3. The patterns that shape our lives arise from the formation of good and bad habits. The discipline of worshipping God is a good habit to get into so that we continue to go even when we do not feel up to it.

4. We need to experience the scriptures both alone and in community in order to avoid far-out interpretations. The community deepens and safeguards our experience of God's communication with us.

5. If the Eucharist is an invitation into the Lord's passion, death and resurrection, then its reception ought to strengthen us in our development as moral human beings.

6. Ir I truly believe that Christ has given himself for me, then I should want to share in that most intimate experience of self-giving through holy communion and to recognize him in the brothers and sisters around me.

7. The table of the Lord is the place to bring our greatest needs and desires.

8. The Eucharist includes a cosmic dimension in which the realities of our world (bread, wine, men and women) are transformed into the body and blood of Christ. It is a reminder that the world, with all of its needs, joys, and struggles, is present in the shared Eucharist.

9. In the Eucharist we anticipate the banquet of God's kingdom "when every tear will be wiped away."

10. In the Eucharist, God invites us to a deeper peace and joy, a sharing in his own divine life. St. Augustine wrote in his Confessions: "Oh God, you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you." The Mass foretells that perfectly joyful rest.

John E Metzler | 7/18/2004 - 9:00pm
While John Baldovin gives 10 good reasons for going to Mass, I tell my own skeptical teenagers that I go for personal transformation, a transformation to a more deeply loving (hence holy? divine?) person, a transformation that I cannot do all on my own. Also, I remind them, the act of going speaks for itself, as a personal witness to what is most important to me. These two reasons seem to be respected by them and perhaps may border on possibly being "good" reasons. They are certainly accepted much better than damnation to hell for all eternity for missing a 60 minute "celebration."
Walter A. Coyne | 2/9/2007 - 3:22pm
John F. Baldovin, S.J., (5/10) offers 10 reasons for going to Mass. Fine and dandy, but he fails to mention the obligation to attend Mass on Sundays and holy days under pain of serious sin. Is that the 11th reason, or perhaps the first? At least it should be mentioned—unless it’s been deleted, in which case I hadn’t heard. In that sense, we are not so much invited as required to participate in God’s redeeming act. A requirement produces better results than a hint.

Nancy F. Gallagher | 2/9/2007 - 3:21pm
“Why Go to Mass?” by John F. Baldovin, S.J., (5/10) presents one man’s view of the validity and value of attending weekly Mass. The Mass should be all that Father Baldovin describes, and more. The unfortunate reality is that many Catholics are unable to ignore the ways in which attending Mass misses the mark. As a Catholic woman, wife and mother, I ask the same question as Father Baldovin, but our responses are generated from different vantage points.

When I attend Mass I see a blatant disregard of the teachings of Jesus Christ. I see a structure that is trying desperately to perpetuate itself and preserve a male-dominated climate. At Mass, I sit beside women and men who are being denied their baptismal right to share their gifts and charisms for the betterment of the Christian community. At Mass, I pray beside the homosexual, whose lifestyle is the subject of a substandard homily by an overworked and inept priest.

On my way to receive Communion, I climb over the divorced mother of four who is not allowed to receive the Eucharist but diligently takes her children to weekly Mass and religious education classes. During the sign of peace, I shake hands with another attendee who is not welcome to receive the Eucharist, the politician whose political positions are in contrast with the opinions of the institutional church.

At Mass we, the laity, are told that new and important procedures will help enhance our worship experience and maintain an atmosphere of respect for the Eucharist. We are instructed on the proper way to approach the table of the Lord and how and when to sit and stand, all in the name of respect.

The Mass for me is a constant reminder of all that Jesus was not. The Scriptures that I read portray a loving, empathic Jesus who welcomes all, has gifted all with multiple charisms through the power of the Holy Spirit, shared bread and wine with sinners and who kicked back with society’s outcasts, forming a community with and for those very people. Unlike Father Baldovin, many Catholics do not experience the Mass as “a foretaste of that perfectly joyful rest.” The life and ministry of Jesus was based upon love, forgiveness, equality and justice. As Catholics, we have a responsibility to settle for nothing less, including the way we worship.

Kimberly Cakebread | 5/1/2004 - 5:48pm
Why go to Mass? One reason to attend Mass that I would emphasize is our obligation to the other members of our faith community. Our membership in the Catholic community includes a commitment to one another. Even if we see ourselves as being beyond the "need" for support from that community, the other members might not be so lucky. And if we attend only when we need comfort, aren't we just like the relative who only shows up at family gatherings when in need of funds? I know that I draw support and strength, whether I need it or not, simply from the number of parishioners in the neighboring pews.
Peter J. Ruel | 6/11/2004 - 4:30pm
When I was a youngster, many Fords were still rectangular in shape, films were talkies but in black and white, and the commandment to keep holy the Sabbath was adapted by the Catholic Church as the obligation to attend Mass on Sundays and holy days. Ahh, those were the days! To miss Mass was a mortal sin. So I found the essay: "Why Go To Mass?" by John F. Baldovin, S.J. (5/10), refreshing, welcome and thoughtful. I have condensed the ten reasons given for attending Mass so they can be easily posted to the refrigerator door as a reminder to all of us who occasionally ask that question: Why go to Mass? Andrew Greeley pointed out (6/7-14) that our churches today are only half full.

1. The world is saved through the death and resurrection of Christ. God invites us to share in that experience every time we celebrate the Eucharist.

2. The glory of God is present in the one who is fully alive. The one who is fully alive is the one who is in Christ Jesus. Therefore, the glory of God is present in the one who is in Christ Jesus (St Irenaeus).

3. The patterns that shape our lives arise from the formation of good and bad habits. The discipline of worshipping God is a good habit to get into so that we continue to go even when we do not feel up to it.

4. We need to experience the scriptures both alone and in community in order to avoid far-out interpretations. The community deepens and safeguards our experience of God's communication with us.

5. If the Eucharist is an invitation into the Lord's passion, death and resurrection, then its reception ought to strengthen us in our development as moral human beings.

6. Ir I truly believe that Christ has given himself for me, then I should want to share in that most intimate experience of self-giving through holy communion and to recognize him in the brothers and sisters around me.

7. The table of the Lord is the place to bring our greatest needs and desires.

8. The Eucharist includes a cosmic dimension in which the realities of our world (bread, wine, men and women) are transformed into the body and blood of Christ. It is a reminder that the world, with all of its needs, joys, and struggles, is present in the shared Eucharist.

9. In the Eucharist we anticipate the banquet of God's kingdom "when every tear will be wiped away."

10. In the Eucharist, God invites us to a deeper peace and joy, a sharing in his own divine life. St. Augustine wrote in his Confessions: "Oh God, you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you." The Mass foretells that perfectly joyful rest.

John E Metzler | 7/18/2004 - 9:00pm
While John Baldovin gives 10 good reasons for going to Mass, I tell my own skeptical teenagers that I go for personal transformation, a transformation to a more deeply loving (hence holy? divine?) person, a transformation that I cannot do all on my own. Also, I remind them, the act of going speaks for itself, as a personal witness to what is most important to me. These two reasons seem to be respected by them and perhaps may border on possibly being "good" reasons. They are certainly accepted much better than damnation to hell for all eternity for missing a 60 minute "celebration."