Why Go To Mass?

This is part of a series of reflections on "How to Succeed in College." Click on the author's name for previous entries.

A few years ago I visited a young family whose wedding I had performed and whose child, the following Sunday morning, I was about to baptize. But the father, whom I had taught and with whom I had run many miles in college, revealed that he no longer goes to Mass. Why? It’s boring. The sermons are unprepared. A waste of time. So I challenged him: pick a local church and we would go to Mass together.


We went. It was a very big church and we sat toward the back. The pastor celebrated, and when he came to the pulpit he rambled on about who knowswhat. He had obviously not spent ten minutes preparing the one sacred opportunity he had to communicate God’s word to his people. I had to confess to my friend that he was right. But that did not free him from the responsibility of finding a church where he could really pray.

College students are blessed in that, for the most part, campus ministries put together a series of liturgies designed to speak to college students.

Recently I had an email from a student I had not heard from in 40 years who in the 1970s had come to my informal midnight Mass at Fordham. Three priests cooperated in running it. We sat on the floor in a basement chapel, read the readings and talked about them together, then gathered around the altar. The ‘60s and ‘70s were, in my judgment a marvelous time in which, inspired by the spirit of Vatican II, newly ordained priests, consistent with their training, improvised liturgical prayers, shared homilies with the congregation, were informal without being careless or disrespectful, and held onto a generation of young people who might otherwise have simply opted out.

I’d say that the central insight was that the communal prayer had to come, to some degree, from the group itself. They were not there just to listen to the man at the altar, they were involved at every moment. So, as much as possible, the words, prayers, petitions came spontaneously from the 10-15 people sitting around on the chapel floor.

Today’s liturgies are much more by-the-book. But they can still serve as spiritual breakthroughs, moments where we temporarily leave the world outside the church door and enter into the silence that allows us to put the outside word in perspective.

Students are making a big mistake if they do not use their college years to re-introduce themselves to the Mass. Not just on Sunday, but every day of the week. For three reasons:

First, most campus ministry Masses, as a comment on my recent report said about Seattle University, involve students and their talent at every level — singing, playing musical instruments, speaking, reading, and taking time at the end to report on social projects you should join if you want to serve other people. And for the most part the celebrant has carefully prepared what he has to say and looks you in the eye when he says it. (At least I did). They are community events which reinforce student bonds in prayer and also in a social gathering after the Mass.

Second, the purpose of Mass is to get ourselves out of ourselves. We bring the burdens of the day — dull classes, texts we have to read, busted relationships, family angst — to the church. Suddenly the Gospel or the words of consecration, or the reception of the host and wine remind us that we are not the center of the universe, that we are one among up-teen million people all over the world receiving the same communion and that we are in communion with them.

Third, I like to end the final prayer with a line I got at our midnight Masses from an older Jesuit who was one of the Society’s and the church’s greatest sociologists. “Lord, stay with us always as you are with us now.” The presence of God felt in that half-hour to 40 minutes must fuel us — till the next Mass.

Which is an argument for going every day.

Raymond A. Schroth


Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
8 years 1 month ago
Maybe a better question would be: Why avoid going to Mass? Frankly, I think most fair-minded people would be hard-pressed to answer this question honestly without recognizing that almost everything they say is self-serving. The exception would be those who do not believe that Jesus is who He says He is, and, of course, one would not expect them to be interested in going to Mass under any circumstances.
8 years 2 months ago
A couple things:

First, I find that the sermons/homilies are much better than they were 10-15 years ago and especially when I was in school.  I travel a fair amount so get to sample homilies and liturgies away from my home area.  Both those home and away are generally good.  Occasionally, I run into a priest who hasn't put much time into the homily.

Second, the reason for going to Mass has nothing to do with the homily though I look forward to what the priest will say.  The Mass is a series of mini rites or sections many of them going back to the early days of the Church.  What the Church should do is inform all its members just what each part represents culminating with the eucharistic prayer which is the center of the Mass.  The Prayer of the Faithful, which comes immediately after the Credo, was part of the Mass in the early Church but dropped in the Tridentine Mass and restored by Vatican II I believe.

I am sure that others here are more knowledgeable on all the history but I believe most Catholics would be more interested in the Mass if they understood how each section fitted in and its history.  What are all these little prayers that are said and passed over so quickly and why are they there.  And in the old days the entrance rite began as one walked to Church and essentially prepared for Mass before they got to Church.  Now we are lucky if half the congregation is in Church for the entrance rite.
david power
8 years 2 months ago
I do not wish to be disrespectful but I consider it quite an achievement
to answer the question Why go to Mass? without mentioning Jesus even once.
8 years 1 month ago
the purpose of Mass is to get ourselves out of ourselves.

Really, Padre? Really???
Kay Satterfield
8 years 1 month ago
As someone who has struggled with anxiety which I'm sure plagues college students,  it's my experience that in attending Mass I 'get out of myself' because I turn my attention away from myself and focus on praising and worshiping God and praying for my neighbor. I am reminded that I am not alone in my troubles. The Eucharist centers me. The whole experience gives me peace which I hope I bring to others and whatever situation I am dealing with,     at least for a little while.

Beth Cioffoletti
8 years 1 month ago
I agree, the 60s and 70s were an marvelous time for experiencing the Mass. 

I was a student at the University of Dayton (a Marionist college) when we started having Mass in the lobby of my dormitory.  We sat around on the floor and passed the bread among ourselves.  I was astounded at how this mysterious ritual had come down from the altar and into my the detail of my life.  I could hold the Eucharistic bread and share it with my friends.  Mass was no longer an obligation, but incredibly relevant and real, a dance between heaven and earth that suffused my little life with mystery and meaning.

I really miss those kind of Masses.  Even now, the best liturgies I find are on university campuses, but they don't come close to the intimate gatherings we had in the 70s.  I find the usual fare of Sunday Mass services, with no one looking at each other and then rushing to be the first one out to the parking lot, very discouraging.
Stephen Murray
8 years 1 month ago
What a weird article.  No wonder congregants are getting so short-changed: Improvised prayers, off the cuff theology, "reception of the host and wine"..might as well have a pious wine and cheese party with really bad 70's music.  No one needs to attend Mass to "get out" of oneself, plenty of other distractions will do that for you.  

Beth Cioffoletti
8 years 1 month ago
Might I suggest that "get ourselves out of ourselves" refers to way that the Mass puts our individual lives into a larger context of the whole of humanity, and the uniquely personal way in which God relates to each of us, and all of humanity, through his Son, Jesus Christ.  The bigger picture, so to speak.


The latest from america

Screengrab from a viral video showcasing a confrontation between a Native American drummer and a group of Catholic high school students in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 18, 2019. Screenshot via YouTube.
Several clips of the encounter circulating on social media show a small group of Native American drummers, who were in Washington for the Indigenous People’s March, being surrounded by a much larger band of teenagers.
Pope Francis has suppressed the Ecclesia Dei Commission, a significant decision with consequences for the Holy See’s relations with the priestly Fraternity of St. Pius X.
Gerard O’ConnellJanuary 19, 2019
Photo: IMDB
A new Netflix miniseries brings out the story’s aspects of adventure and conflict, with occasionally pulse-pounding results.
Rob Weinert-KendtJanuary 19, 2019
Protestors march to support a U.N. anti-corruption commission in Guatemala City on Jan. 6. Photo by Jackie McVicar.
“What they are doing not only puts Guatemala at risk but the entire region. Bit by bit, for more than a year, they have been trying to divide us. The elections are at risk. We are six months away.”
Jackie McVicarJanuary 18, 2019