Why Go to Mass - Pt. 2

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

Two weeks ago I suggested that college students, as well as the rest of us, should go to Mass regularly — seven daily — because it gets us out of ourselves. Some readers thought this was an odd idea, another explained well what I meant. Thank you. Let me try again.


Last night I saw The Social Network, the film about the Harvard students and others who invented and developed Facebook, and I came away with a portrait of one of the world’s smallest worlds, which imagines itself to be the world, certainly one so tied up in itself that it cannot see beyond its computer screens.

The basis of all evil is egoism. The basic temptation beginning with Adam and Eve and up to today’s dope peddlers, muggers and paid-for politicians, is to see one’s self as the center of the universe rather than as a member of a network of communities which, if the community as a whole is to prosper, must cooperate and sacrifice for the good of all. Most of the consumer propaganda, a dominant power in our culture, stresses the opposite. Gratify yourself.

The sacrifice of the Mass (daily 25 minutes, Sunday 45) is meant to pull us out of that environment and offer us a different image of what life is all about. 

The Mass achieves this through several means — the scripture readings,  the homily, the Eucharistic Prayer, and the reception of the Eucharist — all executed not just by the words of the priest up there on the altar, but by the presence of the Spirit in the whole community. Jesus said to his disciples, “Come aside with me for a little while”  and “Wherever two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” So we come to Mass — whether celebrated in a cathedral, a college chapel, a dorm room, in the woods,, in a friend’s dining room, or in a prison (and I’ve said Masses those places ) —  to be in the presence of God and of others  and, we hope, to see them as all somehow more important than ourselves.

The homily should analyze the gospel passage on three levels. 

1) What, as far as we can tell actually happened during the event described? Not all the passages are in the same literary form. The infancy narratives, for example are stories constructed by Matthew and Luke to anticipate actual events  — Jesus playing the role of a prophet like Moses, or his  coming to the temple — in Jesus’ adult life. Instances of diabolical possession may have been psychological illnesses or epilepsy.  

2)  What did the passage mean to the early church, during the years between 50-100 when they were written down? All the apostles were Jews. Yet John’s gospel depicts antagonism between John’s readers and “the Jews.” Much of this is because many of the early Christians continued to worship as Jews,  but during early church John’s followers were expelled from the synagogue. 

3)  How do we apply the original stories to ourselves today? Luke’s gospel and the Acts of the Apostles, for example, demand that  the wealth of the many be shared with the poor and depict women as very close to Jesus and  prominent in the early church.  The implications of that are enormous.

Finally, in my 40-plus years as a priest,  with Mass ever day except for some foreign trips, I have said a private Mass at most a dozen times. Because Mass is primarily a community event. 

The Mark Zuckerman character in The Social Newwork is trapped in a world which, largely through his selfishness, he has chosen,  and which, distracted by its hedonism, will not challenge his worst instincts. Only one young woman  tells him the truth about himself and then drops him. In a loud nightclub scene where he sits alone with slick  “entrepreneur” Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake) and Parker  sells him his vision of the world, Parker’s face is bathed in a Satanic glow. Zuckerman has no honest caring community who love him enough to challenge him. He ends up totally alone.

For Christians, the liturgical community is meant to be that challenge and the source of that love.

Raymond A. Schroth, S.J.


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David Baugnon
8 years 1 month ago
I think you really touched on something here. When I ask myself: why did I enjoy mass at college so much and now seldom find the time to go? The answer is community and, at least for me, size does matter. I've always preferred smaller masses, were prayer intentions were spoken by the congregation, rather than read to us through a microphone. Not that there isn't the opportunity for a large mass to be powerful and moving, but it's been my experience that the more intimate the group, the better the mass. The other key component is the "cult of personality" factor. Some priests are simply better than others. It's not just oratory skills that matter but your third point of applying Jesus’ core principles to today. And perhaps the biggest obstacle standing in my way is the hypocrisy of the Catholic church that does not allow priest to marry (because of ancient property laws? Give me a break!), excludes women, denounces gays and lesbians and has yet to acknowledge the sins in the ongoing pedophile epidemic. Still, those are “organizational issues” and enormous as they are, I still believe in the possibility of community that church provides. Perhaps I’ll see if my local college has a chapel…
Beth Cioffoletti
8 years 1 month ago
Over the weekend I went to a funeral Mass in New York (my husband's aunt), and came away deeply touched by the sense of family and community that had gathered at this ancient ritual.  Fed by sacramental meaning and challenged to BE with each other and for each other.

I attend Mass occasionally now, but not regularly.  Mostly I come away feeling confused.  People do not look at each other, and it seems that the liturgy is some sort of private prayer/belief system. 

What made this funeral different?  Perhaps the setting, the fact that most of us had known each other for years and had a history with each other.  But also the way that the priest interpreted the event to us.  He was an older man, obviously very influenced by John 23rd and Vatican 2.  No Latin and all white vestments.

If Masses could be like this, I'd be there.
8 years 1 month ago
Oh How I understand!! And I see the church going back to private devotion during Mass instead of a communal calebration of the Eucharist.  I went to a funeral recently and it was all in black. I know this was never forbidden but I have not seen this in 40 years.  I attend Mass as often as I can besides Sunday. I have had a love for the celebration since I was a child and would get up before everyone else and sneak out to Mass on Saturday morning. I love the changes that came about from Vatican 2 even though it has been interpreted differently sometimes. The next day after the black funeral I went to another Funeral that was celebrated (get it) in white. I thanked the Presider and he gave me a surprised look and said, "thank you, Praise God!"  Soon we will see people saying the rosary or reading prayer books instead of participating in the Mass, shades of my youth. We need to pray for and support those priests who may buck the trend of control coming down nthe pike, they are taking risks. Don't get me wrong, I don't have objections to private prayer but the Eucharist is a Communal Celebration.
Thank you America for being here.
Jim McCrea
8 years 1 month ago
If people want "my Jesus and me" time, there are ample opportunities throughout the day and the week.

Mass should be about "our Jesus and us" and celebrated accordingly.
Kathy Berken
8 years 1 month ago
I'm a product of the post-Vatican II Baby Boom era, too. Mass in living rooms, parks, dorms, big old churches where we all stood around the altar and prayed the Mass together. Music was comprised of folk songs with spiritual meaning played on acoustic guitars, sometimes the body and blood of Christ was home made bread and whatever wine was available. And there was always a reading after communion from a contemporary poet or an essay about a social issue. Homilies were started by the priest and we all joined in. It was community. We sacrificed our private selves for an hour and connected with each other. If that's what you mean by getting out of ourselves, that's when and how we did it. But sad to say, as others have commented, I have yet to find a Roman Catholic Mass like this. Some think we grew up and now Mass is more refined and more true to church norms. I disagree. We did not grow up, we just grew apart, grew away from what we knew in our souls was the best way to celebrate Mass. So, if you want people to go to Mass 7 days a week, they will likely be disillusioned by going to any regular church, and then they will ask, what's the point? Go to a good post Vatican II Mass from the 70s and you will discover what many of us have longed for, for many years, an experience of the real body of Christ.


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