I read the question and answer from last month and I can see where that woman is coming from. I get bored stiff at Mass every time. I go most Sundays but it’s always the same. Same priest, same prayers, same people, same everything. Is it meant to be liked that, or is it because they make no effort? I can't see myself still going to Mass a year from now. I'm just getting fed up. I tried what you were suggesting to the other woman, I tried to look at the people and see Christ in them, but I know them too well…. Ok I'll keep on trying for the present anyway. Maybe you could tell me something that would help me in particular…. Thanks. Joan
“I'll keep on trying for the present anyway.” That's the heart of the matter. The present is the only time in which we can try. Everything is the present.
Yes, the Mass is repetitive. It is ritual, not drama. We wouldn’t go to the theatre to see the same play week after week and year after year; we expect drama to be different all the time: we expect it to surprise us, to amuse and appal and inspire us as we sit there watching. (It’s true that on rare occasions it can pull us right in, so that we forget for the moment that we are just spectators; but even so, that is what we are.) Ritual, on the other hand, is expected to be always the same. Christmas, birthdays (especially twenty-firsts), weddings, funerals…. Try changing or ignoring any of the rituals of those events and you will soon feel the pressure to keep them the same. And if you feel you are only a spectator at any of those events, you are left feeling lonely and miserable. No, we are happy to be just spectators at drama, but in ritual we expect to be fully involved.
The Mass, like all ritual, is repetitive. But it is repetitive only on the surface; it is not repetitive all the way down, so to speak. It is repetitive to someone who is only a spectator, observing it from the outside and therefore seeing only the surface; but to someone fully involved it is new every time. If someone complains that Christmas is always the same, it’s a safe bet that they are just bored with Gone with the Wind and The Wizard of Oz. At a deeper and personal level, when we turn off the television, Christmas is a fresh experience of family, with the children or grandchildren a year older, and the whole life of the family moved on one year. Likewise, at the deep level of experience the Mass is always a new experience.
The problem is not just the Mass. It is the wider problem of a culture that makes us permanent spectators even of our own lives. There are people who are never disconnected from the social media, who have no solitude and have lost the capacity for it. Nothing is direct or first-hand anymore; everything is mediated – in the most literal sense now: everything comes through the media and goes back to the media (in the form of trivial information and ‘selfies’ posted on Facebook and on aptly-named Twitter).
We have to find a deeper way, a way that does us justice as full human beings. Have you tried meditation? It is remarkable that the new enthusiasm for meditation cuts across all boundaries: national, religious, age, profession…. I think it must be a reaction to all that ‘mediation’. With the media, everything spreads out (for better and worse), but with meditation everything is focused in the ‘here and now’. We used to hear in geometry class that all lines met at infinity, (it meant ‘immeasurably far away’). But in meditation all lines meet right here, in the heart. One of the most profound effects of meditation is this awareness that all people – no matter what they are like – are indeed our brothers and sisters.
People can be understood, up to a point, as objects: you could talk or write about them as ‘out there’ from you; you could give statistics about population, migration, habitation, and God knows what; but really to touch the humanity of another person or a people, you have to touch it in yourself. There’s only one humanity and we all have it equally. So the people at Mass, no matter what they are like or what compromising things we know about them, are our brothers and sisters in Christ. All the lines that connect them meet right here in the heart. It is a challenge to see that. What would the Mass be if it wasn’t a challenge? When I hear the phrase “a lovely Mass”, a question mark always appears in my mind. Calvary wasn’t a lovely event. To most people that day it was a gruesome show put on by the Romans. (Not only then, but through the centuries, large crowds would gather to witness an execution.) But to the people who had faith in Jesus it was a life-changing event. To join a group of fellow-Christians for Mass is to be contemporaries of all the people present at that event in Jerusalem long ago.
To end, Joan, may I quote again that very moving passage from Pope Francis’s letter proclaiming a Year of Mercy. “Mercy: the ultimate and supreme act by which God comes to meet us. Mercy: the fundamental law that dwells in the heart of every person who looks sincerely into the eyes of his brothers and sisters on the path of life. Mercy: the bridge that connects God and humanity, opening our hearts to a hope of being loved forever despite our sinfulness.”
May you experience that great mercy first-hand, Joan.