About a week ago, I received an email from a friend of mine who used to be a student at Reading, when I was Chaplain there. After leaving Reading, he studied for the Maronite priesthood – the Maronites are a part of the Catholic Church, but of a different “rite”, which means a different way of saying Mass and a different tradition of theology. He told me that, at the moment, he was spending a little time at home, but “prayed the Mass every day” – and that phrase really made me stop and take notice. I am used to saying: “go to Mass” or “attend Mass”, but I cannot remember ever before hearing the phrase “pray the Mass”! This may be the way the Maronites express it, in their worship, but it is a very beautiful expression and it made me pause and ponder on what the Mass actually is!
There are, of course, two aspects to the Mass; there is the Mass itself – and then, there are the words and readings that we use when celebrating Mass. Usually, I think, our attention is focussed on the words being said and the readings being read, rather than what is happening in the Mass itself is! To use an English proverb – I think that most times “we don’t see the wood for the trees!”
The phrase led me to ponder on the Mass, for although it is so much a part of my daily life, it is also such a Mystery. The first thought that came to my mind was: “Why do we go to Mass week after week?” Many, I think, would be tempted to answer: “Because it is a sin not to go”, because this is what they were taught in catechism, but, deep down, that answer doesn’t hit the spot! I know that I, and also many others, go because we are drawn to the Mass. There is a “wanting” in my heart, evoked by “the whisper of God” calling me to himself, calling me to Mass and there is always something there specially for me. We sometimes have the idea that we are supposed to pay attention to everything that is read or said at Mass, but this is not so. Not everything read or said at Mass on a particular day is for me – but there is something there that is and if I am attentive, the Spirit will gently “nudge” me to notice it – maybe a word, a hymn, an action – something which I experience as touching my heart. This is how we can “pray the Mass”.
Our response to this whisper of the Lord is not so much a word as an action – and the symbol of this is the offering of the bread and wine. When the Lord speaks, it is always, in some way, an invitation to join him in giving life to the world and the offering of the bread and wine is our way of choosing to join him – but usually we do not know much about what is being actually asked of us. Thus, the offering, when I make it mine, is a profound act of trust in the Lord, and I was reminded of that by the words of Frodo in the Lord of the Rings – which I am now re-reading – where he offers to carry the ring to Mordor – “I will take it, but I don’t know the way”.
This leads into the great miracle of the Mass, which is often taught as God coming down into the Bread and Wine, but to stop there is to miss the greatest wonder of all – for it is not so much the Bread and Wine, which becomes the Body and Blood of Christ – but us who receive it. The miracle of the Incarnation finds its fullness in us the community – we become the Body and Blood of Christ – the place where God dwells and the place where he is reconciling the world to himself by bringing the world to life. “To pray the Mass” is our resounding “Yes”, to God – or maybe, on occasions, our weak and half-hearted “Yes”, but if that is all I can give, the Lord lovingly accepts it. God accepts us as we are – not as we think we ought to be – for all have a place in his great mission to the world.
John Henry Newman speaks of this, when he speaks about the mission that God has for each one of us. It is our glory and our unique vocation and even though we may never know what it is, we will do it, if we make the “Yes” of the Mass our “Yes” – and the phrase “to pray the Mass” points the way we make that “Yes”.
I went to Singapore last week to see a consultant, because some friends here in Kuching asked me if I would be willing to take a second opinion. As soon as I said, “Yes” I found the appointment booked, air-tickets provided and a hotel booked – for which I am very grateful. However, the plane was full, so my friends booked me business class but that led me to wonder how to hide my face in case any Catholics saw “Father” sitting in a business class seat. I thought of buying a newspaper – but solved the problem by getting on the plane last!
I have cut down on my grass-cutting – especially my pride and joy which is the central lawn of the seminary, which is just a little too much for me now. However, I have trained a seminarian in how to cut it – very short so as to get the lines to appear, just like Wembley!! He is getting quite expert.
I go to Singapore again this Thursday for tests to see whether I am suitable for the radiotherapy treatment and then I shall go for a short holiday with a friend of mine from Bali.