A few months ago, when my family was cleaning out some old books, I came across my mid- 1980s glossy gold First Communion textbook. The book held such promise within its covers. Surely, it provided a glimpse of the treasures of our faith within its pages: Our Lord coming to us in the Eucharist, what happens during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and the requirements for us to receive Holy Communion worthily. Alas, all I found when I opened the dusty cover were chapters with titles like “It’s About Belonging,” “It’s About Celebrating,” and “It’s About Sharing a Meal.” There were a lot of questions designed to put the child at the center of the Mass-as-a-family-meal, with no room left at the table for Jesus.
Armed with this self-centered catechesis that marked the Catholicism of the 1980s and 1990s, I grew up Catholic, attending Mass regularly because my parents made me. Later, I attended out of obligation, but the Mass never spoke to my heart. I just didn’t get the point of sharing a family meal each week with a group of people I did not even know. I tried to get interested and pay attention, but Mass seemed so random. Little did I know that there was a beauty and order to the Mass that was certainly obscured by my poor catechesis and my lack of attention. It was further obscured by the multitude of options within the Novus Ordo.
As a fairly uninformed layperson in the pews, I never realized there were certain parts of the Mass that changed every day based on the liturgical calendar and other parts that changed because of the options available to the priest. Everything seemed to be an option, and I had only a vague notion about what was coming next at Mass. From the pews, it seemed that virtually the whole Mass varied, since there were vast differences every week, most notably that sometimes the spirit was falling like the dew, sometimes we were reminded that God never ceased to gather a people to Himself, and sometimes Melchizedek showed up.
When faced with this tremendous variety each week, a layperson can choose to engage his mind more diligently as he seeks to participate in the Mass. Alas, this was not what I did. Instead, I was busy reminding my children to stop kicking or nudging each other; to quit picking their noses; and, ironically, to pay attention. I would turn my attention on my family for a moment then be lost when I sought to re-enter the prayers of the Mass. As a result, I often gave up and pondered my Sunday afternoon “to do” list. To fully process what is being spoken, the Mass requires thoughtful listening, and I was not listening thoughtfully.
Thanks be to God, over time, through exclusive use of the Confiteor and the Roman Canon in the Novus Ordo, I fell in love with the Mass. When our new priest never wavered in choosing this no-option option for every Mass, our worship was transformed. From the Confiteor that put the emphasis on confessing our sins before God to the Roman Canon’s clear articulation of the Mass as a sacrifice, the reality of what happens in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass gradually came into focus.
After I became familiar with the prayers Father always used, I soon realized that I knew what was coming next. It was then that I noticed that the Mass no longer seemed like a random assortment of prayers. There was an order to it. Hearing the same prayers week after week, I memorized them. When they were in my memory, I could do more than just listen. I could pray.
Finally, after much repetition, I glimpsed what is going on in the Mass. We are at Mass to worship and to give thanks. We are at Mass to remember a sacrifice — a sacrifice provided by God to satisfy for our sins. A sacrifice our Lord Jesus freely made. A sacrifice that shows God’s love. And not only does God provide the sacrifice, not only did Jesus give Himself over to be crucified, all so that we could once again be in right relation to the Father…but then! He gives us His very Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity to nourish our bodies and souls, that we may grow to be more like Him. He could not give us any more than His very Self. Such love is astonishing. As the veil began to lift and I started to see what was happening in the Mass, I wanted to go back again. And again. And again. Not just Sunday Mass, but every daily Mass I could get to. Everything fell into place, and I wanted to tell everyone!
Despite my former lack of enthusiasm for the Novus Ordo, I had been drawn to the Latin Mass for quite some time because I understood it to be part of our Catholic patrimony that has been all but lost. But then I would attend a Latin Mass and leave utterly perplexed, wondering how in the world that Mass produced many of the greatest saints in the history of our church. Surely the Mass of Ages has value if it gave us Thomas Aquinas, I would think. I had to be missing something. It was my re-formation by the constant use of the Confiteor and the Roman Canon that allowed me to then enter into the prayer and spirituality of the Usus Antiquior and to appreciate the true beauty of our ancient worship. It opened the door to the beauty of our patrimony and showed me that the Latin Mass most clearly conveys the truths of our faith.
A ten-minute homily once per week is not enough to teach people (like me) who were deformed by the appalling catechesis of the 1980s and 1990s. The pairing of the Confiteor with the Roman Canon provides a catechism lesson in itself. It is the optimal option and was the key to my change of heart about the Mass. If every priest were willing to take the extra two minutes and exclusively use these, he could further catechize his people with little effort simply through the repetition of the words of the Mass. All of us who grew up in the 1980s and 1990s already get the meal part of the Mass. We need help with the sacrifice part. The daily repetition of the Confiteor and Roman Canon and the grace of Our Lord re-formed me; finally, I realized that instead of just needing to make room for Jesus at the table, His sacrifice is at the center of it all.
Editor’s note: This article comes from an anonymous Catholic.
Image: José Luiz Bernardes Ribeiro /
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