- Created on Sunday, March 12, 2017
- Written by Fr. Robert Novokowsky
A little while ago I had asked some people to "assist at Mass." The phrase caused some confusion. Was I asking them to do something, like take up a collection? No, I wasn't. The phrase "assist at Mass" had been widely used, but we most frequently talk about "attending" Mass, as in Catholics are obliged to "attend Mass" on Sundays. In my estimation, the word "assist" is an attempt to recapture the original meaning of "attend." If by "attend" we mean "attending a concert," this is a passive meaning. Contrarywise, we might say: the attendants of the king, or a physician attending to the sick, paying attention, or tending the garden. These senses are obviously active. Take it to the extreme: if someone brought a laptop and head-phones and watched a movie in the back pew during Mass, did this person attend Mass? Passively and physically perhaps, but intellectually and spiritually they haven't taken care of anything. They have not "assisted” the priest in offering the sacrifice of praise. Have they met their Sunday obligation? In my opinion -- not at all. What does it mean to assist?
Before we answer, let's bring up a related issue. I'm told that children often wonder around during Mass at St. Josephs, going to the washroom, or getting a drink from the fountain. I certainly don't want to foster a judgmental culture: if someone is leaving Mass, it is not for us to notice, stare, or ask why. That said, are these legitimate needs? or are these children just looking for a distraction? Are they bored?! If so, they need to understand better what's happening at Mass.
What is happening at Mass? Let's limit our discussion to geography and history. At Holy Mass, we are transported in both time and space. We are transported into the Palestine of the past. Additionally, we are transported out of time, into Eternity. Simultaneously, we're transported into a real human past event, and into a real heavenly Liturgy. Can a non-fictional time-machine really be boring?
The Mass is the re-presentation of the crucifixion on Mount Calvary. The manner is un-bloody. Ever seen a Roman soldier before? Is the mockery and scornful laughter of the chief priests unimpressive? Witness the courage of the holy women, standing by, weeping. Hear the Son of God ask His Father to forgive us our sins by saying, "for they know not what they do." See the sun go dark; feel the earth quake; watch the dead walk about; hear the veil of the temple rip from top to bottom. Being present for the redemption of mankind is not boring. Blood and grime, darkness and contention, violence and confusion, hatred and self-sacrifice. Is it not the most dramatic story?
This is only half of it. We are transported out of our ugly, hideous times and into the beautiful, majestic Heavenly Court. We can see the patriarchs and prophets, the apostles and martyrs, virgins and holy women, freed from the bonds of earth and sharing the glory of God. Along with the Blessed Virgin Mary and countless angels they offer face to face worship to God. We see the 24 elders hurl their crowns down and fall prostrate before the Throne in ecstatic worship of the Lamb, standing as if slain before the one who sits on the Throne. Our worship on earth is a faint reflection, but a real participation of this worship of God in heaven. In the heavenly court, the persons are confirmed in grace and charity. We strive for the same. Where Jesus is, there the angels and the Blessed Virgin are too. They assist at our Mass, as we try to do the same in the heavenly Liturgy. What a privilege we have.
Given the above, how best to assist at Holy Mass? Let's ask the Blessed Virgin Mary to help us find a way to worship better.