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Why bother with worship?

  • FATHER ROBERT MCTEIGUE, SJ

If you are thinking "I don't get anything out of Mass," this might be for you...


mass6 Reply to this: "I don't get anything out of Mass."  Some folks think it's clever to answer, "You don't get anything out of Mass?  Well, what do you put into it?" That might be clever — but not helpful.  It might be more incisive to ask, "If you don't want to go to Mass, why would you want to go to Heaven?" I'm not sure that's the most illuminating response to those who are asking the question with sincerity.

We must admit that the question can be an expression of an accumulation of grief and grievances: "It is inhumanly difficult to find God's grace in an ugly church filled with insipid music, vapid preaching and sloppy ritual."  Fair enough.  But I fear that the most common response to such a lament would be, "None of that really matters.  As long as you receive Holy Communion at Mass, don't worry about the rest."  One key problem with that response was illustrated by a text sent me by a faithful (and very witty) Catholic couple: "Father, we need your counsel.  We think the Rapture just happened.  We went to the 5:15 Mass.  After Holy Communion, half the congregation disappeared.  Did this happen to you?  No need to respond if you are already in Heaven." In other words, the "receiving Holy Communion is the only thing that matters" response reduces Mass to a Drivethru-Communion-Service.  As my friends noted, many folks head for the exit once they got what they came for.  (I have already written HERE that the purpose of Mass isn't receiving Holy Communion.  I have written HERE and HERE that we will not be saved by trying to make worship more "entertaining.")

The root flaw of conducting the discussion this way is that it presents worship as a consumer product.  Across the West, the "consumers" have stopped consuming.  The Catholic Church is in demographic constriction.  The only area of consistent increase in very many parishes is funerals.  Now what?

At first, I had planned to write about worship of God as a matter of justice — worship is owed God because he's God and we're his creatures.  It is a debt owed to God, whether we feel like it or not.  (The argument can be neatly summarized: God is of infinite excellence, so we owe him special reverence; God is our creator, so we owe him special service; God is our highest good and happiness, so we owe him special love.) The problem with such a treatment is the Rationalist Fallacy: "If only I explain myself clearly enough, people will understand and agree."  But rationality alone is rarely enough to move people to do what's right.  Hearts must be engaged.

Worthy worship may begin in justice, and it is sustained by joy, a joy rooted in gratitude.

Yes, we owe God worship as a matter of justice.  And God revealed that the supreme act of worship is the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  There may have been times when justice and obedience to revelation were sufficient motivations for action, but we do not now live in such a time.  Here, Saint Ignatius Loyola, in his famous "Contemplation to attain Divine Love" can help.  He notes that love is shown more in deeds than in words, and love is an exchange of goods between lover and beloved.  He notes that all of God's efforts in nature and in grace are undertaken for our benefit.  He asks us to ponder "with much feeling how much God our Lord has done for me, and how much He has given me of what He has, and then the same Lord desires to give me Himself as much as He can, according to His Divine ordination."  He asks us to consider the most worthy response, both in justice and joy, to God's generosity.  He then offers his most famous prayer, the Suscipe: "Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my intellect, and all my will — all that I have and possess.  Thou gavest it to me: to Thee, Lord, I return it! All is Thine, dispose of it according to all Thy will.  Give me Thy love and grace, for this is enough for me."

Worthy worship may begin in justice, and it is sustained by joy, a joy rooted in gratitude.  To, "I don't get anything out of Mass," I may reply: "Take just five minutes a day, daily for a week, and each day count the blessings and mercies of the past 24 hours.  Let yourself be amazed by God's goodness! At the end of the week, ask yourself, 'What do I owe God, and do I want to share with God?'" Such honest meditations can lead you to worship that is "right and just," full of love, gratitude and wonder.

When I write next, I will speak of adversity and disappointment.  Until then, let's keep each other in prayer.

dividertop

Acknowledgement

aleteiaFather Robert McTeigue, SJ. "Why bother with worship?" Aleteia (May 3, 2017).

Reprinted with permission of Aleteia

The Author

mcteigueFather Robert McTeigue, SJ, is a member of the Maryland Province of the Society of Jesus. A professor of philosophy and theology, he has taught and lectured in North and Central America, Europe and Asia and is known for his classes in both rhetoric and medical ethics. He has long experience in spiritual direction, retreat ministry and religious formation and now works in seminary education.

Copyright © 2017 Aleteia
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