AnneMarie Miller invites you to ponder the question she's been asking herself at Mass recently.
Sometimes, I come to Mass with an agenda.
I’ll look for ways to control my children so that they can leave Mass theologically knowledgeable and impress others with their reverence. I’ll predetermine what spiritual truths and lessons I’ll gain during the liturgy. I may even walk into Mass with a specific objective—a problem I need to be solved, an article I need to write—and expect that God will show me all of the answers in the prayer and worship that follow.
There’s nothing wrong with desiring some peaceful prayer time and reverent behavior from our children, and it’s good to bring our problems and tasks to the feet of Christ. However, when I make these things my main goal, I’m missing the point. My presence in church revolves around one question: “What can I get out of Mass today?”
Yet, the liturgy isn’t about me.
The General Instruction of the Roman Missal notes that in the celebration of the Mass
is found the high point both of the action by which God sanctifies the world in Christ and of the worship that the human race offers to the Father, adoring him through Christ, the Son of God, in the Holy Spirit. (16)
The Mass is about offering and gift. We offer worship to God, and God gives Himself to us.
While it’s nice to experience fruits from our prayer in the liturgy, these cannot be our primary emphasis. Rather than selfishly zoning in on myself, I need to recognize the outward focus of liturgical prayer. I need to put my agenda aside.
So, I’m trying to focus less on what I can “get” out of Mass, and I’ve started to ask myself a different question: “What can I give at Mass today?”
During the offertory procession, the congregation presents gifts of bread, wine, and other offerings to provide for the needs of the Church. As we participate in this outward action, we can simultaneously offer our hearts, souls, and lives to God. Furthermore, this self-offering isn’t restrained to the offertory procession. We need to actively give of ourselves throughout the entire liturgy.
What can I give during Mass?
I can give my prayers of praise as I reflect on the joyous blessings of the day.
I can give my prayers of sorrow and contrition as I think of the ways I have failed to love God and others.
I can give my frustrated feelings as I separate wrestling siblings and try to calm an angry toddler.
I can give my preoccupation with noise and strive for greater prayerful silence.
I can give my tired body as I prayerfully stand, sit, and kneel even when I’d far rather slouch in the corner.
I can give my heart as I ask God to heal it in the midst of my brokenness.
I can give my mind as I push through distractions and try to focus on God’s Word.
I can give my soul as I offer myself in prayerful conversation with God.
During the liturgy, I’ve started asking myself what I can give—and this one simple question has been powerful. While I still have a long way to go in terms of prayerfully participating at Mass, I’ve become much more attuned to the ways that I can offer myself. Even if I don’t have a “role” at Mass as a lector, cantor, or usher, I can actively participate in this continual act of self-gift.
In his encyclical Deus Caritas Est, Pope Benedict XVI notes:
A Eucharist which does not pass over into the concrete practice of love is intrinsically fragmented. (14)
As I try to intentionally offer myself during the liturgy, I hope that I can slowly live out this Eucharistic call to love.
What would it be like if we saw the liturgy as an opportunity to offer a gift to God? How will we personally change if we stop trying to “get something” out of Mass and instead focus on giving? How will our parishes change if every person in the congregation focuses more intently on this self-gift?
Let’s give it a try and see what happens.
Copyright 2022 AnneMarie Miller
Images: copyright 2019 Holy Cross Family Ministries, all rights reserved.
About the Author
A bibliophile, wife, mother of young children, and lover of the Liturgy, AnneMarie Miller enjoys exploring the manifold—and quirky—ways in which God speaks. She can often be found reading books to her kids, burrowing her toes in the red Oklahoma dirt, or sipping black coffee. Her reflections on Catholicism, literature, and hope can be found on her blog, Sacrifice of Love.