Posted by: Thomas Richard | August 21, 2011

Boredom at Mass

I’m going to post here a slight re-write of a post I wrote for a Catholic on-line forum, on boredom at Mass.

There are many ways today that people (priests and laity) are trying to generate a genuine personal participation (or “interest” or “excitement” or something) in the celebration of the Mass. Some attempts are embarrassingly superficial (popular music and musicians, liturgical dance, extended “kiss of peace” hugs and chats, “creative” and made-up comments, commentaries and sometimes even jokes by the celebrant during the rite, ….); some try appeals to the solemnity, reverence and unction still remembered from pre-Vatican II days – and so on. But when men try to “create” or “generate” a reaction to Mass that is not authentic and from within, they are defeated before they begin. Worship is not created or generated outside of man by other men. Worship emerges from the interior of a worshipful heart, the rightful response to the work of the Spirit within.

Defeat is seen, in spite of the persistent attempts of some, in the dreaded judgment after all that “Mass is boring.” We can hear it often from the kids; we can see it often in the faces of many adults. “Mass is boring.” Why? Given the actual meaning and significance of every Mass, how can this be?

I came across this passage quoted below in then-Card. Ratzinger’s book, The Spirit of the Liturgy, that for me sheds light on the real issue. The problem is certainly not an “external” or superficial one, but an interior one, a problem in the heart.

In the Old Testament there is a series of very impressive testimonies to the truth that the liturgy is not a matter of “what you please”. Nowhere is this more dramatically evident than in the narrative of the golden calf (strictly speaking, “bull calf”). The cult conducted by the high priest Aaron is not meant to serve any of the false gods of the heathen. The apostasy is more subtle. There is no obvious turning away from God to the false gods. Outwardly, the people remain completely attached to the same God. They want to glorify the God who led Israel out of Egypt and believe that they may very properly represent his mysterious power in the image of a bull calf. Everything seems to be in order. Presumably even the ritual is in complete conformity to the rubrics. And yet it is a falling away from the worship of God to idolatry.

This apostasy, which outwardly is scarcely perceptible, has two causes. First, there is a violation of the prohibition of images. The people cannot cope with the invisible, remote, and mysterious God. They want to bring him down into their own world, into what they can see and understand. Worship is no longer going up to God, but drawing God down into one’s own world.

He must be there when he is needed, and he must be the kind of God that is needed. Man is using God, and in reality, even if it is not outwardly discernible, he is placing himself above God. This gives us a clue to the second point. The worship of the golden calf is a self-generated cult. When Moses stays away for too long, and God himself becomes inaccessible, the people just fetch him back. Worship becomes a feast that the community gives itself, a festival of self-affirmation. Instead of being worship of God, it becomes a circle closed in on itself – eating, drinking, and making merry. The dance around the golden calf is an image of this self-seeking worship. It is a kind of banal self-gratification.

The narrative of the golden calf is a warning about any kind of self-initiated and self-seeking worship. Ultimately, it is no longer concerned with God but with giving oneself a nice little alternative world, manufactured from one’s own resources. Then liturgy really does become pointless, just fooling around. Or still worse it becomes an apostasy from the living God, an apostasy in sacral disguise. All that is left in the end is frustration, a feeling of emptiness. There is no experience of that liberation which always takes place when man encounters the living God.

from Spirit of the Liturgy, Card. Ratzinger, p.22-23.

To attempt to apply Card. Ratzinger’s words on “the golden calf” episode to our Holy Mass, can Holy Mass actually be, for some, “a feast that the community gives itself, a festival of self-affirmation”? Instead of authentic worship of God, can it become “a circle closed in on itself – eating, drinking, and making merry”? Can Mass be for some after all a mere “dance around the golden calf” – mere “self-seeking worship” – mere “banal self-gratification”?

What a truly horrific thought!

Can Mass be, for some, another “narrative of the golden calf” – a “self-initiated and self-seeking worship”? Can it be that Mass is boring for many precisely because Mass is not sufficiently “all about me”? For those “no longer concerned with God but with giving oneself a nice little alternative world, manufactured from one’s own resources,” yes Holy Mass would be boring!

For such disconnected persons, “liturgy really does become pointless, just fooling around. Or still worse it becomes an apostasy from the living God, an apostasy in sacral disguise. All that is left in the end is frustration, a feeling of emptiness. There is no experience of that liberation which always takes place when man encounters the living God.” How can there be liberation if the only encounter experienced or sought is encounter with oneself!

True liturgical renewal and reform must always have the end of ever more authentic encounter with and worship of the one true God. Such reform, I suggest, has then one essential prerequisite, imperative above all: prior and continuing catechesis – teaching, instruction, formation in the truth of the God who deserves authentic worship! What is the goal of catechesis? To place persons in communion with Christ! We must be in a vital encounter with the living God in Christ, to worship Him!

“The definitive aim of catechesis is to put people not only in touch but in communion, in intimacy, with Jesus Christ: only He can lead us to the love of the Father in the Spirit and make us share in the life of the Trinity.” (John Paul II, On Catechesis in Our Time #5)

Considering the state of our present efforts at adult faith formation, it is no wonder so many are bored at Mass. They do not know the One being offered worship, and so they do not know what worship of Him truly is. They cannot enter communion with true worshippers; they cannot enter true worship. The Church needs catechesis – especially adult catechesis: the faith formation of adults! The Church needs to enable that life-changing, personal encounter with the living God. Why is this not obvious? Why is this not the number one action item in every parish, in our “new evangelization”? We need to meet Christ, and the Church needs to enable that life-changing meeting.

Jn 4:23 But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him.
Jn 4:24 God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.


Responses

  1. Dear Thomas,

    You have written about a sad reality, but you have also echoed the hopeful remedy offered by Blessed John Paul II:

    “The definitive aim of catechesis is to put people not only in touch but in communion, in intimacy, with Jesus Christ: only He can lead us to the love of the Father in the Spirit and make us share in the life of the Trinity.” (John Paul II, On Catechesis in Our Time #5)

    If we and our children are to participate fully in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, we must know Christ intimately, and we must seek Him if we do not know Him.

    The quote from then Card. Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, compels us to ask the question: “Is our worship self-seeking?” We must help our children to ask “Whom am I seeking?” The Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian life — it is vital for us to know Christ not only at Mass but every moment of our lives. To live Christ is to live the Mass.

    Our children need to see us set the example as disciples, (learners) of Christ. They need to learn from our words and our actions Who Christ is in the life of a committed Catholic Christian, and they need to learn the faith on age appropriate levels in a good home-school situation, a Catholic School or a Parish School of Religion. Parents have the primary obligation to educate their children in the Faith, but Parish priests, religious, and lay persons are all teacher-catechists who can help parents to nurture their children by prayer, example and solid teaching as well. No parishioner is unimportant — every member of the Body of Christ strengthens or weakens the other members.

    The family is truly a “domestic church” and the first school of prayer for a child. How poorly some children are formed at home, unfortunately! These children become poorly formed adults, then parents, and so continue the cycle of poverty in faith if they do not seek what they were not given earlier. It is never too late to begin learning. Once begun, the journey of faith is intended to bring us into the fullness of union with God.

    Come Holy Spirit and renew the face of the earth. Mary, Mother of the Church, pray for us. St. Joseph, Guardian of the Church, pray for us. Jesus, we trust in You!

  2. I grew up in Switzerland. Now I am living in central Spain. I think that mass attendance has become difficult because of mindless singing and preaching.

    Partly, there is that absence of the great OT stories: Moses, Balaam, the Creation and the Expulsion, some wars. These are graphically powerful, unlike most NT stories which are more of the “food for thought” kind if they do not become too repetitious.

    As to the singing, don’t mention it. But nothing can be done about that.

    • Hello canuesso, thank you for your comment. But I do think the singing can be improved! I have attended Catholic Masses and also non-Catholic services where the singing was beautiful: fervent, faithful, full-throated participation from most in the congregation – so I know it can happen.

      The choice of music by whoever is designated to do so is a critical element – this person must be fervent, faithful, and zealous to see “full, conscious and active participation” by all. I don’t know what concerns lead pastors to the decisions they make – but may I suggest: other decisions could lead to a great and worthy improvement – and God deserves better.


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