The Holy Mass is heaven on earth… but it doesn’t always feel that way! Sometimes even us seminarians have a hard time fighting off distractions and really “getting into” the Mass. Here are some suggestions that I have heard over the years that have helped me deepen my participation at Mass:
* Learn about the Mass. When I went to art museums as a kid, I was always bored to tears. I couldn’t understand how some people could be so fascinated by a painting on the wall. But once I took art history classes and learned about the many different time periods and styles, the museums suddenly came alive with meaning. The same idea applies to the Mass. The more you study its meaning, the more you will understand that it is the most beautiful prayer that we can ever offer to the Lord. As you read, you will find yourself saying, “So THAT’S why we do that!” And on Sunday mornings Mass will explode with new meaning and insight.
* Prepare for Mass. A little bit of preparation goes a long way. The Scripture readings for the next Mass can be found in the church bulletin, online, or in booklets like Magnificat. If you read and reflect upon these readings before going to Mass, the Scripture readings and the sermon will have much greater meaning and impact. Also, it is important to arrive a little bit early (rather than at the last minute) in order to quiet your mind and focus upon the Lord. It’s amazing the difference that even five or ten minutes can make.
* Worship with your body! The cool thing about being a Catholic is that we do not just worship the Lord with our minds, but with our whole selves, both body and soul. Every gesture, action, and word that we do at Mass is supposed to be a prayer. So when you genuflect or make the sign of the cross, do it slowly and with a small word of love to the Lord! When you sing, sing your heart out! When you are supposed to make a response, respond loudly and clearly while trying to think about what your words mean! The more reverently and attentively we pray and participate with our bodies, the more our interior prayer and participation will grow.
* Ask Jesus for help! Ask the Lord to help you pay attention. When distractions come, do not make a big deal of it in your head, but simply tell yourself “I’ll think more about that after Mass” and focus back upon the celebration. Pray for the priest and for those around you. For example, when the priest says, “May the Lord be with you!”, ask the Lord to bless the priest as you respond enthusiastically, “And also with you!”
* Retain one key point from the homily. It is impossible to remember everything in a sermon, so try to focus upon one key point that really touches your heart. Try to really “lock it away” in your mental file cabinet so that you can reflect more upon it in prayer and so that you can share it with others.
* Offer up Communion and Mass for someone. It can be very helpful to choose a particular person or prayer intention to pray for during the Mass, offering up the graces of the Mass and of Holy Communion to God for them.
* Pray for a few minutes after Mass. Rather than running immediately out the door after Mass, it is really helpful to spend a few minutes quietly with Jesus who you have received in Holy Communion, thanking him for the precious gift you have received, reflecting upon any insights that God gave you during the Mass, and making resolutions for the coming day and the coming week.
* Build personal prayer. Our public prayer at Mass is not enough; we each also need to spend time with Jesus in personal prayer every day. The two complement and strengthen each other. The more alive our personal relationship with Jesus becomes, the more exciting our encounters with Jesus in the Mass will become.
See also Scott Hahn’s great and easy-to-read book,
The Lamb’s Supper: The Mass as Heaven on Earth