Preparing for Mass

I am reading a wonderful little book titled, I Am Food: The Mass in Planetary Perspective, written by the late Roger Corless. I became acquainted with Corless’ work in the course of writing the book on which I am currently working, which adapts Tibetan Buddhist analytical meditations for Christians. Corless viewed himself as a dual practitioner of Buddhism and Catholicism, and this book, which provides a spiritual commentary on the Mass shows how his Buddhist experience has influenced his undersratnding of the central Christian celebration.

Before I was a third of the way through the book, I already had a list of things I wanted to go back to, such as Corless’ discussion of the difference between pilgrimage and journey, or the problem created by an overemphasis on either God’s transcendence or God’s immmanence and the need for both, or the meaning of myth.

What I thought about last night, however, was a quite simple point, but one we don’t tend to pay much attention to – the need to prepare ourselves for Mass.

At most Masses in my parish, large numbers of people rush in at the last minute, barely making it to their seats before the priest has reached the altar, let alone being in their seats before the entrance processional begins. This is not unique to my current parish; the same was true in the parish to which we belonged in New York, before moving here to Minneapolis.

After talking about remembering, as we enter church, that we are entring a holy place and mentioning the custom of reverencing the altar, Corless writes

It is appropriate to remain kneeling for some time before Mass begins, in order to maintain the awareness of Servant status. Private prayer at this time should be concerned with what Buddhists call Correcting Motivation. Ask yourself, “Why am I here? Fear of punishment if I don’t show? Custom? Hopes of meeting that certain man or woman and making a date? Desire to escape the world and go to heaven?” All these are trivial reasons. The only reason for going to Mass is to worship God in such a way that it results in better service of other creatures. When your motivation has come around to this, you are ready to begin Mass.

However we frame the question to ourselves, it seems to me valuable to take some time before Mass begins disposing ourselves to be open to the mystery in which we are about to partake. At the end of Mass, we will be sent forth to love and serve the God and one another. We will be better able to handle that charge if we have opened ourselves to God’s grace as fully as we are able. And it seems to me that allowing ourselves a few unrushed minutes before the beginning of Mass is a valuable aid in that process.

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