Well into the second year of my priesthood, the “honeymoon” period has worn off – ask any married couple about the phenomenon – and this brings joys and challenges. What was once new, such as offering Mass, anointing the sick, and forgiving sins, becomes routine.
These daily brushes with eternity now vie to become the bedrock of a priest’s identity, and it’s something of a sink-or-swim moment vocationally: either approach them with an open heart each day or to treat them like boxes to be checked off. Personally, I’ve noticed that when I take a few moments after each Mass to kneel down in thanksgiving, it keeps the experience of encountering the sacred fresh and joy filled.
Leaving the honeymoon phase also comes with more straightforward challenges. Things that were once easy to shrug off now risk becoming huge annoyances. One such annoyance that I am learning to struggle through is people leaving Mass early.
Before you’re tempted to stop reading, give me a moment to explain myself. I’m not targeting anybody in particular (unless doing so sways you to stay for the entirety of Mass, then by all means, feel targeted).
I am aware that the majority of those reading this probably rarely, if ever, leave Mass early and am sympathetic to those who make time to attend daily Mass (often early in the morning) and occasionally must leave early to get to work on time. Nevertheless, the phenomenon of leaving Mass right after Holy Communion or before the closing hymn provides us all with the opportunity to reflect on the question, “Why do I attend Holy Mass?”
There is always a risk of attending Mass in order to “check the box,” that is, merely fulfilling our Sunday obligation. But in the words of G.K. Chesterton, “Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly.” So, when we aren’t particularly excited to go to church and must decide between dragging ourselves out of bed or staying home, by all means, choose church. But weekly Mass attendance needs to grow from mere “box checking” into a response of true love.
Christ beckons! How will we respond?
There is also a great risk of thinking the only reason we go to Mass is to “get” Communion, hence why we so frequently see people walk straight from the Communion line to the door. Perhaps our consumer culture has made it so – once we “get what we came for” we move on to the next thing. But this stems from an impoverished view of the liturgy.
Rather than treating Mass like a “spiritual ATM” where we put in prayer and get out Eucharist, the Church invites us to realize that the Mass itself is the greatest prayer of the Church, wherein the whole Christ, Head and members, offers perfect worship to God the Father.
When we start to grasp this, we recognize that the Mass isn’t a means to an end, and that the Eucharist isn’t our reward for attending Mass. Rather, the Mass is an end in itself – right worship of the Triune God – and reception of the Eucharist is the crown jewel of that offering.
How are we to respond to such an awesome understanding of the Holy Mass? Well, the opposite of leaving early is staying longer. I encourage anyone who wants to grow closer to our Eucharistic Lord to spend a few moments after Father has left the building to make a “thanksgiving” to God for what He has done for us at that Mass. It’s worked for me, and I know it can work for you!
By Father Philip Maas, Assistant Pastor of St. Ignatius Loyola, Sinking Spring and St. Francis de Sales, Robesonia.