homilies

Corpus Christi - Year C
Luke 9:11-17

Understanding and appreciating the Mass

We all know that the Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ refers to the Mass or the Eucharist that we are now celebrating. In celebrating such a feast, it is very appropriate that we look at some aspects of what the Mass means for us practicing Catholics.

I have two Protestant pastor friends who truly envy us because they tell me that having attended our Masses many times, they have found the order and the rituals to be very beautiful and meaningful. They say, “How I wish our Sunday Services too have such beautiful rituals and that we are as strong and clear in our beliefs, that what we receive is really the Body and Blood of Christ.”

If we were to take a survey of ourselves, I wonder how many of us here would see the beauty of our Mass as these Protestant friends of mine do. What do you think the results of the survey would show? My guess is that many of us would classify our Mass as “boring.” Others would find our Mass a routine or perhaps simply an obligation to fulfil. How many of us, do you think would find our Mass to be beautiful and meaningful, and that it is something we look forward to because we want to be nourished by the Body and Blood of Christ? How many of us would find the Mass the climax of our week, if we are those who attend only Sunday Masses, or the climax of each day, if we attend daily Masses?

I still remember vividly how one of my brothers, many years ago, rushed back from Mass one Sunday, beaming and looking very excited. And as soon as he entered the house, he said, “Father so and so was really very good at Mass.” “Why?” I asked. “His homily was very good,” he immediately replied. “What did he say?” My brother, caught by surprise said, “Er, Er, I cannot remember, but the main thing is he preached for only five minutes!”

My brothers and sisters in Christ, I am sure my brother is not the only one who feels that way. It might be good for us to ask ourselves today, “Why do we equate a good Mass with a good homily, particularly if it is short?” “Why is Mass boring and routine for so many of us?” We all know that after the homily, we say the “I Believe” together. Some time ago in the old St Ignatius Church, perhaps in the 12.00 noon Mass, something unusual happened. When I finished my homily, for one reason for another, I was a bit distracted. I then said to the congregation, “And so, let us now renew our faith in God, as we say, ‘I confess to almighty God, and to you my brothers and sisters. . .” You know what? The whole congregation simply followed me and recited the whole “I Confess” right through fluently and without any pause. During the Offertory, I somehow felt something was not quite right. So, I called one of the altar servers and asked him. I said, “Zac, did I say the “I Confess” or the “I Believe” after my homily?” He said, “You said the I Confess.” Feeling very embarrassed, I apologised to the congregation at the end of the Mass. I said, “Today’s Mass is a very special Mass, we repented twice, once at the beginning of the Mass and again after the homily!”

My brothers and sisters, one of the reasons why we find Mass boring is because admittedly, some of us preach boring homilies. And, this means that we priests have to prepare more interesting and more challenging homilies; homilies that touch and move and are related to our daily lives. Believe me, such homilies are not easy to produce. It not only requires clear thinking, but also a lot of inspiration from the Holy Spirit and intercessory prayers to Our Lady. A great preacher like Archbishop Fulton Sheen admits that he spends hours and hours writing and re-writing his scripts. At times he says, he would re-write what he wants to say in public seven times.

However, another reason why Mass could be boring is because some of us are physically present at Mass, but our minds and spirits are elsewhere. We respond by rote without thinking, as in the “I Confess” example that I just mentioned, but some of us don’t even respond at all. Some of us simply murmur our response while others simply grunt. Let us ask ourselves, how many of us really respond and sing enthusiastically during Mass? When we respond “Amen” for example, we as a Christian community are actually saying to God in one united voice, “Yes Lord, we believe.” At Holy Communion, when the priest or Holy Communion ministers say, “The Body of Christ?” we are expected to respond “Amen” clearly and distinctly. In responding “Amen,” we are in effect saying, “Yes, I believe that this is the Body of Christ.”

                            

When we sing hymns at Mass, we are worshipping our God who is almighty and loving; we are praising and reverencing Our Lord who has saved us from damnation; we are pleading for the Holy Spirit to continue to protect, guide and strengthen us in our daily life. So, when we don’t sing, especially when we know the hymns, what are we telling God? Are we saying to Him, Lord, we love you, but we are not in the mood of praising you today?

My sisters and brothers, our human experiences tell us that if we love someone, then we must show that love in words and in deeds. Thus, if we as Catholics claim and believe that the Mass is the climax of the week where we worship God and receive Him personally into our hearts, then we must participate more fully and wholeheartedly with reverence and devotion in each and every Mass. In fact, we must try to come early to prepare ourselves to be more present to receive God, and not drift into the routine of the Mass so easily.

While I fully agree and understand that a good homily is important for a Mass, let us not forget that the other 90% of the Mass is also crucial. The order of the Mass in itself is already very beautiful. The words and expressions used in all the prayers have very beautiful, powerful and rich meanings about the struggles and the joys, the desires and the hopes of God for us, and us for God. All these have been preserved and passed down to us, as the rich heritage and tradition of our Christian faith. The Eucharistic Prayer II that we use so often is more than 1700 years old, and has been passed down to us. When the priest says, “Take this all of you and eat it: this is my body which will be given up for you and take this all of you and drink from it, this is the cup of my blood, etc.” during Mass, he is actually, as we heard in today’s Gospel using the words that Jesus Himself said during the Last Supper.” And this is 2000 years of tradition.

                                   

My brothers and sisters, if we have a very high tech computer that can do a lot of things for us, but it is just that we are not interested in computers and are satisfied with our typewriters, then we cannot blame the computers for being useless and boring. If we look at Michaelangelo’s master paintings on the walls of the museums in Rome and find nothing very great in them, then we cannot blame Michaelangelo for not painting them to our liking and taste. So also, if we miss out on the beauty and the rich meanings that are contained in the beautiful expressions of the prayers that are said and the hymns that are sung during Mass, then the focus should not be why is our Mass so boring, but why are we not personally appreciating the prayers that are said and sung.

Saying all these things does not absolve us priests from our duty of trying to prepare good homilies or saying a Mass that is more meaningful for us. However, on this Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ, it is important for us to once again renew our love for God in the Eucharist. All of us, without exception, must learn to love the Mass and teach our children to love the Mass.

Having said all this, I am sure some of us would still find another reason to say that the Mass is boring and that we don’t understand the ritual meaning of the Mass. Yes, this is often the case and we admit that the Church and priests have failed in different ways to teach you the ritual meaning of the Mass. While this is true, we cannot say that no efforts have been made towards helping us understand the Mass more fully. Over the years many talks and seminars have been organised in our Parish and in the Archdiocese, especially in the Pastoral Institute to help us appreciate the Mass more fully. Today, at our Singapore Eucharistic Congress in the indoor stadium, everyone received a copy of the “Our Sunday Eucharist – We Want to See the Face of the Lord,” booklet. This booklet is meant for us to use it over eight days of personal or family reflection on the Eucharist so that we can deepen our appreciation of the Eucharist. I hope such a booklet will be put to good use by us.

My brothers and sisters, we are limited by time during a homily to go into many aspects of a topic on which we preach. Let me simply conclude by reminding ourselves of our personal responsibilities to make each Mass that we attend a meaningful one. God is present to us in many very special ways during Mass. He wants to forgive us, when we pray the “I confess,” “Lord Have Mercy,” and when we pray, “Lamb of God you take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.” God is specially present to us when the Gospel is proclaimed. God is present in His Word to teach us to live a more Christian life as though He Himself is proclaiming the Word to us in front of all of us. In so doing, God wants to encourage and strengthen us in our struggles in life, and to give us assurance and hope that when we die we return to Him and will be with Him forever. God too is specially present to us in Holy Communion. When we receive Him at Holy Communion, God Our Lord comes into us and resides in our hearts in a very physical and personal way. Frankly, if we look at the immense blessings that God has constantly been giving us, we can only be lost for words. Thus, we can only ask Him to forgive us all the times when we have taken His precious gift of the Mass for granted. And on this Feast of the most precious Body and Blood of Christ we can only say, “Lord feed us, Lord strengthen us, Lord may we, from now on, treasure you more fully and perfectly in the celebration of our Mass.” .