What Is the Mass For?

The main altar at Immaculate Conception Church, decorated for Palm Sunday


Today is Holy Thursday, the day of Holy Week on which we remember that Last Supper Jesus shared with his Apostles, the birthday, as it were, of the Mass itself. We’ll hear the story tonight at church, and some of us will have our feet washed in commemoration of Jesus’ actions that night. At the end of Mass, the altar will be stripped and we will follow the Blessed Sacrament to the Chapel of Reservation. Tomorrow, Good Friday, is the one day of the whole year on which no Mass will be celebrated.
So it seems like a good time to address the question with which I entitled this post: What is the Mass for?
Except I’m not going to, because if you really want to know you can go read the Catechism (it’s online and searchable right here, folks) or you can look at this entry in the Catholic Encyclopedia (if you are feeling really scholarly). Because this post is not meant to be educational; it’s just a mini-rant.
I know exactly zero about how this week’s celebration will be affected by use of the Roman Missal, Third Edition.  And I’m not worrying either, because the whole thing has turned out to be a tempest in a teapot, if you ask me.  Sure I’m still smacking myself about half the time for saying, “And also with you,” instead of “And with your Spirit,” but big deal, you know?  Yes, I still have to look at the pew card to say the Nicene Creed, but that does have the effect of making me PAY ATTENTION to what I am actually saying instead of just chanting along like a parrot.
What inspired this particular rant?  Oh, you know me, it doesn’t take much.  Seriously, though, I am so tired of people whining about this.  Get over it already.  The comment that got me going this time was a Facebook commenter complaining about the changes because, “The Mass is for us.”
Without denying at all that I suspect we are supposed to derive some benefit to our immortal souls at the very least from participating in the Mass, I object to that simplistic and self-centered comment.  Disclaimer:  I’m not a theologian, and I’m not doing any research today because I’m already overdue to start work.  But given that Catholics are OBLIGED to attend Mass, obviously it’s not just “for us,” is it?   The reforms of Vatican II made it more accessible and participatory for the faithful, but the Mass was still the Mass when it was all in Latin and partly whispered at the altar while the faithful sat quietly in the pews and prayed.
For crying out loud, God made the whole world.  He sustains it–and us–in existence every second by the force of His will.  He sent His Son to DIE for us!  Like I tell my kids when they complain about going to church, is it too much to ask that we devote ONE HOUR each week to praising Him?
If the new translation is a source of such suffering to you, I’ve got a good Catholic suggestion for you:  Offer it up.

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  1. Elizabeth McD says:

    I think this false sense of Mass being “about us” leads some of the poorly catechized Catholics to go to Protestant denominations, where they feel more “fed” or more “fellowship” during service. Someone in this situation actually told me that she missed the Eucharist — as if it could be separated from the Mass itself. I think if she could have had the Protestant church service with the Eucharist, she would have had her perfect church “experience.”
    Like you, I’ve noticed a much smoother transition to the new translation than I’d expected or that many predicted. The only place I’ve seen widespread struggles is at my in-law’s parish. The congregation at the Saturday vigil Mass is by far primarily an elderly crowd. There is still widespread confusion and audible mixed responses of old and new still. But I don’t know if they didn’t order enough of the pew cards, or if people took them home. They supposedly had them at some point, but we’ve never seen one when we visit there. If they didn’t have easy reference, they seem to have just continued to say what they know!

    • lesliesholly says:

      On Easter one of our priests actually misspoke on the altar! It takes time but I was thrilled on Easter to hear the responses ring out–hardly anyone made any mistakes. Yes, I would say a WHOLE LOT of problems in the Church today stem from poor catechesis. Maybe it was a mistake to let Catholics go into Protestant churches without being under pain of sin–it gives them ideas! (just kidding, really) But so many people seem to have very little understanding of what they are actually supposed to believe! I am so grateful for 16 years of Catholic school.

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