Why should we go to Mass? That’s an age-old question that Catholic parents face year in and year out. But it’s not just something that people must discuss with their kids; for many of us, the issue of whether or not to attend Mass is one we may ponder weekly for ourselves.
Am I too busy?
Will Mass be boring?
Will I “get anything out of it“?
I’m so tired…do I have the energy to go?
For some, it’s enough to be told that we are commanded to go. Some embrace obedience as a path to holiness, not just for those in religious orders but for the rest of us as well. But this doesn’t work for a lot of Americans who identify themselves as Catholics. Obedience is often viewed somewhat suspiciously – almost as anti-American. What do we say to the rest, for whom obedience is not a helpful or convincing answer?
I think that part of the problem is that many people don’t view their faith as a relationship with God. They may not understand, believe or accept that grace is God’s transforming presence in our lives – it’s not magic. It’s a relationship in which both sides must be willing participants; we must be willing in order to be transformed.
Put another way, like any relationship, you have to pay attention to your relationship with God if you want it to thrive.
On the most basic level, then, if you want to grow in love with God, be more like Christ and live in accord with God’s desires for you, it is important to spend time trying to grow your relationship with God. That means taking the time to pray, to be aware of God, and to do things which help you to align your life with God’s will. Going to Mass is a very concrete way of doing that: you spend time trying to open yourself up to God in the variety of avenues that Mass provides: you can hear the Scriptures, pray with the congregation, participate in receiving the Eucharist, give thanks, meditate, listen and calmly remind yourself that you are in the presence of the God who loves you.
Simply put, you show up so that you can grow closer to God, who always wants to grow closer with us. The fact that you do it weekly, that it’s important enough to schedule in, means it’s a priority. That matters too.
This is a bit of a mouthful for children. What I told my kids, when they were small, was simply that God loves us and gives us every good thing. Once a week, we spend an hour in God’s house, trying to learn more about God so that we can become more like God and be closer to God. That is a very small thing to do in return for all that we are given and for how much we are loved. Children understand reciprocity.
Some people will respond that they have gone to Mass all of their lives but “don’t get anything out of it”. The question to ask is this: what were you expecting to get?
Unfortunately, some Catholics feel that they should be entertained. They are missing the point. It’s true that not every homily is very inspiring or is far too long, some priests or lectors are difficult to understand, some music is downright annoying. But this isn’t the case every week at every parish in town. There are also a lot of parishes where the preaching is great, the music is beautiful and the lectors read flawlessly (by the way, when all of these things happen, you should know that those involved spent a lot of time preparing and practicing). At each one, though, we have the Eucharist – God’s presence in a special way.
You don’t get that if you go out to the woods and hug a tree. (Why do people sometimes say “I don’t want to go to church, I’d rather be in nature” – like it is either/or? If you feel inspired in nature, by all means go….Just don’t skip Mass and call it a substitute!)
Often, when people say that they aren’t feeling like Mass is personally rewarding, they haven’t been prepared well. They may have stopped their religious education either at a young age, or may have tuned out long ago and not really grown in their faith as they have in other areas of their lives. They may be a little stunted in that part of their lives. Let me elaborate a little….
Some students view receiving the sacrament of Confirmation as “graduation” from religious education. For some that’s at a very young age, such as 10 or 12 or 13. For others it’s 16 or 18. Imagine any other area of your life in which you stopped growing and maturing at that point. Imagine taking your skills at age 13 and never building on them after that point…. Whether it’s in relationships, reading, understanding how to run a household or a corporation, in virtually no area of life are we prepared to “graduate” and be done learning so early. This is certainly true also in the area of faith, religious understanding, and morals.
Why do we think that our religious formation is done so young, then? My hunch is that most of us just wanted out because the love of God wasn’t something we discovered over and over in those religious ed classes. Or, for that matter, at home, which is where the earliest and most important Christian education actually happens. So whether at home or in a CCD class, perhaps we weren’t intrigued, challenged, comforted or healed, so when we got a chance to say “all done”, we didn’t look back. Sound familiar?
If it is, I want to say to you that there’s a better way. There’s a deeper relationship waiting for you with God and with your Church, but it will take a little adult nurturing in most cases.
The Catholic Church has a program for people who were raised in other faiths or denominations but who want to investigate becoming Catholic or who are sure that they do want to be Catholic – it’s the RCIA program (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults). There’s a similar program for children, too. In the RCIA classes, adults can get a good foundation of what it means to be Catholic – a good start, anyway – can get many questions answered and have some help to grow in the faith.
If you’ve been away from the Church, or feel like maybe a refresher course might be helpful, see if an RCIA program is available to you. (If not, see if there’s a Returning Catholics course instead.) If you go through it, not only are you likely to emerge with a solid sense of why you should go to Mass, but you’ll appreciate it so much that you’ll want to go, too. You won’t be alone in asking a lot of questions, and maybe venting a bit too. Best of all, you’ll get started on a lifelong love of learning about God as an adult. With any luck you won’t want to have an end point in mind, just an appreciation that your relationship with God (and with the Church) will continue to grow and deepen.
And with that, you’ll be well prepared to answer your kids, or those in your family or circle of friends who ask you “why do we go to Mass every week?”