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How to Make the Mass More Vital in the Religious Life

by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.

I would like to cover this under a variety of aspects. First to state some basic principles then to look at the basic norms and then how each of these basic norms can be carried out in practice.

First, the basic principles. The Mass is both worship and sacrament. If there is any real development in modern Catholic thought it is especially here. That the liturgy of which the Mass is its center and principle focus is both theocentric and anthropocentric. That it is intended both to glorify God and sanctify man. And that between these two purposes of the liturgy in general, or the Mass in particular, the primary is worship. In other words to give glory to God. The secondary, not only important but nevertheless secondary, is to obtain grace from God and thus that man might be sanctified. The present Holy Father in his first encyclical Redemptor Hominis, among many other very profound insights that he gives us, is his insistence that the Eucharist is sacrament three times over. The Eucharist is sacrament as presence; it is sacrament as sacrifice; and it is sacrament as communion. But he never loses sight nor should we lose sight of the fact that before all, the Mass is a sacrament and therefore beneficial to us. By sacrament we mean something instituted by Christ that confers grace. It is that but that is secondary to the primary purpose which is to give glory to God. Those are the three basic principles. The Mass is both worship and sacrament. Second it is meant to both glorify God and sanctify man. It glorifies God as worship. It sanctifies man as sacrament, but thirdly, its primary purpose is to give glory to God and very secondary, though of great importance, is to sanctify man.

There are also three basic norms. In other words in answer to the question, “How to make a Mass more vital in the religious life?” our answer is or should be, we make the Mass more vital in our religious life by knowing the Mass, second by living the Mass and thirdly, by participating in the Mass. Knowledge is in the mind. Living is especially in the will and participating is with the whole of our being. I would now like to analyze these norms and continue applying them to both formation in general and the formation in the religious life from the earliest stages of religious commitment. Given the nature of this subject, we’ll be as practical as our material permits but necessarily the things we’re going to look at will sometimes be quite theological.

Knowing the Mass

First therefore if we are to make the Mass more vital in our own religious lives or with the lives of others we are to know the Mass and teach them the meaning of the Mass. First to know the Mass in the way we had earlier explained as both worship and sacrament.

Mass as worship. As worship in the light of the traditional four-fold purpose of the Mass. We know the Mass best as worship when we recognize it as the most sublime way we can adore and thank God. This I dare say takes more emphasis then it is commonly given. How often we hear people say or quote others complaining they get nothing out of the Mass or I get so little out of the Mass or as not infrequently happens, the priest offering the Mass is not the most edifying and as a consequence so far from making the Mass devout, it can be very distracting as so many people nowadays tell me. So I tell them that if the Mass is as faith tells us it is, the sacrifice of Christ reenacted on the altar with which we are to unite ourselves – well then – the very difficulties, the distractions, the fact that sometimes the liturgy is not practiced the way it should, ought to be part of the sacrifice which I put into the Mass. Because I’ve said I’m sure more than once, the highest form of prayer is adoration and the highest form of adoration is sacrifice. We are to know the Mass also as our highest act of thanksgiving. We anoint ourselves with Christ in the Mass to thank Him for all that He has done and not just for ourselves but for the whole human race since the dawn of history.

Mass as sacrament. We are secondly to know and teach others the Mass as sacrament. If the Mass as worship is essentially adoration and thanksgiving, the Mass as sacrament is essentially petition and expiation. And we are to know that the most effective source of grace we have baring none is the Mass, because except for the Mass there wouldn’t be a Real Presence and except for the Real Presence there wouldn’t be Holy Communion. In other words, the graces we receive are mainly from and through the Mass.

Mass related to Calvary.  Again we are to both know the Mass ourselves and teach it to others in its relationship to Calvary. As the Protestants over the centuries have complained:  Why do Catholics have the Mass? What are they claiming? Are they claiming that the Cross is insufficient? That Christ did not redeem the world by His death on Calvary? What good is the Mass? Either Christ redeemed the world when He died or He didn’t. If He did how can we dare say that the Mass is a sacrifice? “Sacrifice to do what?”, as Calvin asked, “To add to Calvary?” That’s why one of the most memorable statements in John Calvin, “Every Catholic priest should be hanged from the nearest tree.” And Calvin’s reason was because the priest makes the blasphemous claim that in the person of Christ he offers a sacrifice as though the death of Christ on the Cross was insufficient to redeem the world. That’s why among our Jesuit martyrs we have not a few who were put to death by overzealous Calvinists especially in the lower countries.

So how is the Mass related to Calvary? This is not unimportant especially in a country like ours where so much of the mindset of our nation is, where it is religious, it is Protestant. As briefly as its vast subject can allow it, Christ’s death on the Cross merited our salvation. The Mass communicates the graces of salvation. Christ’s death was necessary to win the grace to which man had no title. God had to become man in order that as man He might die on the Cross. Why? Then synonyms: to win; to merit; to gain; to obtain the graces that a sinful world needs. Why then the Mass? The Mass, and now we go through a series of other verbs: the Mass distributes, the Mass communicates, the Mass dispenses, the Mass channels, the Mass confers. It is mainly through the sacrifice of the Mass that the graces merited on Calvary are given to a sinful world. Having taught the subject over some years to many students in theology, I cannot tell you how crucial is a clear understanding of the relationship of the Mass to Calvary. Without Calvary the Mass would be meaningless. There would be nothing to distribute. There would be no graces to confer. Faith tells us and only faith can enable us to believe that although Christ can no longer die because He is glorified, in every Mass He is willing to die. His readiness to die which by the way is the essence of sacrifice. Though willingness to give up, the readiness to surrender because there is a real human being on the altar, the moment the first consecration is enacted. Christ is there or better He is here. Then with that human will in our midst He really reoffers Himself to His heavenly Father and were it possible He would die.

Mass related to ourselves. There is one more item about knowing the Mass, and that is, know the Mass in relationship to ourselves. Unlike Calvary which was a sacrifice of Christ alone, the Mass is no longer just a sacrifice of Christ.  It is also our sacrifice. And though Christ in His physical person can no longer die, we can, and we better. The distinction the Church makes between the Calvary or the sacrifice of Calvary and the sacrifice of the Mass is to say that on Calvary it was Christ who died as an individual person. In the Mass He dies as the mystical person. He offers with us, and though He can no longer die, we are to continue dying to ourselves and that’s what makes the Mass fruitful. The grace has been won but the grace is dispensed only in the measure to which we unite ourselves with the Mass and uniting ourselves with the Mass means sacrifice. So much for knowing the Mass.

Living the Mass

Now, living the Mass. Living the Mass in one sentence means living a life of sacrifice. I don’t have the saying of that’s what religious life is or better is supposed to be. It is supposed to be a lifetime of sacrifice. And that among all the people in the world religious are specially called in their vocation years to live the Mass. That’s why they undertake to live lives of poverty, chastity and obedience. If  that’s not sacrifice, I don’t know what is. Having said that, we are to first be convinced ourselves and then those that we affect or influence to teach them

that depending on how deeply and sacrificially we live the Mass which means living lives of self-surrender on both levels both on the level of giving glory to God which is worship and the level of being sanctified ourselves which is the Mass as sacrament. The measure of glory given to God, the measure of grace received by us is in direct proportion to our living a life of sacrifice. Notice this is the fourth time that I have brought out this distinction between the Mass as worship and the Mass as sacrament and even in repeating it I had a chance to say it the fifth time. Because I think this is specially needed today to realize the Mass has a bi-focal function. It is first to worship God. There could be or could have been a sacrifice of Christ on the Cross and there could have been a sacrifice of the Mass even though we receive no graces there from. Does that make sense? Christ’s primary purpose in dying on the Cross was to adore His Father. And the highest act of adoration in all the religions of mankind from the very beginning has been sacrifice. The old Romans would, for example, pour out their first fruit of the vine – call it  a libation. Before they touched a drop of their choicest wine they would pour out a flagon of that wine on the ground and offer it to the gods. The Jews, and they were warned to make sure –  remember – that the sheep and the cattle and the oxen whom they sacrificed to Yahweh were the best they had. And I dare say we had better recover that sense, the primary sense of sacrifice. As an act of profoundly humble recognition of God’s supremacy and of our total dependence upon Him even though we know full well that our act of  adoration will also give us grace which is the sacramental side but the worship side is primary.

In any case on both levels both in so far as the Mass glorifies the Creator and obtains grace for us. On Christ’s side He couldn’t have done more but on our side we can always do more and the more we do in living lives of sacrifice the more God is glorified and the more we are sanctified. Two words we should always keep together – sacrifice and sanctification. We’re still talking about living the Mass. We are to be convinced ourselves and help to convince others  that the whole life of a religious is to be one constant life of sacrifice and that all the value of our sacrificial lives as religious depends on the fact that Christ had offered Himself and continues offering Himself in the holy sacrifice. As one great saint said and I’ve quoted him so often, “Unless the Mass had continued to be offered over the centuries, the world would long ago have been destroyed for its sins.” So the value of our sacrifice comes from the Mass but the measure of that value depends on the degree of our self-surrender.

At this point, let’s make sure that we explain to others because we ourselves know that there are two kinds of sacrifice. They cover the whole spectrum of what God asks of us through life. There is the sacrifice of endurance and there is the sacrifice of surrender. What’s the difference? The two are complementary. There is no sacrifice God will ever ask of us that cannot fall into one of these two categories. In plain English, God will make sure that there are painful things in our lives that He bids us endure. That’s the sacrifice of endurance. And religious should be taught that at the heart of their vocation is that under divine inspiration they take up more of this endurance than other people. And if they don’t have this grace, they don’t have the grace of a religious vocation.

Sacrifice of endurance. Every person’s life, believer and unbeliever, layperson and religious, has enough of the hard things that God calls upon us to endure. But a religious does the unheard of, the humanly incredible things of, with eyes wide open entering a life where you soon find out there are things you undertake to endure that you wouldn’t have to endure and yet save your soul. And the three vows of poverty, chastity and obedience are nothing if not three forms of endurance beyond what human nature is normally asked by God to accept, in order that out of love we might show God that we love Him as He asked Peter more than others. So there’s first the sacrifice of endurance. St. Thomas teaches this is the principle meaning of the virtue of patience in Christianity. And the principle object of fortitude or courage among the followers of Christ, that what a Christian is mainly called upon to be patient with, or exercise his courage at, is putting up with the hard things. And religious life is either a life of hardship or, and how happy I am to say this, it is not religious life. That doesn’t mean that a person who is deeply in love with Christ does not love the hardship. In fact one would have to be reminded, yes, come to think of it, I guess this is a hardship. That’s what Christ meant when He said, “My yoke is sweet”, love makes it sweet, “My burden light”, love makes it light but let’s not forget it is a yoke and it is a burden and religious fully awake and perfectly sober enter on a life of endurance. That’s the first meaning of sacrifice. And the first way in which the Mass is to be lived by enduring not merely the hard things but the harder things.

Sacrifice of surrender. The second form of sacrifice by which the Mass is lived is the sacrifice of surrender. With endurance is the patient acceptance of pain.  Surrender is the giving up of pleasure. And between pain and pleasure there is nothing else in life. If you think of something else be sure to let me know. Sacrifice therefore means, and we’re talking about living the Mass which means living a life of sacrifice. It means that again out of love for God and in imitation of Christ, and the Scriptures couldn’t be clearer having joy set before Him, He chose the Cross. No two lives are the same. And in dealing with souls, and I pass this on to you, in dealing with souls in some people’s lives, one form of sacrifice is asked for by God more than another. There are some people, chosen souls, into whose lives God has put very little, at least precious little, in contrast with others of the pleasant things that they could give up. He has placed more than their share of the hard things to endure. And there is great wisdom indeed to recognize in a soul you are dealing with and there is no self-knowledge you can help them gain that is more precious than this. What is the principle kind of sacrifice that God asks of me? Of all of us He asks both. But with some people God asks much more endurance than of others and of other people He asks much more surrender than of others. Wealthy people, healthy people, above average intelligent people, gifted people – they either learn the sacrifice of surrender, or forty years after entering the religious life, they can still be in the postulancy. Do you know what I am trying to say? And the hardest lesson for the human mind to learn is that the noblest function of a gift of God is to surrender it. Oh Lord, is this ever hard to learn! But what have I got a mind for if not to use it. Ah my dear, use it to sacrifice it. “ You are out of your mind.” No I’m not. No more than Paul was when he said that he had the mind of Christ. This is the folly of the Cross. Especially by the way and Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. Reread it where he compares the wisdom of the world with the folly of the Cross.

Again after thirty years as a priest in dealing with many souls and also with my own soul in so many ways that of the two types of sacrifice, endurance and surrender that God asks of us, I submit that the harder sacrifice is surrender. Because in a way it’s almost too obvious for words. A person comes down with some prominent disablement, the loss of health, some kind of ravaging disease or some heavy trials. The obvious sacrifice is to endure. But how much more demanding is the sacrifice where the one of whom the sacrifice is asked has so much and God asks a surrender. That doesn’t mean and prudence has got to govern all the virtues. That doesn’t mean that God is most pleased when I find out what pleasant things do I like and I give them up. That’s why there’s such a thing as obedience. That’s why there’s such a thing as teaching of the Church. It must be done according to the will of God. Of some people God wants more of a sacrifice, of others less but of everyone plenty. And in general, the more a person has from God the more God will ask that person to surrender. Any questions? I’m just assuming that there are no comments. Sister?

Sister: Father, you concede that your last statement you spoke to – because if God wants to use a person who has great abilities He has to hold them back to the point where when He does take over when His moment of mercy arrives the people can see it’s from Him and it’s not true then…

Yes, it’s not just, not merely giving up or giving away. It must be done according to His will and this is where obedience is so precious because the more zealous and generous a person is and often the young are people who are neophytes in the religious life can be burning with generosity. Well, you’ve got to quench those flames because they are liable to burn themselves out and then in their unwise zeal they turn their backs on the very God who inspired them because they had surrendered or sacrificed unwisely.

Reciprocity. I still have one more point and we’re just on the second. We’re not on the large subject of participating in the Mass. I want to say something about what I call reciprocity. This is in living the Mass. We have been saying all along and our faith teaches us that the Mass is our Mass that is, Christ’s and our own. What bears emphasis is that there is a reciprocal relationship between Christ’s sacrifice and ours. Except for His sacrifice on the Cross reenacted in the Mass we wouldn’t have the grace to make our sacrifice. Christ’s sacrifice makes ours possible. You just don’t make the sacrifice, whether as endurance or as surrender, such as Christ expects of His followers and especially of those who call themselves religious unless they were flooded with grace mainly provided by the Mass. And here the Mass is a sacrament. It is the Eucharist as sacrament under its sacrificial form. The distinctive unique sacramental grace of the Mass is the power of sacrifice. It gives us the enablement as the expression goes. It empowers us to sacrifice. But let me repeat, keep in mind, the sacrifice is dual: it is a sacrifice of enduring what is hard; it is a sacrifice of surrendering what is pleasant. Human nature cannot make the sacrifice that Christ expects of His followers. He must provide the grace. And He provides the grace mainly through the Eucharist and with special emphasis on the Mass. So that’s one side of this reciprocity. Christ’s sacrifice gives us the grace to make ours, but the other side of the relationship is that our sacrifice makes Christ’s sacrifice effective. As scandalous as the expression may sound our free wills must be united with the grace of God for that grace which is always sufficient to become efficacious. Christ Who is Almighty and whose grace is enough to redeem a thousand worlds remains fruitless unless we fructify it – what shall I say – with our tears of sacrifice. And all the service of God is some form of a sacrifice. Where,if the manner of sacrifice is endurance and surrender, the matter that which we sacrifice is ourselves especially our wills. Now we tell this free will of ours, “I know you don’t like it but endure” and we tell this will of ours “I know you like it but give it up.” And that’s all there is but that’s plenty. So to briefly repeat, the reciprocal relationship between Christ’s part in the Mass and ours is that His part makes our sacrifice possible; our sacrifice makes His efficacious. Before we go on to the third are there any comments or otherwise? By the way I’m trying to put a great deal into a little amount of time. First then know the Mass, second live the Mass and thirdly, after your comment, Sister, to participate in the Mass.

Sister: I cannot understand, Father, how priests can fall from the priesthood. I cannot understand it. I cannot fathom it.

I cannot either. How they can fall away from the priesthood. Well, my explanation and I’ve dealt with enough of them including one especially, one of my former teachers in theology who happened to be here in Chicago. He was going to leave the priesthood and he was staying with the Provincial with whom I was working and I was trying to reason with him, argue with him to stay in the priesthood. One of two things. This is my simple explanation. They either lose the faith or lose their minds. You’re right and that’s why when a priest falls away it’s such a terrible scandal to the people because they know that this man has the power of offering the sacrifice of the Mass. And he knows it or maybe knew it. One of the saddest letters I received was from a priest. It wasn’t sent directly to me. And he happens to be in Chicago, pray for him. He is a Jesuit priest still teaching in Chicago. He wrote to his friends for Christmas, “I am leaving the priesthood.” I taught him. I think he’s lost his faith.

Sister: Father, do you think some of that happens because of the fact that they neglect to pray?

Oh yes!

Sister: Now you take, I mean, I know of all the sisters who left our community during that great exodus. Every one of them admitted that the sisters did not need to know that people can do more or less as they please, didn’t have the obligation to come to Divine Office and all that or Mass and then they just, you know, just stopped coming. First they stopped coming to Divine Office and pretty soon they only came to Mass on Sunday. And everyone of them admitted that they lost their vocation because they ceased to pray. And perhaps that’s the same thing with priests because it seems like there are some priests who don’t seem to take seriously their obligation to pray the Divine Office anymore.

When I give retreats to priests as I, for example, did this past summer in Texas. This is my principle theme for six days;  “In God’s name, Fathers, pray.”   And they can become so immersed in you name it, what activity and often well-intentioned and people can evoke and draw things out of the priests especially often these are generous persons – I’m talking about priests – who want to give themselves and they spend themselves and in the process lose the grace which they had.

Sister: And then they procrastinate and they say well I’ll work at that prayer.

Which, of course, is false. And that’s why in the religious life I am confident provided we use our heads that the calamity that has hit religious life in the Church today, and it’s not just our country, have those of us that are still left – and I guess we have to use that expression – that we will have sense enough to put first things first. And allow nothing, no matter how well-intentioned, how important, to replace the primary purpose of our existence which is to pray. That’s why I keep stressing that the Mass is primarily a form of worship. Yes, that would have been our primary responsibility is to adore God which is the first purpose of prayer. And how we even cheapen the meaning of prayer. It has come to me practically asking for what I need.  It is that too. But it is mainly that God demands of us that we glorify Him by just not doing other things which could be gainful or profitable to us in order to just praise Him. I think you’re right.  I think it’s the neglect of prayer. I think especially for those who are above average in education, it is exposure to strange ideas. You can’t read men like McBrien, or Fuchs or Kung or you name it. These people or those who have been affected by them you just can’t without being infected. Because error is infectious. For a man like [Gregory] Baum, I have a copy of his speech that he gave to the LCWR. I think it was in Seattle at their National Convention in which he told them that for too long Christians have been praying to a God whom they considered superior to themselves. Now Baum was an atheist. So I photographed his speech and sent it to Archbishop Meyer for your edification. And Baum is at large.

Sister: That’s Gregory Baum that’s not Cardinal Baum.

Oh no, of course not. Gregory Baum. So I would say in the realm of ideas in today’s world though we don’t like to use the word we’ve got to go into some kind of quarantine; we just cannot be exposed to all the disease, theological disease, that is rampant in our culture. We’ve got to inoculate ourselves otherwise we’re going to catch the disease.

Sister: Father, that’s what’s so frightening about sending young people in our community to colleges…

Oh is it ever as I spent for two hours, my conversation with a Bishop I spoke with last night. Yes. The colleges with rare exception, nominally Catholic colleges, are infected. And of course they are clever enough I mean those who run these institutions to protect themselves by civil law, for example, a former Jesuit priest at Loyola University left the priesthood married his secretary and now both she and he have two of the top positions at Loyola. And they defy the university to touch them. They take it to law and they would probably make a million dollars apiece on the lawsuit and keep their jobs because this has been tried in the courts. And this is the university on whose faculty I still am. So the questions you raise sister about how a priest can give up the priesthood is beyond me. And one reason why the present Holy Father as you know just put the breaks on, first of all stopped all the exhortations over a year and now only under very difficult circumstances can laicization be granted. And in struggling with a priest during the last couple of months I spent hours with him and the woman that he wants to marry and she just holding on to him and won’t let go. I told him you’d better make up your mind because  I don’t think you will get your laicization. So forget it. Give her up. It is one side of my priestly life that I could give all kinds of courses on because so much of my work is with priests.

Sister: So many people have too much time off with the devil himself. When they see that something is wrong instead of cutting off what they think is wrong and going on with what is right, they stand there and consider and reconsider and go on and on…

And then I spent hours with her privately with this women before I left a distant city where this experience took place and she broke down in tears but they were tears of selfishness.

           Sister: If you really loved a person and you knew that he were a priest she wouldn’t dare marry him.

Yes, and they know it and you face them with the logic of their own conduct and they admit it. Shall we continue?

Participating in the Mass

Our third part is - each is an imperative -  participate in the Mass. In here I‘ve got ten recommendations: First, what do I mean by participate in the Mass? By knowing the Mass of course I mean understanding with our mind what the Mass is, it’s relationship to Calvary and our own, you might say, concelebrating the Mass which is a legitimate term. Living the Mass means living a life of sacrifice. Participating in the Mass has to do with the liturgy. I think it is important to first place this third. Don’t you think for a lot of people they start with the liturgical side and completely ignore what they’ve saved? They don’t really know the Mass. What they know is this liturgical experience which they share in some forty minutes a week. While that’s still living the Mass. The Mass is an on going lifetime enterprise. Nevertheless participation in the liturgy of the Mass is important.

First recommendation.  Every religious should be more than any lay people familiar with the liturgy that is the liturgy in general and the liturgy of the Mass in particular. It was mandated by the Second Vatican Counsel that religious communities should be trained in the liturgy from the first days of living in the religious life. And there have been so many changes – some dramatic changes – that this is on people’s mind in a way that it wouldn’t have been except for the liturgical changes. What do the words mean? What do the gestures mean? What do the actions mean? There are many aspects and faucets of the liturgy. I taught the course a number of years. All I know and I barely scratched the surface, it is a very rich subject. First then, familiarity with the liturgy.

Secondly. There should be an immediate preparation for each day’s liturgy. Now the preparation can of course be the practical one of looking over the readings that I am going to say participate in, know what Mass is going to be offered but I would go down into as much detail as the person’s or the community’s time will allow. I would say the single best way to participate in the Mass is to prepare for the Mass. What we’re not prepared for we practically you might say just passively assist at. Active participation which means of the mind and will means preparation. Here I would recommend as a priest; I would recommend a closer relationship or cooperation is better between the community and the priest or priests who offer the Mass. You know what Mass is going to be offered, what prayers will be said, what changes or adaptations will be made because in many cases I have found unless the community has been carefully prepared the priest says his Mass and the sisters would join but it’s as though they were in two different churches or in two different cities even. There are options that a priest has; there are options which the people have. These are to be provided for and there should be an agreement. So preparation for each day’s liturgy.

Thirdly.  Presuming number two I then know beforehand what Scripture readings will be used in the Mass and there’s more than one. There’s the first reading, there may often be a second reading, there’s a responsorial Psalm, there are even the for example the introduction to the Gospel, there are Scripture passages throughout the Mass and it is well to know which ones will be used in the Mass, and I recommend, because I do this myself, to use some of these Scripture passages for meditation. Our meditation is made for us by each day’s Liturgy. And incidentally this is a very effective way for the laity to prepare themselves before Mass and then to continue living out the Mass, say during the day. Some passage in one is enough that I try to keep in mind and maybe and I’ve done this over the years and I have recommended it to others some little passage from Scripture which I put on my desk or try to keep in my mind that will synthesize my life of sacrifice whatever it happens to be for that day. And I couldn’t think of a more effective meditation than say a passage or two from the Gospel or like from St. Paul. That’s number three.

Number four.  I’ve got one, two, three, four verbs or they could be called nouns: attention during Mass, intention of the Mass, contrition with the Mass and satisfaction from the Mass. Let me talk about each. I have found over the years you put things in some more easily memorized form there is greater likelihood of people not forgetting. Attention during Mass, intention of the Mass, contrition with the Mass and satisfaction from the Mass. Let’s say a word about each.

How practically can and should I pay attention during Mass? Attention, of course, belongs to the Mass. It’s remarkable how many people can assist at Mass and maybe during the whole Eucharistic sacrifice and not realize mentally where they are. I won’t ask you if this has ever happened to you. So I recommend at the beginning of Mass, and if you have done it the night before, there’s more likelihood of remembering at the beginning of Mass that you for a moment at least unite yourself with Christ on the Cross and tell Him, “I am now going to participate in your own reenactment of what you did on Calvary.” And here I could not better recommend than one that I’ve recommended already, and that is St. Peter Julian Eymard. Remember his little paperbacks? Do we still have a stockpile, Sister? If you need more tell the Daughters of St. Paul to get more. So first, intention.

Number five.  Second, intention of the Mass. This is different from the first. The intention of the Mass is the purpose of motive for which I will assist at a given Mass. A priest should have his intention as we call it but we should have ours. We should never assist at Mass without having specific intentions. Beginning with the first, second or whatever. I recommend, I try to do this myself. Sometimes I don’t because I am not sure how the community will take it, but it’s a good thing if the priest would announce the intention for which he offers the Mass. It is especially important if the intention say is a community intention and that I unite myself with that intention,  but then remember besides the priest’s intention there is also the intention of those who participate. There is the intention of the one for whom the Mass is offered. These intentions should be fresh in our minds; they should be jotted down; I didn’t bring with me; I didn’t think it was necessary, but as you would expect I always have specific intentions for each Mass which I write into my little ordo book. It would be a good thing and I’m just suggesting this to have some little, like an agenda book, with the dates and along with whatever things you’re going to do for the day to put in there the intention or intentions for which you are going to offer Mass. And in reading the priest turns around us and says – he doesn’t turn around anymore he’s facing the altar, “Pray, brethren, that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God, the almighty Father.” Orate Fratres. So pray brethren. So the intentions to be specified. And it helps also by the way in writing to people or talking to people I’m going to remember you at Mass. While I’m going to offer my Mass for you tomorrow – this is good theology. And as a person gets into the habit of this, then the motivation for living a life of sacrifice will be heightened because somebody was in great need I’m offering my Mass during the time that I’m assisting but also because I’ll have specified the intention and I’ll keep it in mind it activates my intention during the day to put up with the hard things and to give up the pleasant.

Number six.  Contrition with the Mass. We’re going to be speaking during the day on the Holy Father’s latest encyclical Dives in Misericordia. The Holy Father as you may recall says a lot about contrition, conversion, repentance. This is or should be an active purpose in assisting at Mass. This is a form of sorrow for my sins and I could not think of a stronger motive for the practice of sacrifice then the awareness of my sins. Why shouldn’t I endure the painful when I have so often avoided the painful in sinning? Why shouldn’t I give up the pleasant when I’ve so often embraced the pleasant in sinning?

Number seven. Then satisfaction from the Mass. Now this is not mainly the subject of satisfaction that we can get from the Mass. There should be a deep souled subjective consolation from participating in the Mass. Last week I got notice from Doubleday. The manuscript I have been working on for three years must be in by Friday. I was getting close to the end but I wasn’t near getting finished and they said there’s no choice to get it published this is the Question and Answer Catechism that Sister Linda knows a lot about. If that’s going to be published in October which is the optimum date for the Fall publication it must be in by Friday. So I had to resolve to give up sleep for a good part of the week and then the last day, this is Friday, and I never do this. I always say my Mass at 6:30 in the morning but in order to finish the job I had to go to another city with a person who is helping me doing the typing and so on assembling the data. I took an early morning train having worked through the night took an early morning train and then worked through the day and then managed to get my Mass in at 11:25 midnight. I couldn’t describe the things I had to do to get back to Manhattan before midnight to get the Mass in. But participation in Mass should be one of the great joys of our day – should be – and it’s a worthy grace to ask for it. But that’s not the only thing I mean by satisfaction from the Mass, I also mean satisfaction as a sense of expiation – expiation of sin. God knows, and we do, and if we don’t,He does, how much satisfaction we still owe for our past misdeeds. Very well. The most effective way in which we obtain satisfaction for our sins is from the Mass but notice, while being conscious of this while I’m assisting at Mass I must of course do my part after Mass to merit this grace of satisfaction.

Number eight.  It is well I think in order to participate more effectively from the Mass that we know the liturgical divisions of the Mass – their meaning, their significance and how more effectively to profit from the penitential rite at the beginning, the readings, the offering of the gifts, the Eucharistic prayer, the variety of prayers, analyze them, meditation on the Eucharistic prayer, commentaries on this – so the divisions of the Mass liturgically.

But number nine.  Let’s not forget with our liturgical preoccupation these days that along with those liturgical divisions there are still the essential parts of the Mass. There is still the offertory, the consecration, and the communion. If you judge by some literature on the subject you will think the offertory had disappeared. One of the first things the Protestant Reformers did in the 16th Century, they continued celebrating what they called the Lord’s supper. They all without exception dropped the offertory. The Protestant’s “Mass” is the Eucharistic liturgy minus the offertory because they no longer believe that there is any offering of oneself since Christ had done all that needs to be done, who will be saved, those whom God has predestined to be saved. So know the parts of the Mass, know their meaning, take classes on the Mass, and let me tell you the whole religious life can somehow be synthesized in the Mass.

Number ten. And finally, keeping one’s self united with Christ during the Mass. That doesn’t mean necessarily, and some people find it difficult to participate as actively as perhaps they would like in the singing and depending on how either devoutly or sometimes how carefully the priest offers the Mass it may be difficult to follow what he is doing. Nevertheless, remember the principal priest at the altar is Christ Himself. United with Christ is the most effective way of offering the Mass, even though I cannot or depending on the liturgical practice or custom, it may be difficult for me maybe even distracting. Nevertheless, my heart united with the heart of Christ on Calvary and my Mass is being participated in most effectively.

Copyright © 2004 Institute on Religious Life

Conference transcription from a talk that Father Hardon gave to the
Institute on Religious Life

Institute on Religious Life, Inc.
P.O. Box 410007
Chicago, Illinois 60641

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