The truth is no one can sustain good vibrations day in and day out. Even services offering lots of upbeat, contemporary music and positive Gospel messages eventually fail to uplift us. The truth is God did not create us to always feel any certain way — not when we are living our lives, not during private prayer, not even at Mass.
If this is the case, then what is the purpose of Mass? Why go?
The Greek word liturgy means “a public work” or “a service in the name of/on behalf of the people.” In other words, the liturgy, the Mass, is the holy work of the community of Christian faithful.
At every Mass, every liturgy, we engage in three main “works”:
Worship/Praise of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We do not praise God because it changes God or because God needs to hear it, but because we need to do this. Praising God reminds us that we ourselves are not God. (Talk about a counter-cultural message!) We praise God because it is our most natural response to the overwhelming abundance of love and goodness that envelops us, that is God.
Participation in Jesus’ death and resurrection. An incredibly important, but under-understood part of Mass is the offertory, when the gifts are brought to the altar. At this time and during the initial eucharistic prayers, each of us offers our very lives along with the bread and wine. Every thought, feeling and experience of the past week is placed on the altar. Good, bad, indifferent. Even boredom with Mass gets offered. And, while we can do nothing of our own accord, Christ accepts our offerings, our “sacrifice,” and joins it with Christ’s ongoing, saving work.
Transformation. “We become what we eat.” At every Mass, through the reception of the word and the Eucharist, we deepen our union with Jesus Christ. Ironically, this is regardless of what we might be feeling at the moment. God will use our feelings, but God also operates outside and beyond our feelings. At every Mass, we become closer to God, more like Jesus. Jesus comes to us and makes his home within us, ever more deeply and usually imperceptibly. We are transformed.
I am not saying we are supposed to go months without any sense of growing closer to God, self and others. If this is happening to you, this is almost surely an indication that Jesus wants you to take some direct steps to be more attentive to your faith and relationship with God.
How? Go on a retreat! Find a spiritual director. There is a list at www.gbdioc.org/direction. Join a Catholic Bible study. Volunteer to coordinate a church service/mission project. We cannot manipulate God, so we cannot guarantee any actions we take will bring us a feeling of closeness to God. But God does ever so desire to be close to us. When we respond to God’s nudges in our life, in the end, we are usually deeply grateful. Good feelings or not!
DeNeve is diocesan director of Evangelization and Welcoming.