“Why go to Sunday Mass?” That’s a question Pope Francis posed during his general audience on Wednesday, Dec. 13. It was part of a weekly series of catechesis, or religious instruction, on the Mass that began Nov. 8 and has continued through Jan. 10.
In his address Dec. 13, he offered this answer to those gathered outside of St. Peter’s Basilica: “The Sunday celebration of the Eucharist is at the heart of the church’s life. We Christians go to Mass to encounter the risen Lord, or better still, to allow ourselves to be encountered by him, to hear his word, to nourish ourselves at his table, and thus to become the church, that is, his mystical living body in the world.”
While Pope Francis did not specifically state why he chose the Mass as a topic for his general audiences, or how long he would continue them (seven have been offered thus far), his series — found on the Vatican website — is worth individual or group study.
Francis did say that, for Christians, it is fundamental that they “clearly understand the value and significance of the holy Mass in order to live ever more fully our relationship with God.”
He explained that early Christians died defending the Eucharist and that even today, many risk their lives participating in Sunday Mass.
One of the points Pope Francis makes is that participation, not just attendance, in the Mass is important. “Participating in the Mass is truly living again the redemptive Passion and death of our Lord,” he said. In his distinctive style, Pope Francis counters arguments that the Mass is dull.
“What are you saying? That the Lord is dull?” “No, no. Not the Mass, the priests.” “Ah, may the priests convert, but it is the Lord who is there! Do you understand? Do not forget it.”
The pope also cautions Catholics about bad behaviors at Mass.
“Why does the priest presiding at the celebration say at a point: ‘Lift up your hearts’? He does not say: ‘Lift up your cell phones to take a photo!’ No, that’s bad! I tell you, it makes me sad when I am celebrating here in St. Peter’s Square or in the basilica to see many cell phones lifted up, not only by the faithful but also by some priests and even bishops! But please! Mass is not a spectacle. It is going to encounter the Passion and Resurrection of the Lord.”
Mass is prayer, the pope said in his Nov. 15 audience. “It is prayer par excellence, the loftiest, the most sublime, and at the same time the most concrete.” He then delved deeper into the meaning of prayer.
In other audiences, Pope Francis discussed the different parts of the Mass and the words used by the presider and the congregation. He also beseeched parents and grandparents to teach the children how to properly make the sign of the cross.
“Have you seen how children make the sign of the cross?” he asked. “They do not know what they are doing. Sometimes they make a design, which is not the sign of the cross. Please, Mom and Dad, grandparents, teach the children, from the beginning — from a tender age — to make the sign of the Cross properly. And explain to them that it is having Jesus’ cross as protection.”
It is not far-fetched to think the pope’s series on the Mass will be published in book form someday. For now, readers can only access the series on the Vatican website. If you’re looking for ways to reflect on the Mass, possibly for Lent, the pope’s general audiences are an excellent choice.