The Word Among Us

Easter 2014 Issue

Don’t Bring a Dixie Cup to Niagara Falls

A new book offers insights for getting more out of Mass.

By: Patty Whelpley

Don’t Bring a Dixie Cup to Niagara Falls: A new book offers insights for getting more out of Mass. by Patty Whelpley

“Forgive me, Father, for I find Mass boring.”

I’m embarrassed to admit it, but this is what I once had to tell a priest in Confession. I had never been bored at Mass in college, where the atmosphere of worship at our campus liturgies was exhilarating. But once I entered the “real” world of everyday parish life, going to Mass became a chore.

Fast-forward to the present, some twenty years after that confession. Now, as a parish catechist with a more mature understanding of the Eucharist, I am on the receiving end of “Mass is boring” complaints. In a recent class, I fumbled for words to explain the joy I now experience from the Mass. My young Confirmation candidates sat there unconvinced.

What a blessing to discover Behold the Mystery: A Deeper Understanding of the Catholic Mass. This new book is by Mark Hart, who is very experienced at answering kids’ tough questions—he is executive vice president of Life Teen, as well as a father of four. The book’s ten chapters are clear and practical, with questions for personal reflection and group discussion. Not only did the book offer insights and answers for my students, but I was surprised at how much it offered me.

Get Understanding! Why do some people find Mass boring, while others risk their lives to attend? Sometimes, Hart says, boredom is due to ignorance about the meaning of the sacrament and its signs and symbols. He uses the analogy of college football: fans are excited about the game because they understand it and resonate with its unique traditions. To outsiders, football and its traditions are odd and boring.

Similarly, the more we understand what truly happens at Mass, the more excited we are at having this “front-row seat in the throne room of heaven.” The more we learn about aspects of the liturgy—the vestments, parts of the Mass, and so on—the richer our experience. As Hart puts it:

When we bring a Dixie cup to Niagara Falls, we leave bewildered and parched. But if we knew the overflowing fountain of grace pouring out of the altar, we would be furiously working to find the biggest bucket we could bring.

Intimacy . . . The chapter on God’s desire for intimacy with us really hit home. Explaining how wedding imagery conveys God’s passion for us, Hart writes:

We are to receive his love, as a bride receives the love of her husband. When we walk down the aisle at Mass and hear the words “The Body of Christ,” we say, “Amen,” meaning, “Yes, I believe.” In so doing, we are renewing our vows to God—our baptismal vows—and pledging to forsake all other “lovers” in our lives.
. . . We have become one with Christ.

What an awesome calling! So what is it that keeps us from enjoying this time at God’s table? Maybe we want to control the way God loves us. Maybe we feel unworthy. Maybe we don’t take time outside Mass to meet Jesus in Scripture, to sit with him and “allow him to gaze on us in love.”

. . . And Communion. Of course, Mass isn’t just “me and God.” As Hart says, it’s a call to “true community and communion” aboard the ark of the Church. There are challenges. Just as Noah’s ark must have been smelly and not always harmonious, our church experience is not always smooth sailing. For one thing, we’re “a motley bunch.”

We’re wannabe saints and willing sinners with one collective hope: salvation. The poor pastor has the unenviable task of trying to get all of us into the ark and onto the same page as we set sail for eternity.

Still, we are family! Each of us can contribute to the quality of our worship and life together. Some of us can offer our musical talents; others can serve as lectors, greeters, or extraordinary ministers of holy communion. We can all think about how to better know and help one another, how to reach out beyond the parish, and how to support our hardworking priests and staff. The more invested we are in our parish family, the deeper our experience when we gather at the table of the Eucharist.

Help for the Journey. Behold the Mystery ends with two sections that provide the quick reference guide I’ve long wanted. One offers concise, thoughtful answers to young people’s “Frequently Asked Questions,” such as: “Why do I have to go to Mass?” and “Why can’t my non-Catholic friends receive Communion?” The “Ten Ways to Get More Out of Mass” section is full of helps for drawing closer to Christ—I plan to reflect on it often.

I’m reading parts of this book to my kids, who, like their mom, have an overly sensitive boredom meter. Its colorful style makes the topic way more interesting than a “mom lecture”—they laughed out loud at this humorous image:

The world is a war zone, and we are being dropped right into the middle of it. Though the Holy Spirit is often depicted as a dove, it might be more accurate to think of him as an F-16 or a B-52, dropping bombs of grace and dropping us as paratroopers of God’s love and mercy behind enemy lines.

I will keep using this book to check back on my own personal development and also to help my children and catechism students to “behold the mystery” and beauty of God’s love revealed in the Mass. Quite possibly, it will save them from embarrassing confessions.

Patty Whelpley has been a religious-education teacher for more than ten years.

Behold the Mystery, by Mark Hart, is available from The Word Among Us online at If you’d like to read an excerpt, visit our website, and click on “Books.”