Over the years, my church-going and Mass-going have included anything and everything: soaring cathedrals, cramped conference rooms, hotel ballrooms, cruise ship dining rooms, and even a time or two, a hotel guest room where we used the desk as an altar.
The Catholic liturgy, I have discovered, is remarkably flexible. God is everywhere, after all—and he is able to accommodate a surprisingly wide array of circumstances and spaces.
In all of these settings, often to my amazement and awe, I’ve been blessed to be able to pray what Pope Benedict XVI called “the greatest and highest prayer”: the Mass.
Lest we forget: when we take time to attend Mass, we are taking time to pray on an epic scale. Mass is the all-consuming prayer par excellence. You get to receive the Eucharist, Jesus Christ himself, in the form of bread and wine, and you get to raise your voice in prayer through responses, praise, petitions, thanksgiving, and (very often) song. Looking for the ultimate way to pray? You can’t beat the Mass.
All of this means that, for a busy person trying to find time to pray, one of the best and most efficient ways is one you may not have considered: going to Mass!
That hour at the beginning of the week can do more to lift the heart, stir the soul, and engage the mind than you may realize. Caveat: yes, I know that not all Masses are memorable. Since they require human engagement and involvement, they suffer from very human problems. Sometimes the preaching is weak, the music is lame, the atmosphere is dull, and the people around you are glaring at your children or rolling their eyes at your Sunday attire. Sleeping in can seem like a much holier (and pleasurable) use of your time. But attending Mass is one of the great privileges and treasures of our faith. It’s a miracle unfolding in human hands, placing Christ before us and bringing him into us.
Don’t we get that? We should. We must.
We Pray as One
If you want to carve out just one hour for prayer during a frenzied, busy week, make it that hour during Mass. Your life will be immeasurably enriched.
If you have more time, take a few minutes to familiarize yourself with the readings before you go. Pray over them. Pull out your Bible, and read what comes before and what comes after those passages that make up the readings for the day. Dip into the context, the history, the background. Want to be even better prepared? Look over the opening and concluding prayers for the Mass. Take a few minutes before you leave the house to quietly reflect on what you are about to experience.
Then let go—and let God.
There is also something to be said—a lot, actually—about the simple act of “corporate” prayer. Part of what makes the experience of the Mass so distinct is that we do it together as the body of Christ, as a people gathered in one place for one express purpose: to worship our God and to receive the grace of the Eucharist.
Our participation in Mass helps to underscore a beautiful, fundamental fact of our faith: Christianity is not a solitary act. We live it most fully and practice it most completely when we are with others. We join our hearts and prayers to a wider communion—the communion of saints and the communion of the faithful around the world. We continue what was begun at the Last Supper, what was celebrated in secret in the catacombs, what has been prayed, and believed, and carried forth by innumerable generations, in many languages, in tiny chapels and soaring cathedrals, in every corner of the globe for two millennia.
We pray as one. And the source and summit of it all is something that appears to be nothing more than a sliver of bread—as weightless as paper, no bigger than a coin.
Behold, the Lamb of God.
Pope St. John Paul II summed it up simply: “The Eucharist is the secret of my day,” he once said. “It gives strength and meaning to all my activities of service to the Church and to the whole world.”
No matter how busy we are, how preoccupied we feel, how distracted and overwhelmed we become, this is where the rubber meets the road.
Want to pray? Want to make prayer more central to your life? Mark off an hour every week to go to Mass. Consider the words of St. Oscar Romero:
God wants to save us in a people. He does not want to save us in isolation. . . . The Church wants to rouse men and women to the true meaning of being a people. . . . What is a people? A people is a community of persons where all cooperate for the common good.
The Church has called us to “fully conscious and active participation” in the Mass, which is the most perfect form of prayer (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, 14). How can we do that better? Try taking time before Mass to look over the readings—maybe even read some of the passages that come immediately before and after the readings in order to get a sense of context. Is there a recurring theme? What is God trying to say to me in these readings this week? During Mass, listen closely to the individual prayers. Make the effort to pray, really pray, some of the words that have become so familiar to you over the years, from the Lord’s Prayer to the Gloria or the Creed.
This is the collective voice of the Church! Remind yourself that you are not praying alone. You are praying in communion and in community—not just with those around you, but with countless unseen believers around the world and with the saints in heaven. “God is present in everything. In the universe, in creation, in me and all that happens to me, in my brothers and sisters, in the Church—everywhere,” declared Sr. Thea Bowman, who was a Franciscan Sister of Perpetual Adoration. For this one hour of the week, give yourself totally to simply being in the presence of God. Although there is no telling where he will guide you or where will you go in the days to come, you can trust that he will be by your side!
This is a selection from The Busy Person’s Guide to Prayer, by Deacon Greg Kandra (The Word Among Us Press, 2019), available at www.wau.org/books.