What do we do when we go to Mass and we “don’t get anything out of it?”
I think at some point in the Mass as our boredom or frustration mount, we have to make a decision. Are we going to let something as insignificant as bad coffee get in the way of encountering God?
Sometimes going to Mass is like getting great coffee in a bad cup.
The other day I bought a coffee and didn’t realize that the seal on the bottom of the cup was imperfect. The leaking coffee made huge stains over the front my sweater. I was hacked off to the point of not being able to enjoy the coffee. Then I considered that there was nothing I could do to change the cup at that moment, so either I could be angry and not enjoy my coffee or I could drink it and enjoy every drop that wasn’t on my shirt.
Even when everything seems to be going wrong at Mass, God is still present. And if God is present, we have an opportunity to find Him. The path to finding God in the midst of the messiness of imperfect Church is a shift in focus from our needs or wants to God’s outpouring of love. When we move our focus from us to God, the bad coffee matters less and less. In other words we have to name the coffee as bad, and then get over it.
This is hard.
It is hard to experience God in the midst of poorly done Church. So what do we do? I don’t have a great answer. I wish I did. What I do have are two suggestions for making sure every time we walk out of Mass we know God moved in us.
Know why we are doing.
The first time I drank coffee I thought it was terrible. It tasted like bitter flavored, dirt water. But once I started drinking coffee regularly and begin to learn what makes what I consider to be good coffee, I fell in love. Even the smell and sounds of brewing coffee transports me to early morning golf outings, late night paper writing, and leisurely brunches. We will grow in appreciation of Mass when we go regularly, and when we actually learn what makes Mass so good.
My first suggestion: We need to learn why we do what we do. When we were seven years old and going through first communion, we probably only learned “what” to do and never really picked up on “why” we do it. When we know the meaning of the words we respond to the priest with, when we understand why we genuflect or kneel or bow, we will get so much more out of Mass. When we understand that the “Amen” we utter when the Communion Minister presents us with the body of Christ means more than just “Yes, please,” our very real and important participation in Mass will mean more to us.
Go big or go home.
Starbucks is successful because they have convinced us that coffee is more important than nearly everything else we do in our day. They did this through profound symbol and ritual. From the very shape of the cup the coffee comes in to our ritual like process of slipping on the sleeve or asking to leave room cream, Starbucks has created a “way” we start our day. I understand not everyone participates in this daily, but the strong ritualization of the process has engrained it our collective lives.
If ritual is the repetition of word or action for it’s symbolic value, then we as Catholics own ritual. We dominate ritual. We ritual like almost nobody else. Rosaries, making the sign of the cross, blessing ourselves with Holy Water, we do ritual and we barely even notice.
Unfortunately I think ritual is being diluted and thus the symbolic value of it is being lost. Its being diluted because our society says superstition is silly and not worth our time. However, ritual isn’t superstition. It is a sign or action that means something more.
I think our ritual and symbols should be big: big candles, big fire, big water, big movements, big crucifixes, big everything. I don’t mean just large, but that they should be evocative, moving, impressive. Every now and again, we should look at liturgy and go, “Wow.” Let me big clear, I’m not asking for pyrotechnics (necessarily). I’m not saying we should all get big fancy coffee machines. I am saying we should make a bigger deal about the coffee we are already drinking.
Not just those making the coffee.
My second suggestion: Our participation in liturgy should be big. When we make the sign of the cross, we should really cross ourselves instead of just waving our hand in front of our face. When we bless ourselves with Holy Water, we should be wet. When we bow during the Creed or before receiving Christ in the Eucharist, we should bow deep. We need to do this not because we are “supposed to,” but because it will be through these big symbols, these deep rituals that you and I will get it. How do we look past the bad coffee to get to the presence of God, the call to conversion, the good news of the Gospel? Big symbols and deep ritual.
Is it bad for Church to have good coffee?
Church should have good coffee. We should have good coffee and good preaching and awesome music and beautiful worship spaces and friendly greeters and incredible outreach opportunities, and vibrant children, youth, and adult formation ministries. Church should be authentically perfect. And we should work to make Church ever more perfect. Church should get our best, good coffee or not.