When I was in college I began the habit of going to Mass every day. I was at a secular college, so the chapel was a worship space shared with those of other faiths. Daily Mass was usually at 5:00 PM, which was perfect for me, given that by then my classes were over. Often there was a small crowd there, but on a few rare occasions it was just the priest and me. Those times were some of the most memorable Masses I have ever attended. It was an incredibly intimate experience of God. The priest would sit in a chair facing me and I would read the first reading and responsorial Psalm, then hand him the Lectionary so he could read the Gospel. Then we would go stand at the altar, he on one side and I on the other. It was very quiet and reverent, and I daresay, profound. Because there was 'nowhere to hide' the first time this happened I felt really strange, and even a bit uncomfortable. I was afraid I would go blank on a response or a prayer, which would be really embarrassing. But I soon realized that it was not about saying the correct words; it was about the sincerity of the prayer and meeting the Lord in Word and Sacrament. It was about sharing in prayer not just with the priest, but with everyone else in the world and in Heaven who was at the banquet table also. It was then that I realized what a privilege it was to be at a seemingly private Mass that in reality was not at all private.
I have been blessed with a schedule that has allowed me to attend weekday Mass very frequently. Most of the time weekday Mass has had an intimate feel for me, given that there are fewer people who attend than at Sunday liturgies. But one thing that has stayed with me over the years is how much I enjoy the time to be at prayer not just for myself, but for others. And not just by myself, but with others...countless others: those visible as well as hosts of unseen worshipers who have gone before me. I have also come to realize that going to Mass at any time is a gift. One of my favorite Psalm verses expresses it beautifully: "But I through the greatness of your love have access to your house. I bow down before your holy temple filled with awe." (Psalm 5:8)
Being able to come before the Lord is indeed a gift. There is no other place of which I can think in which nothing is being asked of me. I can go there and be myself completely, unencumbered by fears, because everyone gathered is about the same thing: worship and prayer. We go to Mass to adore and praise God, and we go to put our cares on the altar so that He can be the one in charge of them. Nothing is expected of us. All is being given for us. That is, Jesus gave His life for us so that we might have His Body and Blood as our nourishment for the journey. He gave His all for us, and all I have to do is enter into His temple, so to speak, and receive His word and His presence. It was, and is, freely given for each one of us. It is a place where healing and mercy are present, and it is our home.
Having access to the house of the Lord is indeed a gift of His love. If not for the greatness of this love we would not dare approach Him. The death and resurrection of Jesus was atonement for all the sins of the world, and so He continually gives us access to that. Because of the saving action of Jesus' death and resurrection we have baptism which connects us with the entire Body of Christ and grants us access to the rest of the sacraments. We can come for forgiveness when we need it, and we can come before Him to be spiritually fed by His Body and Blood. We are given all of these graces as gifts. And so we come before him not only praying for our needs and the needs of the world, but we come to give thanks and praise. What goes on in a church during Mass is a most incredible miracle of love: Jesus becomes fully present to us and we can receive Him fully: Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity.
But it is also a privilege to have access to the house of the Lord. While it is freely given, it is something we are given not because it is our right, but because God wants us to have the grace we need in order to live in a difficult world with all the advantage we can have to fight off temptation and sin. Our world is a difficult place to live, let's be honest. There is evil and there is strife: there is sickness, poverty, injustice, inequality, war, famine, and every manner of suffering, both inflicted by others and by things beyond our control, too far beyond our ability to understand. There are many beautiful things in the world also, but because of our weakness and our tendency to sin we can attempt to horde those things, misuse them or simply take them for granted; we can misuse our power and treat others poorly. Therefore God offers us every advantage He can, that which we call grace, in order to help us to have power over temptation, to have reconciliation when we do sin, and many graces to help us to grow in sanctity so we may enter into Heaven one day.
Therefore we are privileged with the grace we are freely given. It is offered to all, but not all accept it. We are also privileged to be able to be instruments of His grace and love to others. We are privileged to know how to serve Jesus. He left us instructions through His teaching, both in word and deed which are recorded in the Gospels. He taught us how to love everyone as our brothers and sisters, especially those in most need. He taught us to find His presence in the least of our brothers and sisters; the sick, lonely, naked, impoverished, imprisoned, marginalized, displaced, outcast, alien and stranger. And we are privileged to be able to respond.
To be given all the grace God gives us is not a right we have, but rather it is a privilege God has given out of love for us. He chose us, we did not choose Him. In John 15:16 Jesus said: "It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name He may give you." We were chosen and appointed, which means we have a responsibility to bring the Gospel to others. How? The next verse in the passage says: "For this I command you: love one another." (John 15:17) We are not sent out with empty hands. Rather, He gives us all the graces we need to do good works. We are given power from God to bring love to others. We are never alone in doing these works. Where we bring love, there Jesus is in the midst of it. (Matt. 18:20; 1 John 4:16)
Being a servant of God, being one who tries to spread the love of God in a world sorely in need, is a gift and a privilege. It means having access to the love of God without end, which we are trying to extend to others. We do not have to be perfect, but we do need to recognize that we have been given many gifts. That should move us to gratitude for the immensity of his love and care for each of us, that He would go to such great lengths to bring us the joy of everlasting life with Him. We have access to His love and access to His house every moment of every day. Through the greatness of His love we can come before Him and worship, be blessed with the graces of His presence in Word and Sacrament, be blessed with the joy of community, be blessed with prayer for ourselves and for our world, and mostly to be awed by it all. What goes on in God's house is truly stunning. God is present in His church: in the Word, in the action of the priest, in the sacraments, and in our gathering as one people united by the bond of love.
Lord, we give you thanks that through the greatness of your love we have access to your house. We bow down before your holy temple filled with awe.
May we be filled with awe and wonder every time we enter into worship in God’s house! May we be inspired to realize the gifts and the privilege we have been given that we may serve the Lord as instruments of His love! May we be filled with gratitude for the gifts we have been given! May we have the faith to trust in His love and grace! And may we be filled with amazement at the love with which the Lord loves each of us! Let us continue to meet in the temple of the Lord, filled with awe! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
The photos are all mine. The first was taken in the town of Laigne-En-Belin, France. The second was taken of the towering arches inside Saint Julien Cathedral in Le Mans, France. Third is the famous rose window inside the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris.
Next is the work of Fr. William Hart McNichols, called The Galilean Jesus. It can be found at http://www.fatherbill.org/all-categories/product/293-the-galilean-jesus. If you are interested in obtaining a copy in card or plaque follow the links on the page.
The last photo is mine, as noted above, and was taken in the shrine church where the tomb of Bl. Basile Moreau is located in Le Mans, France. The window represents the Oratory of St. Joseph in Montreal.
Heart Speaks to Heart