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Liturgy Corner October 24 2021: Preparing for Mass: Part 1

I hear from a lot of people that they struggle to stay focused during Mass. Don’t worry, you are not alone. I doubt there is anyone who, to one degree or another, struggled to stay focused and prayerful during Mass. I am especially conscious of how difficult it must be for families with small children (I get the low-down from my brother and sister-in-Law on that point.) There is another common problem that is different but related: Where is the promised grace of Mass? It often doesn’t seem like it is having an effect in our lives.

On one hand, the answer to both these questions is simply the reality of the human condition. We have many distractions in life. And for parents, some of those distractions are simply members of the family (though they are certainly sources of extra grace for you at Mass, but that is another discussion.) And furthermore, our eyes are veiled to the incredible things God’s grace does in our lives as a result of the Sacrifice of the Mass. But at the same time, the fruitfulness of the Mass in our lives is, in large part, dependent on how we spiritually dispose ourselves to receive that grace.

All that being said, there is a surefire way to begin remedying both these issues: Spiritually preparing for Mass. When Father Adam arrived, he taught me to prepare for Mass by praying a particular prayer in the back of the Roman Missal called the “Formulation of Intent.” The first part is a statement meant to help the priest mentally formulate his intention of consecrating the Eucharist and of offering the Sacrifice for various needs, such as the specific intention listed for that Mass. This part assists the priest in being present to the great thing he is about to do and being attentive to those for whom is he doing it. The second part, however, is all about asking God to make the specific graces of the Mass fruitful in his own life (and in the lives of those who are with him). The prayer is as follows, “May the almighty and merciful Lord grant us joy with peace, amendment of life, room for true repentance, the grace and consolation of the Holy Spirit, and perseverance in good works.” When I am not running late or distracted by whether I left the stove on at the rectory, I find this prayer so wonderful and fruitful. Ask the Lord directly, and He gives.

But preparation is not only a thing for priests. The Church document Sacrosanctum Concilium states, “In order that the liturgy may be able to produce its full effects, it is necessary that the faithful come to it with proper dispositions, that their minds should be attuned to their voices, and that they should cooperate with divine grace lest they receive it in vain.” Those are pretty strong words, and we should take them seriously.

So, how do we prepare ourselves to “come to it [Mass] with proper dispositions”? Well, the first and most obvious way is provided by the Church as a mandatory discipline: fast an hour before receiving the Eucharist. But we can certainly go about this practice in a more or less efficacious way. As with any spiritual practice and devotion, intentionality is key.

Other than fasting, we need to prepare ourselves mentally and spiritually. The importance of praying in preparing for Mass is attested to by the large number of saints and spiritual writers who have formulated prayers for exactly this occasion. I’ll leave it to you to look them up if you are interested. But we can also formulate our own prayer in the moment, whether right before Mass or, if at no other time, as we are getting dressed. The most important thing is to open ourselves to God, to be open and honest about our struggles and failings, to specifically ask God for grace and healing for these struggles, and to offer our lives in entirety to God in union with the sacrifice of Jesus.

Following this simple plan and hopefully going deeper every time, we will undoubtedly find ourselves more easily attuned to prayer in Mass and find God’s grace more actively transformative in our lives. Other supplementary forms of preparation can include going over the readings for the Mass at home, reading a reflection on the Scripture, and reading passages from the saints concerning the Eucharist. I especially encourage parents to read the Scripture at home with their children.

There is another important part of preparing for Mass, and that is the corollary to the first part of the priest’s formulation of intent. The entire congregation should come to Mass with things in mind that they wish to spiritually offer to God in the Sacrifice of the Mass. But I will address this specific topic in the article next week. In conclusion today, I present a portion of the beautiful prayer of preparation written by St. Thomas Aquinas,

”Almighty and ever-living God, I draw near to the sacrament of your only-begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. I come sick to the physician of life, unclean to the fountain of mercy, blind to the light of eternal brightness, poor and needy to the Lord of heaven and earth. So I ask you, most generous Lord: graciously heal my infirmity, wash me clean, illumine my blindness, enrich my poverty, and clothe my nakedness. May I receive the Bread of angels, the King of kings, and Lord of lords, with such reverence and humility, such contrition and devotion, such purity and faith, and such resolve and determination as may secure my soul's salvation."

 

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