I talked in my column last week about how one important aspect of being Church is gathering together as Church in prayer, in the public communal liturgical prayer that is the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. This is one aspect of being Church that is becoming less and less valued or prioritized in society. People are often busy or tired or say, “Father, why do I have to go to Church, when I can just pray on my own?” Why go to Mass?
I listed seven reasons, and for the next number of weeks, I am unpacking those reasons a bit more. Here I talk about my first two reasons:
1) To give thanks for my very existence
One reason to go to Mass each week is for the simple reason to give thanks. None of us willed ourselves into existence…our life and very existence is a sheer gift. It is very easy for us to take things in our life, even our very life and existence itself for granted. And if we go for no other reason, there is something about making time each week to simply express gratitude; for my life, for my gifts and blessings, for my existence and everything that I am. And to get in the habit of the disposition of humble gratitude each week helps us to live better as human beings. We at least owe it to God to show up each week and give him thanks that we exist! “Eucharist” even means “Thanksgiving.”
2) To learn how to pray better and get to know God better
People say to me, “Fr. Kevin, why go to Mass when I can just pray by myself at home?” My first question is, “Well, do you?” Besides holding us accountable to prayer, weekly Liturgy can help to shape and form our prayer. Not only does it give language for prayer, but also helps to pull us our of ourselves. It’s easy for us as human beings to make our personal prayer all about us. Going to Mass not only reminds us of the importance of praying with others, but also for others; not merely our own needs, but the needs of others in the community.
Also, there are different types of prayer: Praise/Adoration, Thanksgiving, Petition, Intercession. In our personal prayer, sometimes we can just get focused on one and neglect other ones: Like always asking God for help, but never spending time thanking or praising Him; on the contrary always praising God, but never wanting to “bother God” with our needs and problems, etc. Going to Mass each week helps us to incorporate in our personal life all these types of prayer.
Finally, it’s easy for us to just mold Jesus/God into what we want Him to be, taking the parts we like, ignoring the parts we don’t like or make us uncomfortable. To make God “in our own image,” or conforming God to what we want… rather, it’s about us being converted and conformed to something.
The structure of religion, of Mass each week, helps us to know God better; allows us to be challenged to GROWN and be CONVERTED in our spiritual life.
The danger of only personal prayer and never going to Mass is to potentially fall into making our own unreal version of Jesus (even a false one), never growing, never being challenged, and thus never growing in love.