If you ever wondered what experiencing a Catholic Mass might be for a nun or a priest should do yourself a favor and get up early during the week and attend an early morning Mass. In fact, to get the full experience, you should attend a very early morning Mass on Mondays, preferably at a Catholic Church run by a religious order such as the Jesuits or the Dominicans. After Mass, you can proceed on to work where I think you will find your day different from other days.
First of all, you should go within the next month or two when the sun still rises late in the early morning hours. The sky’s color goes from dark blue to a light yellow as it stretches its light rising over the eastern horizon. During these days of winter, there is still a bit of a chill in the air, but you don’t worry because your memory reminds you that a caretaker has already awoken and fired up the boiler to warm the church.
As you begin to pull open the tall, heavy wooden doors, you can see the flickering of light from candles which burned throughout the night. As you cross over the threshold, your mind suddenly reminds you that you are stepping away from the craziness of the secular world into the sanctity of sacred space. With each step, you begin to feel yourself letting go of the trials and tribulations brought by the material world. There is a sudden calmness. Still making your way over the threshold, you see out of the corner of your eye, a tiny baptismal font. Your instincts have taken over as you dip your finger into the holy water, flick the excess water from your finger that you don’t want to fall on the floor. Without thought, you raise your hand to touch your forehead, then your left shoulder, and finally your right shoulder. Making the sign of the cross is the most natural part of the Mass.
As the doors give way to the inside of the Church, you can feel the warmth and smell the non-flavored scent emanating from the heated wax of the candles. You gaze from one side of the church to the other side. There are less than two dozen attendees, half with their eyes closed, the other half with their eyes fixed on the crucifix behind and above the altar.
Throughout the Mass, everyone knows the responses to the priest’s commands; everyone knows when to stand, sit, and kneel. Other than the voice of the priest or the other churchgoers, there is absolute silence.
Weekday Mass has an Old Testament reading, a responsorial psalm, and a Gospel reading. Unlike Sunday Mass readings, these scripture passages are not printed. Unlike Sunday Mass readings, you pay strict attention to what is said, especially the priest’s homily because it never extends beyond five minutes. Your active listening somewhat excites you because for the first time in a long time you understand the message the scriptures are teaching you. Each part of the Mass is accentuated. The messages from the Liturgy of Word are clearly understood; in other words, you know how you are supposed to act with other people. The Liturgy of the Eucharist has taken on a new level intensity. Rarely is there a crying infant or the rustling of feet of a bored child to distract you in the least bit. The bread has become the body, and the wine has become the blood of Jesus.
Perhaps the most significant change from a Sunday Mass can be experienced in the exchanging of the sign of peace. No back-slapping, high fiving, or jumping over someone else to pay one’s respects. None of this takes place during a weekday Mass. A simple turn, a simple smile is all that is necessary. Everyone can see the look of fatigue on the other person except their smile which is bright as the sun will soon sign after Mass.
Communion is a reverent exercise where there is no hymn to sing or music to play. One cannot be distracted when receiving the body and blood of Christ. Following communion, you return to your pew to kneel one more time before the Lord our God. The priest’s final blessing is actually a command from God that you can actually hear which is to go out at spread the good news in word and in action.
The celebrant departs the altar silently, and so does everyone else. Suddenly, you feel charged with the responsibility to be one of Jesus’ disciples. As you open the door to the outside world, you remind yourself that you are leaving the sacred world to re-enter the secular world which is a broken place with problems too grand to fix by oneself. Today, however, is different because you understand clearly that you have been given the responsibility to make your part of the world better – for yourself and for those in your community. Amen!