Why Should I Go to Mass?”
“He… “He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day as was His custom.”
A story from ancient Egypt tells how the god Thoth invented a new way of helping people learn and remember things, a system called writing. Thoth explained his invention to the king of Egypt; but the king was not impressed. He said the invention was liable to make people lazy in trying to remember things; that they would start to rely on written things instead of thinking for themselves. Worst of all, it would allow people to appear learned, rather than actually being learned. Written things need the help of the author to explain them, the human touch.
Although this is just an ancient myth, it still has some valid points to make. First, we learn from other people. Books are written by other people; they don’t appear out of the blue or fall out of the sky. And second, we learn better from human contact in teaching, even when books are involved – what the ancient Greek philosopher Plato called “the animated speech of a knowledgeable person.” Even then, although the person might have knowledge, they also need the gift of passing on that knowledge, of helping others become keen to learn, and setting people on fire with a love of that subject. And with the invention of the printing press in the fifteenth century, some of the Egyptian king’s misgivings came true. People sometimes mistook the book for learning or wisdom itself. Sometimes they thought that simply by reading or quoting that they would become learned, and so they neglected the need for understanding, for teaching and for interpretation to bring the written word to life.
The ancient people of Israel, as we heard in today’s first reading, greatly prized the written Law. To be a scribe was a position of respect and veneration. The people are moved to tears by the majesty of the Law, this great gift from God; however, Ezra tells them not to mourn but to feast in honor of God’s great gift, when he says to them, “Do not be sad: the joy of the Lord is your stronghold.” But it is important to notice the context. The Law is read in the presence of the community, a liturgical assembly. It’s really an act of worship; the written part only comes alive as part of a living passing-on of God’s revelation.
The same is true in today’s Gospel from St. Luke. Jesus reads from the prophet Isaiah in the liturgical assembly in the synagogue, as part of an act of worship, a living mediation of God’s revealed Word. But there’s more to it. Jesus Himself is God’s Eternal Word, the Word who was made flesh and still lives among us. It’s He who gave wisdom to the prophets, and it’s He who fulfills what the prophets saw, and it’s He who will come again to complete the final act of God’s revelation at the end of time. The scriptures only make sense because they are only one of the ways in which God teaches us; they are only one part of God’s revelation, and most authentically heard in our life of worship.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, St Luke says that Jesus went to the synagogue on the Sabbath “as was His custom”. It was something Jesus did habitually and not just when He felt like it. The synagogue was one of the places, along with the Temple in Jerusalem, where Jesus felt most at home. Here He would attentively listen to His Father’s Word, sing psalms and hymns, pray and respond, and hear explanations of the sacred scriptures.
This is, in fact, what we do when we celebrate the Liturgy of the Word during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. It’s here that the scriptures truly come alive. As the Second Vatican Council taught, sacred scripture and sacred tradition are both vital parts of God’s revelation. Added to this, the gift of the Holy Spirit, who enables the Church – and only the Church, to authoritatively and authentically interpret what the scriptures say, and thus hand on the teaching of Christ down to us.
Oftentimes, though, we hear the complaint, “I don’t attend Mass because I don’t get anything out of it!” This common complaint is not only egotistical, but it is also outright deceptive! First, we come to Church – not to get anything out of Mass, as if we are attending a theatrical play or a musical concerto or a seminar workshop, but to bring our honor, reverence, and worship to God that we rightfully and justfully owe to God, and in the service of God as His adopted children, simply because God deserves it. And secondly, God is never outdone in charity! So whatever effort and devotion we put into worshipping God at Mass (which includes singing, responding, and being attentive to the prayers and readings), God will give us even more in return, if not in this life, then most assuredly in the next life! If we come to Mass to get something, we will leave with nothing!!!
Another complaint we often hear is that “Mass is boring!” We have to remind ourselves from time to time that entertainment is not authentic worship (repeat). We attend Mass in order to seek and meet God in His truth, begging the Holy Spirit to use the Word and Sacrament to reveal to us the depths of His love and mercy so that we may be changed and made better servants of His! We should avoid taking the attitude that we are paying customers who think God and His Church are lucky to have us around! If you come with this attitude, you are just wasting your time!
Another complaint we often hear is “I don’t need to attend mass since I worship God in my own way!” Again, this is a ridiculous complaint! Well like the people gathering to hear Ezra in the Old Testament, or like Jesus Himself and the people in the synagogue at Nazareth in the New Testament, it’s as a worshipping community that we most faithfully encounter God’s Word. But we have more than just God’s word here! Again, like the people at Nazareth, we have Christ personally with us, though in a different way. They had the privilege of seeing Him in the flesh, hearing His voice, being able to touch Him. We have the even greater privilege of being physically united to and spiritually nourished by Him in the Eucharist – His body, His blood, His soul and His divinity hidden under the ordinary forms of bread and wine. And unless you are legitimately infirm and homebound and have ministers of communion visiting you, it’s virtually impossible for anyone to do this alone in your home (unless, of course, you are a priest celebrating a private mass).
And another complaint we often hear is, “I don’t have to attend a Sunday Mass. I go when its more convenient.” This complaint is downright erroneous! The reality is that the cross of Christ changed everything including changing the Mosaic law. Every significant spiritual event that happened in the early church happened on a Sunday (such as the triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, the Resurrection, of course on Easter Sunday, and Pentecost Sunday – the birthday of the Church, fifty days after Christ’s Ascension). Scripture and the Church sets up the worship day for the Christian believers on Sunday – the first day of the week. Nowhere in the New Testament Scripture do we ever read that the Christian believers continued to observe the seventh day Sabbath. In fact, it was not included in the writings of the New Testament. God gave us the new Sabbath in conjunction with the resurrection of Christ. It’s Sunday that we are to formally worship as a community. Please don’t get me wrong – other days of the week are always good to worship in addition to Sunday, but not to replace Sunday worship.
In our learning about Christ, in trying to be like Him (as we heard in today’s Gospel), in trying to remember and live out our full humanity, it’s this living encounter with the person of Jesus Christ that is most fruitful and most precious.
So let us pray that we understand and appreciate this great gift of God to us, before our Marxist government takes it away from us!
Mary, Virgin Most Powerful, Pray for us!
3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle C
Sunday, January 24th, 2016
Nehemiah 8:2-6, 8-10 1 Corinthians 12:12-30 Luke 1:1-4; 4:14-21