God’s Work on Sunday
Kathleen McCarty

God’s Work on Sunday

By Kathleen McCarty

"Blessed are those who have been called to the wedding feast of the lamb.” — Revelation 19:9.

St. Thomas Aquinas once said that “love follows knowledge.” It’s also true that the more we love, the more we want to know. During this second year of Eucharistic Revival, as we seek to grow closer to Our Lord in the Eucharist, hopefully our desire to know and love him more has also grown. God reveals himself to us in a myriad of ways, but the most important and intimate way we come to know him is at Mass. The Church obliges us to attend Mass every Sunday and going to Mass is often spoken of as something that we do. What if the Mass is something that God does — for us?

I’d like to invite you to look at the liturgy in light of God’s action in our lives and through the lens of his love for us.

The Catechism tells us that “through the liturgy Christ, our redeemer and high priest, continues the work of our redemption in, with, and through his Church” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 1069). This means that going to Mass is not just a “Sunday service.” The Mass is a sacrifice, a re-presentation of Christ’s sacrifice on Calvary. It is an act of worship, and it is the Body of Christ coming together to be united with Christ and each other in Holy Communion. It is also Christ working for our salvation! He calls us to participate with him in this work.

Because of this, the liturgy is deeply important. It touches the heart of what it means to be Christian. “Sacrosanctum Concilium,” the Vatican II Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, tells us that “the liturgy is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; it is also the font from which all her power flows.”

The liturgy is also the “participation of the People of God in the work of God” (CCC, No. 1069). This means that the liturgy is deeply creative. God’s work is often surprising. We should not be surprised to find ourselves re-created in unexpected ways when we deeply participate in the Mass. Whenever we receive the Eucharist worthily, we are meant to become what we receive. We are meant to be transformed into Christ.

Pope Benedict XVI (then Cardinal Ratzinger), in his book “Spirit of the Liturgy,” discusses the liturgy in terms of play-theory. His view of play is not simply a mindless wasting of time as a form of escapism. Rather, he sees play in terms of the imaginative way that small children play. There is often a set of rules formed at the beginning of play which is part of the world created in the act of play. It is an “oasis of freedom,” and it “takes us out of the world of daily goals and their pressures and into a sphere free of purpose and achievement.” He further notes that children’s play can be an anticipation of adulthood without the burdens. For instance, a little girl pretending to be a mother anticipates the joy of motherhood without the duties of changing diapers, calming a screaming child, or guiding a young soul to maturity. Play is something that children do for its own sake. There really is no purpose or ulterior motive — children play for the pure joy of playing!

Seen in this light of “play,” the liturgy is also a space of freedom, a place where we can find release from the cares of this world and a point of entry into another one. Just as children’s play is often an anticipation of their future life, for us, the liturgy is an anticipation of eternal life. In this way, Ratzinger notes, the liturgy is the “rediscovery within us of true childhood, of openness to a greatness still to come, which is still unfulfilled in adult life.” The liturgy is the primary space where heaven meets earth. As such, our life as Catholics flows from and points toward it.

Sunday Mass, then, ought to be the high point of our week!

But what happens if we feel like we do not encounter God at Mass? What if Mass seems boring?

Firstly, it’s important to make a distinction between how we feel and the reality of what is happening. It’s easy to let Mass attendance slide if we feel like we’re not getting anything out of it. I would like to propose a shift in mindset towards how we view the liturgy: seeing it in terms of relationship and Christ’s loving action in our lives. Imagine if a husband or wife refused to spend time on a weekly basis with the other spouse. Or prioritized entertainment, shopping, or their kids’ activities over the relationship. Or only saw each other at Christmas and Easter. What would happen to that marriage?

Let’s just say that marriage counseling would be in order!

It is also important to recognize that even when the Mass or our personal prayer seems dry or pointless, it does not mean that Jesus is not there or that he is not working. He dwells among us in a little white host in a very hidden way, and sometimes his work is also hidden. It takes a great deal of trust to lean into this hiddenness of the Lord. I believe that when we trust him in this way, our faithfulness in the darkness is one of the greatest acts of love for him — because we are not loving him due to his effects or gifts. We are loving him for his own sake.

Think of it this way: suppose you had a friend who only talked with you when he wanted something, because things were going badly in his life, or perhaps he was in a good mood and just happened to feel like being your friend that day. Contrast that with a faithful friend: someone who shares life with you consistently and who you can trust to always be there for you. Which of the two is a better friend?

While, ideally, we would like to be faithful friends of the Lord in good times and bad, the reality is often quite different. We fall, we forget, and many times, we fail. The truth, though, is that even when we are not faithful to the Lord, he remains faithful to us. He will take the smallest grain of whatever we have to give and can transform that into something beautiful. Though our love is imperfect, his is not.

(Kathleen McCarty is executive assistant to the Chief of Staff for the Diocese of Colorado Springs.)

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