There is a story of a saintly priest from long ago who had a problem with one of his parishioners who attended daily Mass but left immediately after Communion. He solved the problem by ordering two altar boys with lighted candles to walk on either side of the man as soon as he started to leave the church and accompany him all the way to his carriage (pre-automobile days). After three days repeating this action, the somewhat flustered and embarrassed gentleman asked the priest for an explanation. He was told that since Christ was still present in him as he left the church, his presence had to be honored by lighted candles. Needless to say, the man didn’t leave Mass early again.
I wonder sometimes if we, including us priests, remain sufficiently aware of the truth of Christ’s presence abiding with us as Mass comes to conclusion. Honestly, I really don’t know what to say to those who regularly choose to come to Mass late or leave Mass early. Nor do I know what to say to those who come to worship God at Mass in shorts and tee shirts and flip flops. Of course, sometimes neither of those situations can be helped. I understand that and the Lord certainly does too. But coming to Mass on time and dressing well for the Lord is, to a certain extent, one of those things you either “get” or you don’t. There is very little a priest can say to people who choose to leave Mass early, come late, or dress inappropriately. Saying anything, no matter how well thought out, or kind, or gentle, usually comes off very badly. At the same time, I do have a responsibility before God to encourage and instruct the people entrusted to me by Him. Take one look at the letters of Saint Paul to his people, his parishioners if you like, and anything I would say or have said wouldn’t seem all that bad. After all, he used to call people “foolish”, “backsliders”, “ignorant”, etc. I wouldn’t dare say that to you. Of course, I am no saint either, so I better not say things like that.
However it is quite sad to observe the near contempt we can sometimes have for the Lord at Mass. We dress for the beach when we come to worship Almighty God. Before and after Mass, in Church, we can talk about everything but the Lord, as if the Church were some kind of lounge. We can arrive late, we leave early, never giving ourselves time to spiritually prepare for Mass or to thank the Lord for coming into our hearts.
The Mass is the one of the greatest things in which we can participate, for at Mass, we enter into the one saving sacrifice of Jesus to the Father on our behalf. It is the celebration of our salvation. We are inserted into this eternal event and are united with Jesus Christ. There is nothing on earth that is more beautiful, profound or important than the Mass. I know we all believe this and I hope we always do everything we can to keep conscious of that each time we come to Mass and show our consciousness externally by our dress, our behavior during and after, and how and when we arrive and depart. For all of these things together will have a great impact on both our subjective experience of Mass as well as the spiritual benefit we receive. In the end, if we believe worship of God at Mass is important and act as if it is important to us, then very likely, it will become as important to us as it really is.
God bless you,
Father Joseph Byerley