Going to mass can seem like a chore, just another thing to get through during the week. We show up and sit around people we don’t know, or may only know in passing, get communion, and head out the door. And honestly, it feels like most of the people around us don’t really want to be there either.
At least, that was my experience, until I went to college. I don’t think I went to mass at all during my freshman year, but when I was a sophomore I found out they had donuts after and I was all in! I headed over with a friend, my mouth watering for a real bakery treat and not subpar cafeteria food.
The chapel was small and felt intimate. Being a performing arts college, the choir was outstanding. The priest seemed like a real person who happened to be a priest. His homily related to me on a personal level. The extraordinary ministers were students, not “grown-ups” making the Eucharist seem more accessible.
But what stood out to me the most was the overwhelming feeling that every single person at mass really and truly wanted to be there. It was incredible. It's hard to explain the feeling. The closest thing I can relate it to is when you are at a wedding for a really great couple and the vibe around you is all happiness and celebration. From the outside, the wedding looks just like many other weddings, but the feeling in the room is different, special.
Suddenly mass felt like I imagine how it is always supposed to: a true community and a communal prayer.
I went back next week and the week after and the week after that and not just for the donuts. (Although, I'm not going to lie, I never said no to a donut). It was appealing, being in that chapel each Sunday evening. I started looking forward to it.
I felt the Holy Spirit in that room. My love for the Eucharist deepened. Those masses showed me outwardly what's really going on underneath the surface at every mass I'd ever been too. Yes, they were beautiful because the singing was so good and the homilies were on point, but like those really special weddings I've been too, there was something unseen that made the event special, something beyond the dress and the flowers and the pomp and circumstance.
Since graduating and moving back to parish life, I haven’t been to many masses that felt like the ones in college, but I know that deep down, each mass I’ve attended since has the same Holy Spirit, the same Eucharist, the same blessings that come from communal prayer.
If you’ve never experienced mass with a group of people who really and truly want to be there, find one. Check out local colleges to see if they have a chapel or a Neumann Center on campus. Or, attend a one day or weekend retreat which will include a mass. See if you can find a mass at a nursing home, or attend mass at a seminary or a convent. Daily mass at your local parish is also a great place to start. See if you can recognize something at that mass that opens your eyes to what mass really can be.
For where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am in the midst of them. - Matthew 18:20
"Every Holy Mass, heard with devotion, produces in our souls marvelous effects, abundant spiritual and material graces which we, ourselves, do not know...It is easier for the earth to exist without the sun than without the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass!" - St. Padre Pio