Close by the Cross of Jesus was his mother Mary. But she was not simply there as the other by-standers, she wasn’t simply looking on. She was suffering with him. Here at the Cross she was living out the prophecy of Simeon. Years earlier when she brought her little boy to the Temple in Jerusalem the old man took the child in his arms and prophesied that the child would be a sign that would be rejected and to his mother he had said “a sword will also pierce you soul also”. Now as she stands by the Cross every blow he received she feels in her soul. The lance that pierced his heart also pierces her soul. She is not looking on from a distance.
Mary teaches us how to attend the Holy Mass. When we go to Mass we are not to be mere by-standers – looking on at what the priest is doing. We are meant to stand like Mary, to be part of what is going on, indeed to offer ourselves in communion with Jesus.
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI told us this when he addressed the International Eucharist Congress in Dublin in 2012. Speaking of the renewal of the liturgy after the Vatican II the Pope said: “The renewal of external forms, desired by the Council Fathers, was intended to make it easier to enter into the inner depth of the mystery. Its true purpose was to lead people to a personal encounter with the Lord, present in the Eucharist, and thus with the living God, so that through this contact with Christ’s love, the love of his brothers and sisters for one another might also grow. Yet not infrequently, the revision of liturgical forms has remained at an external level, and “active participation” has been confused with external activity. Hence much still remains to be done on the path of real liturgical renewal. In a changed world, increasingly fixated on material things, we must learn to recognize anew the mysterious presence of the Risen Lord, which alone can give breadth and depth to our life.
The Eucharist is the worship of the whole Church, but it also requires the full engagement of each individual Christian in the Church’s mission; it contains a call to be the holy people of God, but also one to individual holiness; it is to be celebrated with great joy and simplicity, but also as worthily and reverently as possible; it invites us to repent of our sins, but also to forgive our brothers and sisters; it binds us together in the Spirit, but it also commands us in the same Spirit to bring the good news of salvation to others.”
Mary helps us to enter into the inner depth of the mystery that we celebrate at the Holy Mass. She teaches us how not to be bored. So often people go to Mass to be entertained, to listen to a nice priest, to hear the good music, because it is has a good children’s liturgy. All these things may be fine as externals, but if one is not also going to be with Christ, to offer oneself to the Father in communion with Christ, then you stand as one of the by-standers at Calvary. You are watching things from afar.
Each time we go to Mass we must go prepared to have our souls pierced. We go to meet Christ anew in our lives. How often do we go to Mass expecting so little and therefore we receive so little in return. I have a friend who always says he goes to listen to Mass. I asked him was he going just to listen but he replied that he was going to have the words of the sacred liturgy pierce his soul. He said to me that he listens to the readings of the Sacred Scripture expecting them to pierce his soul. He listens to the words of the Eucharist-prayer so that he can hear the words of Jesus pierce his soul with his love; “This is my body offered for you” and “This is my blood poured out for you”. And finally he goes to Holy Communion so that the Word of God, Jesus Himself can come to him and truly pierce his soul with his real presence.
In union with Mary we too can learn how to be true active participants in the Mass and not mere on-lookers and by-standers.
Fr. John M. Harris, O.P.