Once again it is the weekend. Soon Catholic Church parking lots will fill with their members filing in for Mass. There will be basically two groups getting out of the cars, those who feel forced by law or others to go and those who want to be there. It has been my own experience that what one brings to Mass will be what one takes from Mass.
Over the course of my years as a priest, I have heard over and over again, "Father, I get nothing out of Mass." That can mean many things. Maybe it means that the priest is either uninteresting in either content or style, the music is bad or not to the taste of the hearer, or that I came in expecting nothing and that is exactly what I got. My retort to this objection is, "Well, what did you bring in?" We use the word Eucharist as a synonym for Mass. The word Eucharist comes from the Greek word for thanksgiving. It is the understanding of the Church that one comes into Mass with a heart full of thanksgiving to God for His many blessings that have been poured out upon the person that week. In the course of the Mass we bring up wine and unleavened bread, two items that were a part of the thanksgiving sacrifice of the Old Testament, as a thanksgiving for God's blessings. The collection is normally taken up also as a sign of our thanksgiving to God for all the blessings we regularly receive. The simple question for each of us is, "Am I coming into this Mass with a heart full of thanksgiving for all that God has done for me and for us in this last week?" seeing as how none of us merit God's blessings and grace, to enter Mass without thanksgiving is to show up not only empty handed but with an attitude of " You better give me something now". God owes us nothing but out of His great love provides everything. That needs to be abundantly clear when we come in. That is why coming early to prepare is so important; it gives us the opportunity to pray and name that for which we are thankful and acknowledge where we have been neglectful or hostile to God or to those around us.
This leads back to the question I ask, "What are you bringing in?" The Eucharist is not merely a thanksgiving offering, but it is a peace/sin offering as well. In the Old Testament, when a peace/sin offering was brought, it was not as if it was thrown in toto onto the altar and burned, only certain parts made it to the altar (blood, fat, some organs, for example), part of the flesh had to be eaten by the person who brought the sacrifice so as to unite him to the sacrifice and thus receive the benefit of the sacrifice, forgiveness. The animal had committed no sin, the person bringing it had. That animal suffered what was due to the person, so the two had to be mixed (so to speak), so that they were one. Christ Jesus had no sin, yet was offered as a peace/sin offering for us. This is why Jesus says in John 6: Unless you my flesh and drink my blood you have no life within you. Think of that the next time you ready yourself for Mass!! So many times we get nothing out of Mass because what we bring is a blasphemous thanksgiving offering: our sin instead of our thanksgiving or our sin mixed with our thanksgiving. We cannot give God a thanksgiving offering of rotten fruit or good fruit mixed with rotten fruit! Part of rightful participation in the Eucharist is a humble evaluation of our actions, words, thought, and such with one question in mind: What Eucharistic offering am I bringing? Some of our failings severe our relationship with God(mortal sin...yes we still believe that one) and require the Sacrament of Reconciliation (lying, gossip, theft, sex outside of marriage, to name a few) to purify our thanksgiving offering. Some sin (venial sin) is forgiven in the context of Mass (penitential rite) so that when we bring our thanksgiving sacrifice we may make a pleasing sacrifice to God. That sacrifice is our lives symbolized by the bread, the wine, and the tithe.
Mass is not 'fire insurance' or a 'get out hell free card'. If we feel we have to go to Mass or else, then there needs to be a bit of work done. We cannot control the homily or the music, but we can control our attitude. We do control the offering we bring. If we want to get something out of Mass then being watchful of what we bring in will make a huge difference. The person that wants to be there understands this. So this weekend, bring in a suitable offering of thanksgiving, if you need to go to Confession, do so...let your offering flow from a heart full of thanksgiving and not be soured by a heart of entitlement.