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Preparing to enter God’s presence at Mass

June 5, 2015
Sister Maria Catherine, OP

Mark’s Gospel is terribly brief. In fact, it is often tagged “The Passion with an Introduction.” Given that fact, why would the inspired writer take time to talk about how the Apostles prepared for the first Mass? Why does it matter if Jesus gave them driving directions? Wouldn’t it be safe to presume that anyway?

Part of Mark’s message is that preparing ourselves physically and spiritually for Mass is a key component to receiving the Eucharist. In the church building itself, just like in the upper room, we have a place that is “furnished and ready.” In many of the beautiful churches in San Francisco, (like St. Dominic’s and Mission Dolores, to name a couple) each stained-glass window and statue is steeped in significance. Beautiful exteriors help me to turn my mind and heart interiorly from the distracted, technocratic world I live in to the heavens. This is why, as Dominican Father Anselm Ramelow said in one of his lectures on truth, goodness and beauty, Christian churches should look less like pagan temples and more like kings’ audience chambers. The church is where I go to meet the king.

I remember being so edified as a new convert that my parish observed silence the last few minutes before the Mass began. Amid the tittering conversation reverberating throughout the nave, an usher would approach the ambo with all the telltale announcements (i.e. silencing cell phones, opening hymn number, etc.) but then would invite everyone to prepare their hearts to receive the Lord in quiet recollection. All in the pews would fall thoughtfully silent. This example taught me from the beginning of my faith journey that there is something weighty and powerful to preparing my heart before Mass. When my preparation is so sparse and divided by my chatting in the pews, I am more scattered and more willing to be distracted by all things beyond the Mass, rather than drawn into the beautiful mystery unfolding from my beloved in the Mass. When I return to my usual practices that foster recollection, I am much more at peace to hear the Mass, and to return to the Lord with my whole heart.

In teaching my students who are entering the church about preparing for Mass, it’s exciting to teach them the Anima Christi, a spiritual Communion prayer, or even just simple meditations, like “My Lord, my God.” These words help their minds to chew on the reality of God’s presence. These elements of preparation may seem insignificant, but I have found they can actually make or break my openness to the unique and unrepeatable graces God gives me at each Mass.

On the night before he dies, after the Apostles’ preparation, Jesus startlingly offers his followers the total gift of himself. Centuries later, it is St. Thomas Aquinas’ sequence for this feast that is the church’s response to Christ’s self-emptying love. Let us go, too, and, enter the city, and find it, and prepare for the Passover, “just as he had told them.”

Sister Maria Catherine is a member of the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, and teaches English at Marin Catholic High School.

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