Thursday, December 20, 2012

Mass Is Not the Sermon

Sermons are an important part of the Catholic liturgy but they are not the heart of what happens at the altar.  And yet many will leave the church having decided that what happened during the Mass was boring; the sermon was uninteresting. The sermon receives more importance than it deserves. But even a poor sermon can add to our growth in the totality of the Mass. 
The whole Mass is a audio-visual sermon. A representation and memorial of the love that Jesus showed us by his life, death and resurrection while here on earth.  We are not present at Mass as passive viewers but as active friends of Jesus who want to deepen our relationship with him by listening to him, by talking to him, by questioning him, by spending time in understanding his call to discipleship. And by becoming one with him. With this  active understanding of the Mass, we have no time to be bored because we are offering the Mass with the priest.

The columnist writing on spirituality for the Catholic Times mentions a priest who was well-known for giving inspiring sermons. He gives us a  glimpse of  the thoughts of his friend when preparing his sermons. Though he spent a great deal of time preparing them and saw them as very important, and was able to move the hearts of the parishioners, the columnist said that the priest didn't accept the praise uncritically.

He explained: "If my sermons are all that they remember and yet they do not pay attention to what is happening at the altar, forgetting what is being represented and what we are remembering, and do not experience  the joy and happiness of the liturgy, then there's a problem. If all that is remembered after the Mass is the sermon, then I have the fear that I pandered to a desire to be popular. I'm saying with sugary words what they want to hear, and that is not what it's all about."

For a Catholic, the sermon should draw us closer to Jesus, but this is done through the whole of the Mass, and it should not depend on the quality of the sermon. If we are receptive and have a desire to grow spiritually then the reception of  God's grace in our hearts will not be prevented by a poor sermon.

It cannot be stressed enough that though sermons are important and nourish us, they are only part of what is happening at Mass. We are renewing again the relationship with our Lord and preparing ourselves for the work he has given us. The word 'liturgy' means unpaid labor exacted by lawful authority. Jesus asks us to get involved in this work. The word 'Mass' derives from the word of dismissal taken from the Latin.  Showing our thanks for the trust he shows us, we answer with gratitude, in the last words of the Mass: "Thanks be to God."
Since we have been united with Jesus in the Eucharist, the gratitude can not be exaggerated. 

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