Reflections by Jennifer Geach
Difficulties with going to Mass
18th June 2018
Sometimes (often) it can be difficult going to Mass. In the first place, there are the practical difficulties. Most parishes in cities are very generous in the number of Masses they offer, and our hard working and devoted priests serve us very well. (We need however to pray constantly that the numbers of priests be supplemented, for otherwise we may find ourselves without a priest, and so without Mass which is the sun and centre of the Christian life). But it is all too easy to feel that any time is difficult, that Mass 'gets in the way' of all the other things we want to do with our precious weekend. If we live far from a church, these difficulties can be exacerbated. (So if one is buying or renting a house, one consideration should be how far it is to reach Mass. Cardinal Manning oversaw the building of many churches in London, because he wanted to make sure that no one lived more than a mile from a church).
And then if one has children, there is the business of dressing and organising them. If they are little, Mass can turn into an ordeal by toddler: and the attitude of the rest of the congregation can be very off putting. (If small children are distracted and distracting during Mass, sour looks and disapproval are a great offence against charity, and may jeopardise a whole family's practice of the faith. If you cannot help, don't hinder: and invoke the guardian angels of the children). And it may be that your parish priest does not conduct the liturgy in ways that you like, or preach well: or that the music is not to your taste.
But quite apart from these obstacles, which can serve as excuses for non-attendance, it can be hard going to Mass. For at every Mass, we come face to face with God, our Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier present in his word, in the community, and above all in the Blessed Sacrament. And it can take some courage to face God, God whom we have at least neglected and put onto a back burner all week long, and against whom we may have committed egregious offences. We have the awe inspiring privilege of meeting God face to face; more than that, if we are fit, we are literally nourished by God himself, who gives himself to us in Holy Communion. No wonder that the enemy of mankind should sometimes be able to fill us with reluctance and timidity! The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom: it is quite right that we should feel a holy awe, a holy fear of attending Mass. And we may feel aghast at what I call ‘the gap’- the gap between my professions before the altar, and the actual life I lead; the gap between the generosity of God and the poverty of my response.
We must not however allow our fears to overwhelm us: for the God who calls us to him is gracious and full of forgiveness, rich in mercy and abounding in love. Even if our offerings are paltry, even though we come with nothing before him, his love for us is so great that he will welcome us. As Isaiah puts it ‘All you that thirst, come to the waters: and you that have no money make haste, buy, and eat: come ye, buy wine and milk without money, and without any price.’ It is not because we are rich or virtuous that we come to Christ: it is because we are poor and desperate, starving for the food that he alone can give us.