Before he was elected as Pope Benedict XVI, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger wrote a book entitled The Spirit of the Liturgy. In this book he wrote that the Sacrifice of the Holy Mass was in danger of losing its moorings as the worship of God and was slowly becoming in the hearts and minds of many Catholics nothing more than a celebration of the community alone. Instead of coming together to worship God, people were coming together merely to “eat, drink, and be merry,” celebrating the community alone.
He cited the story in the Bible when Moses went up to the mountain in order to receive God’s laws. Because Moses was so long in returning, this delay caused the people to embrace a distorted view of God as being distant and aloof, a view that led them to engage in a false religious ritual that was not the worship of God, but a mere celebration of the community alone.
The then Cardinal warned that when our gatherings at Mass become nothing but a circle closed in on itself, with the members merely focusing on eating, drinking, and making merry, instead of worshipping God, man cannot experience genuine spiritual liberation at the Mass. Spiritual liberation from all that oppresses and distresses us can only take place when man has a genuine encounter with God. Celebrations of the community alone are not genuine encounters with God. Only when we make the worship of God our primary motive for going to Mass will we experience the full benefits of the Mass.
We must make sure that when we go to Mass, our intention is to worship God, not merely to engage in a celebration of the community alone and to eat, drink, and be merry.
Many people do not feel like they are encountering God at Mass, not because He is absent, but because perhaps their motive for going to Mass is wrong to begin with.
Our primary purpose in going to Mass is not to receive, but to give. We go to give worship to God. This must be our first motive. Only when we go to worship God will we receive from Him the many graces which testify that we have truly encountered the Lord at Mass.
One of the greatest reasons for mankind’s distress is his ignorance concerning the purpose for his creation. Man was created by God and for God. He was created for God’s pleasure, not his own. He was created to worship God. When we lose sight of this truth, and we begin to live for every other purpose except the purpose for which we were created, our soul immediately goes into distress. When our soul goes into distress, we feel this in every way, and we look for a way to stop the pain. Some drink, some take drugs, while others spend recklessly in order to fill the emptiness that they are feeling. Others may go from one relationship to the next, looking for that special someone who will fill the void in their heart.
That emptiness which they are feeling is the yearning of their soul to connect with God and to encounter Him. Only when they experience this genuine connection and encounter will the distress of their soul dissipate.
God the Father wants man to encounter Him. To encounter someone simply means to meet with them. The celebration of the Eucharist was instituted by Jesus Christ as a means of perpetually bringing about this encounter between God and man. Each time we go to Mass in order to worship God, we encounter God. But when we go to Mass for any other reason, we do not encounter God. When this happens, we leave Mass untouched, not because God was not there, but because our motive in going was wrong.
Then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger wrote as he did in order to warn the Church about its true purpose in gathering together at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. We don’t go to Mass in order to eat, drink, and be merry, to celebrate the community alone, or to receive a religiously warm and fuzzy experience. We go to Mass in order to worship God. Only when we make worship of God our sole purpose in going will we receive the benefits of a genuine encounter with God.
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