The infinite greatness of the Holy Mass should enable us to understand the need of attentively and devoutly taking part in this Sacrifice of Jesus. Adoration, love and sorrow ought to have undisputed predominance among our sentiments.
In a very moving reflection, Ven. Pope Pius XII described the state of mind with which one should take part in the Holy Mass: it should be “the state of mind that the Divine Redeemer had when He sacrificed Himself—the same humble spirit of submission—that is, of adoration, love, praise and thanksgiving to the great majesty of God, so that we reproduce in ourselves the condition of victimhood, the self-denial that follows the Gospel’s teaching, by which of our own accord we make a willing sacrifice of penance, sorrow and expiation for our sins.”
Let us ask ourselves seriously: is this the state of mind with which we participate at Holy Mass?
The Crucifix and the Candles
True and active participation at Holy Mass is what makes us into sacrificial victims like Jesus. Such participation succeeds in “reproducing in us the pain-shared features of Jesus” (Pius XII), bestowing upon us “a companionship with Christ in His sufferings” and rendering us “conformable to His Death” (Phil. 3:10). All the rest is mere liturgical ceremony, external dress.
St. Gregory the Great taught: “The Sacrifice of the Altar will be truly acceptable as a Victim offered in our behalf to God when we make ourselves into the Victim.”
As a reflection of this doctrine, in early Christian communities, the faithful, wearing penitential garbs and chanting the litany of the saints, went in procession to the altar for the celebration of Holy Mass, with the Pope presiding. If we would go to Mass in this spirit, we should want to make our own the sentiment St. Thomas the Apostle expressed when he said, “Let us also go, that we may die with Him” (Jn. 11:16).
When St. Margaret Mary Alacoque attended Holy Mass and would gaze at the altar, she would never fail to glance at the Crucifix and the lighted candles. Why? It was to impress on her mind and heart two things: that the Crucifix should remind her of what Jesus had done for her; that the lighted candles recall what she must do for Jesus—that is, sacrifice herself and be consumed for Him and for souls.
Every day the King of France, St. Louis IX, would assist at Holy Mass on his knees, on the bare floor. One time a valet offered him a kneeler, but the king told him, “At Mass God offers Himself as a sacrifice, and when God sacrifices Himself, kings should kneel on the floor.”
St. John Bosco recommended that young people participate at Holy Mass by following the method of St. Leonard of Port Maurice, who divided the sacrificial part of the Mass into three parts, whereby one meditates, first upon the Passion of Jesus (from the Offertory to the Elevation); second, upon our sins, the cause of the Passion and Death of Jesus (until Communion); and third, upon the resolution to live a pure and fervent life (from Communion to the end of Mass).
To be able to do this in the simplest and most fruitful way, it is enough to commit oneself to follow attentively the priest at the altar. In this way one overcomes more easily the distractions and boredom. (And on Sundays one should not go in search for—as some do—the shortest Mass, simply because they can hardly wait for Mass to end!)
One day the father of Guido of Fontgalland asked his son how one should occupy himself during Mass. “During Holy Mass,” the holy youth replied, “our single occupation is to follow it. It is enough to read with the priest the prayers that he recites at the altar….”
It is the same reply that Pope St. Pius X gave to whomever wanted to know what prayers to recite during Holy Mass: “Follow the Mass, say the prayers of the Mass!”
Be like Our Lady on Calvary
The best example of participation at the Holy Sacrifice is given us at the foot of the Cross by the most Blessed Virgin Mary, St. John the Evangelist and St. Mary Magdalene with the pious women (Jn. 19:25).
To assist at Mass is very much like being at Calvary. A meeting of love and sorrow with Jesus Crucified—this is participation at Holy Mass.
St. Andrew of Avellino used to be moved to tears as he said, “One cannot separate the most Holy Eucharist from the Passion of Jesus.” One day a spiritual son asked St. Pio of Pietrelcina, “Father, how should we take part at Holy Mass?” St. Pio replied, “As Our Lady, St. John and the pious women did on Calvary—with love and compassion.”
In a missal of one of his spiritual children St. Pio wrote: “In assisting at Holy Mass, concentrate intently on the tremendous Mystery which is taking place before your eyes, which is the Redemption and reconciliation of your soul with God.”
At another time he was asked, “Father, why is it that you weep so much during Mass?”
“My daughter,” replied St. Pio, “what are those few tears compared to what takes place at the altar? There should be torrents of tears!”