I’m trying to be holy. I try to set aside time for prayer, and I particularly try to be attentive during Mass.
But, the basic problem is me. I’m just very, very easily distracted. My mind whirls around, thinking about what I was doing, what I’m going to be doing, the current list of things I’m worried about, and on, and on. I just have a hard time focusing during Mass.
That’s why I follow along in a missal, so I can concentrate two of my senses at once on the prayers of the Mass, and try to get my heart and mind to join in those prayers. I’m trying to actively participate in the Mass, instead of just being there and mouthing the responses. By doing this, I have come to appreciate the beauty and noble simplicity of the prayers of the Mass, and they draw me upward to God — after all, He’s the one we’re addressing our prayers to.
That’s also why it’s a disaster for me when the priest change the words of the Mass. It throws me off, takes my mind out of the prayers, and adds yet another layer of distraction. The human element jumps in front of me, blocking my view of the divine.
This rarely happens at my home parish, or at the parish where I attend daily Mass. But it has happened on occasion when I’ve been travelling. For example, there’s the priest who seems to make up the words of the Eucharistic prayers as he goes along. How can I join my prayers to his if I have no idea what he’s going to say next? Or the priest who decided to re-write the Eucharistic Prayer so that it was in the form of a dialogue — some parts he said, and others were said by the congregation. I can’t even tell you what a strange experience that was. Or the priest who decided last weekend to use the Gospel reading from Saturday, the Solemnity of the Assumption, instead of the regular Sunday Gospel. That totally threw me off — I love Mary, and I’m sorry that the Assumption wasn’t a Holy Day of Obligation this year, but for goodness sake, the Sunday Gospel was the climax of the Bread of Life discourse from John 6, perhaps the most important thing that Jesus ever said.
It’s particularly difficult when the priest chooses a manner of speaking as if he is having a conversation with us. That’s even more distracting. I can’t help but thinking, why are you talking to me? Shouldn’t we all be talking to God?
I know that this kind of thing is usually done with a good intention, to make the Mass more open and inviting, or to make the congregation feel more a part of the Mass. But it has the exact opposite effect on me — it pushes me away, and makes it much harder for me to actively participate in the Mass.
I’m not a regular at the Traditional Latin Mass, but I imagine that this is not a problem — unless you’re an exceptional linguist, you probably couldn’t ad lib in Latin. There’s also the old instruction to the priest to “do the red and say the black” — do all the required movements and gestures, which are written in the Sacramentary in red, and say the required words, which are written in black. The few times I’ve attended the Extraordinary Form, it actually helped me that it was in Latin, because I had to concentrate harder to follow along, and I felt myself entering into the prayers more, and joining the priest in offering them. That experience has helped me be more attentive and focused while attending Mass in the Ordinary Form.
I don’t want to be critical of our priests, whom I love and pray for daily. And I don’t want to be some kind of “liturgical police”, constantly looking for problems at Mass and acting like I’m more Catholic than the Pope. That’s not my job, and I wouldn’t want it anyway.
I’m just trying to be holy. But I’m a weak, restless person who has a hard time concentrating on the Lord during Mass.
So, I’m begging. Please, Father, help me be holy. Please don’t change anything.