“The Mass is a moment of reflection and encounter with God, rather than a form of entertainment,” said Francis Cardinal Arinze, prefect of the Congregation for the Sacraments and Divine Worship, in an interview from Rome.
Keeping God in Sight
When the Roman Curia member specifically responsible for the liturgy raises this topic to us, it is advisable that we sit up and take notice, to stop for a moment of reflection. Is there perhaps a possibility that we may have been unwittingly viewing the Mass as a source of entertainment?
What is meant by “entertainment” and how does entertainment differ from worship? Referencing Webster’s, entertainment is “something affording diversion or amusement; an exhibition or performance of some kind.” To entertain is to “hold the attention agreeably; divert; amuse.” In contrast, worship is “reverent honor and homage paid to God; to render religious reverence and homage to [God].” It is “a feeling or attitude of deep respect tinged with awe; veneration.”
Entertainment usually involves activity accompanied by music, or at least sound. Worship can also involve activity (the actions of the Mass) and sound (sacred music). But the heights of worship may be reached in silence and the purpose of the sounds or music accompanying worship is not for us to give attention to them, but to aid us in lifting up our hearts.
Entertainment is something that is done for us. Worship is something we render to God with an attitude of deep respect tinged with awe. Anyone at almost any time can be entertained. We have to come from a place of reflection and humility if we are to worship. When we are entertained we get to sit back, watch and feel good. Worship often brings us to our knees and, even if our knees are hurting, we likely feel that kneeling is where we belong.
In entertainment the focus is on human actors and actions. In worship we focus on God. Entertainment is generally pleasing to the senses. Worship at times may be pleasing also some saints have gone into ecstasies during worship. But at other times worship may not be particularly pleasing at all, especially if we are reflecting on the agony of Christ on the Cross, or bringing our sins before the Lord. In entertainment we seek enjoyment. In worship we seek Truth.
So how do we know if we are seeking entertainment, or if we are truly worshipping at Mass? We might begin by asking ourselves some questions about the way in which we approach Mass on Sunday.
Am I able to focus my eyes and thoughts upon the actions of the Mass and the priest acting in persona Christi (in the person of Christ)? Or do my eyes and thoughts tend to be diverted in admiring attention towards the dress and movements of the musicians or other servants of the Mass?
Am I able to take time in silence to thank God, tell Him I am sorry, and ask for what I need? Or do I feel more comfortable when every minute from the time I enter church to the time I leave is filled with activity or sound?
As Mass concludes do I tend to show more thanksgiving to the servants of the Mass than I show to God who was being served?
Am I aware of where the tabernacle is, and do I have a deep respect toward Christ in the tabernacle and the Mass that is tinged with “awe and veneration”?
Does reverence for the tabernacle help me to avoid mindless chatter or laughter before, during or after Mass in the church building?
Do I arrive early for Mass so as properly to prepare my soul for the Eucharist, or do I typically find myself making a mad last-minute dash into Mass?
After receiving the Eucharist, do I attempt to enter into communion with Him who has just entered my heart?
Do I believe I belong on my knees before God or do I resent kneeling?
At Mass, am I able at times to feel sorrow for my sins and for Christ’s suffering, or do I often forget to think about my sins or the sacrifice of Christ at Calvary?
Am I able to welcome true but challenging catechetical instruction during the homily with the understanding that the liturgy is the “privileged place for catechizing the people of God” (CCC 1074)? Or do I become annoyed when homilies present Rome’s teachings on difficult topics? (Difficult topics might include authentic teachings on marriage, euthanasia, heaven, hell, purgatory, the seven capital sins, the four cardinal virtues, the precepts of the Church, abortion and the Sacrament of Reconciliation.)
Directing Our Hearts and Minds
Entertainment in moderation in everyday life is fine. It can divert us from our problems or stresses or amuse us when we need a laugh. There is nothing wrong with wholesome diversion now and then. But entertainment during the Mass is distraction, and distraction in Mass is a problem. Everything about the Mass ought to direct us to, not distract us or divert attention from, Jesus Christ fully present to us in His Body, Blood Soul and Divinity.
When entertainment in Mass diverts us from the Eucharist, it also diverts us from the “source and the summit” of the Christian life. Entertainment may be a modern crutch. But it is not worship. Entertainment may amuse us, divert us, or make us “feel good.” But it is not, nor will it ever take us to, the true source and summit of the Christian life. We ascend toward, and ultimately reach, that summit through prayer and solid Catholic worship.
A church is for worship. Worship includes respect, awe and veneration. Going into church requires a transition from our everyday lives with the hypnotic, magnetic pull that modern entertainment has upon our minds and hearts. It requires an act of our will prompted by love of God to prepare ourselves mentally and spiritually for Sunday worship. But such preparation is exactly what our God deserves.
© Copyright 2006 Catholic Exchange
Mary Anne Moresco writes from Monmouth County, New Jersey.