Not long after I became at Catholic one of those “I grew up Catholic” types told me that the reason they left the Cataholwic Church was because one day they looked around one day and saw that no one in there had any joy on their face – everyone looked like they were at a funeral. He said he left there and went to a Protestant church where everyone was joyful. I asked him two questions. 1) Could you see what God can see – the inside of them to determine whether there was joy in their hearts, or could you only see what you could see. 2) Why were you looking around in the first place? Why wasn’t your eyes fixed on Jesus?
“Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed.” Indeed, the beautiful goal the liturgy of the Sacrifice of the Mass in the Catholic Church is to facilitate a magnanimous encounter between a God who always yearns to make Himself visible to His people and a people who desires to present themselves to their loving creator and savior in hopes that they might receive Him who they are being united to.
It is only at the Catholic Mass where the Eternal Father meets His children through the Real Presence of His Son Jesus. Just as God encountered man and woman and began the process of healing His relationship with them through Christ becoming Flesh and Blood, so does He reenter that healing process again and again and again at every Mass – every day – and in every part of the world, when Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of His Son steps out of eternity again to become the Holy Eucharist.
When a man loves a woman, he makes himself fully present to her in ways that she can clearly perceive as him loving on her, but even when his full self – his mind, body, and soul – are truly there and engaged in her, he is still only one presence. That is, he cannot be fully present to her through other people and things. The wife might find glimmers of her beloved in a photograph, but that is not truly him. She might see her husband in the faces and mannerisms of their children, but they are not fully him. Only he can truly him.
If God could be no more to us than what a husband can be to his wife, why type of limited God would be serving? To the contrary, the liturgy of the Catholic Mass is God tripping over Himself to let us know that He loves and that He is there for us. The Mass is God extending Himself to the furthest reaches of our senses and faith so that we might know that we are never alone in this world. In this way, He comes to us not just in one presence, but in four united to the one. The Mass presents a visible God as the Holy Eucharist – the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of the Risen Lord, in the Word of Sacred Scripture, in the Priest who comes in persona Christi, and finally in His Baptized people who are gathered in praying the liturgy to Him.
How do we present ourselves in the presence of God? How do we present ourselves in the presence of the Eternal King? If you are a Western Catholic you may think that the Mass as being the unbloody continuation of Calvary; a unbloody renewal of the new covenant, and you would be absolutely right according to the teachings of Trent and Vatican II. For this reason, your external disposition reflects your interior disposition; that the Mass is a very solemn moment that demands you to be completely serious, attentive, supplicative and demure. These Catholics are especially attentive to the aspect of the Mass which recalls the horrific death of our Lord, and for this, their faces oftentimes look like a funeral is taking place. There is a sacrifice taking place, therefore, let our adoration and contrition be our participation in this sacrifice. The saints have attested to deep joy as being the fruit of their solemn reverence.
In contrast, if you are a Catholic from parts of Africa and South America or a Charismatic, you too see the Mass as being the unbloody continuation of Calvary; an unbloody renewal of the new covenant, but for this your interior disposition that reveals itself in your exterior actions is not one of complete seriousness and reservation, inasmuch as you too are attentive. Rather, for these Catholics, this is a time of thanksgiving and praise. They are actively engaged in the Quad Presence of the Divine as the Mass, and it makes them want to dance like David danced when the Ark of the Covenant returned to Jerusalem. They are like John the Waymaker who leaped in the womb of Elizabeth when Mary, the Mother of God, visited them. These Catholics are especially attentive to the aspect of the Mass that recall the glorious and joyful resurrection of our Lord, and for this their faces oftentimes look like a wedding is taking place. They can no more contain their joy at the sight of the Holy Eucharist than the sun can contain its heat.
Both of these two groups believe that the Mass offers healing and forgiveness for venial sins for which they are sorrowful, and for temporal punishment commonly left over after forgiveness of sins, but their internal and external disposition reacts to this good news in two completely different ways.
What is the right external disposition at the Mass? To have a sad face or to look joyful? There is no answer for all people here, except for you to worship the Lord in Spirit and in Truth, and with the aid of the Holy Spirit who dwells with you, discern how you are being called to worthily present yourself so that you might receive and give the Lord.
I admit that I struggle with this at every Mass. I’m not Westernized at all. My interior disposition is one of complete joy. Whenever I see the priest elevate the Host I want to dance like David danced. Oftentimes my hands that are in a prayer position start silently clapping. I want to dance in praise down the aisle on the way to receive Him who I am grateful to for all He has done for me. When I kneel down to receive my King, and the priest says, “the Body of Christ,” I want to shout AMEN! It is my sacrifice to force my external disposition to act contrary to what is going on on the inside. I’m looking forwarding to experiencing a Mass like the one below one day, and bringing my sacrifice to the Lord with dance and praise: