By Jenny Koch
Connecting Faith and Life
Everything in the Mass points to heaven. I’ve been pondering these words lately, as I see my children growing in their understanding of the faith. I’m also attempting to teach the liturgical basics of the Mass, what I like to call the ‘what and why,’ to high school sophomores. My students are gaining knowledge of the symbolic and, hopefully, acting appropriately. On Sunday, my own children are always curious:
“Why are the candles so close to the book? Won’t they catch on fire?”
“Is that purple or pink?”
“Hold me so I can see!”
“Did he just wash his hands?”
Quiet voices during Mass, and inquiring minds want to know. What is going on here?
Sometimes, attempting to explain the sacraments is like trying to explain March Madness to my dogs. The answers I give my inquisitive children are adequate; but sometimes, they just stare at me like I have three heads. Their questions, however, make me even more keenly aware of the depth of symbolism and mystery in the liturgy. Whether it be the history of the linen cloths throughout the ages, the symbolic postures used throughout the Mass or the details of the Easter candle, I am always in awe at the depth of symbolism and mystery surrounding our liturgy. Convert to Catholicism Dr. Tod Worner (www.Todworner.com) describes the Eucharist, recalling, “It was an invitation for me to partake, in awe and wonder, in the miracle that is happening on the altar before my worldblind eyes.”
And perhaps that is where I need to rest. I am in awe. Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and a recognition of mystery is, perhaps, the beginning of our journey to heaven. I have “worldblind” eyes, and I need to be comfortable with that. We use the term Mystagogy – the interpretation of mystery - as a final stage in the RCIA, but I think the journey is for a lifetime. It’s not just a stage of faith; it is, indeed, a key to the faith. St. Leo the Great said, “What was visible in our Savior has passed over into his mysteries." This description of the sacraments as mysteries sums it up well. Mystery is where we know something to be true, but we do not fully understand how it is so. The visible signs of the invisible are always pointing us toward God; and the new Passover, the real presence of Christ, is, indeed, mysterious.
I recently stumbled upon the late Fred Rogers’ commencement speech at Dartmouth. In 2002, the well-known Mr. Rogers quoted Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s famous quote, “what is essential is invisible to the eye.” This reminded me of a time a wise priest was helping me understand mystery in the Mass. I was also raising toddlers who wouldn’t sit still in Mass, and I was either wrestling boys or changing diapers. I wasn’t fully, actively or consciously participating; I was just trying to keep my kids from hurting themselves in the pew. In these moments, my husband and I were greeted by parishioners who thanked us for bringing our children to Mass. What a mystery – God working through strangers, affirming busy moms who feel guilty about noisy kids. Parishioners leave Mass on a mission to change the world for the better. It’s impossible to understand, and that is what makes it most crucial to our journey together.
Living the sacramental life is essential, and often invisible to the eye. I’m hopeful that some people reading this will be inspired to pay attention to the “what and why” at Mass next time. I will continue to use the book “The Sacred that Surrounds Us” to inspire my students to learn more about the Mass. But I genuinely want them to move from symbols to encounters. I call my students tiny tabernacles; they are on a mission to be witnesses to the Gospel. The most important things in life are mysterious. My children might not get it every time, but I take them to Mass. My students will probably get a good grade in theology, but I hope they go to Mass.