When Christopher Carstens asked his four year old son Laurence what his favorite part of the Mass was, Laurence responded: “Eating donuts after”. While it may not be the best response to what part of the Mass is the best, at least it’s a start.
But, as Carstens points out in his new book, A Devotional Journey into the Mass, as we get older, our reasons for attending Mass may not get much higher than the donuts afterward. His new book is written both for his son and for anyone who has ever wondered how (or why!) he should participate in the Mass.
Carstens argues that our participation in the Mass should affect our lives in the world outside of Mass, too. He writes about eight simple ways to engage in the Mass both physically and spiritually. Here is a quick look at four ways you can increase your devotion at every Mass. Want to read all eight of Carstens’ ways to delve deeper into the Mass? Find his book at your local Catholic bookstore or online here.
1. Be intentional when you enter the church
Increasing your devotion in the Mass begins way before you find your seat in the sanctuary. A simple way to recognize the importance of the Mass and the beauty of the Church is to be mindful and intentional when entering the doors of the church.
But just what makes the doors of the church so important?
“The door presents the key feature of the church’s face,” Carstens writes. “This holy door is often elevated, accessible only by ascending steps. Like the larger structure that houses it, the materials used in the door’s construction are often of higher quality and craftsmanship than those of the other doors. Even the size of the door – it is probably the largest one in the church – shows its importance.”
Even though every church’s doors isn’t elaborate and beautiful, the door still offers a message to those of us who enter through it. “It’s something different, say, from the face of a Walmart, a Walgreen’s, or a Wendy’s,” Carstens points out.
So the next time you go to Mass, think of how Christ said “I am the door,” and put yourself in a place of prayer from the moment your hand reaches out for the handle of the church door.
2. Make the sign of the cross
When you enter the church, the next thing you do (perhaps more out of habit than anything else) is to dip your fingers into the holy water font and make the sign of the cross. You may make the sign of the cross as you genuflect before entering the pew. The sign of the cross appears again at both the beginning and the end of the Mass.
Read more: 21 Benefits of Making the Sign of the Cross
“But why?” asks Carstens, “What does this sign mean? And how has it come to mean what it means?”
The sign of the cross is a beautifully rich sign in the Catholic Mass, in both words and gestures. It reminds us of the reality of the Trinity. “Consider where the bounty is found in Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island,” Carstens writes. “It’s on the X that marks the spot on Long John Silver’s map. To ‘be at the crossroads’ signifies an important decision, while ‘being crossed’ means conflict. We can point plots on the x and y axes of a graph – itself the shape of a cross – to represent facts in the real world. Here, human culture – whether Catholic or not – finds in the cross treasure, importance, conflict and reality.”
The next time you make the sign of the cross before, during, or after the Mass, think about a treasure map.
3. Listen to the readings during Mass
How often have you sat in the pew during Mass and spaced off during the Liturgy of the Word? Don’t worry, we’ve all been there. We stand up for the Gospel and can’t for the life of us remember what the first and second readings were about. Did we even sing a Psalm? How did we miss that?
If you want to be able to participate more fully in the Mass readings, Carstens suggests you have to change your habits before you even reach the church door. Next time you go to Mass, find the Sunday readings (either online or in your parish missal). Spend time reading, reflecting, responding, contemplating, and acting on the Scripture passages. Then, ask yourself how the Gospel message applies to your life today.
“The Word of God is not simply texts and words spoken at the Mass,” writes Carstens. “It’s first and foremost a Person, the Word of the Trinity. All liturgical words, in some way, make audible this divine Word.”
4. Respond during the dismissal
Just as the door of the church holds a special significance as the entrance point, the dismissal at the end of the liturgy holds a special message of our missionary call as Catholics. “The Mass’s dismissal formulas form a linguistic correspondence with the church’s door,” Carstens explains, “even as they echo the electric word ‘exit’ hanging above it. When we read this sign, we understand, at its core, the command to “Go out!”
Read more: 10 Things You Might Be Doing Wrong at Mass
The Mass is an incredible prayer in the Catholic faith – but it’s also a school. Carstens calls it a “boot camp of holiness, whose goal is to make perfect men, women, and children – saints.” The next time you go to Mass, hear the final words of dismissal for what they truly are: a command to get out into the world and spread the news of Christ and His bride, the Catholic Church.
Do you want to experience each Eucharistic celebration as a fountain of peace and refreshment for your soul? Pick up a copy of Christopher Carstens’ new book today!