26 April 2017

The Mass Attracts

Consider this question: how did the church grow so quickly in the earliest days? Without a doubt, 3000 people were attracted by the miracle of tongues when St Peter and the other apostles spoke outside the temple on Pentecost, 50 days after Jesus’ resurrection. And while preaching on the streets continued, it wasn’t street preaching that produced the steady commitment and the sustained spiritual growth of those 3000 and the church-family that they formed.
Neither is growth in God, inner deification, and holiness of life produced by many different programs, like Bible studies and outreaches and retreats—and Sunday meals. All of these are important, and certainly enhance our growth. And they can aid the growth of a parish. But that’s all they can do—enhance and aid. And they can attract on a superficial level. But none of the programs we offer actually stimulate or produce true, godly growth.
What, then, actually, really attracts people to our parish? Certainly, welcoming everyone who comes in the door as if he or she was Christ Himself is very attractive. Certainly, compassion, genuine kindness, authentic hospitality—these are even more attractive qualities. And definitely visitors mention most our warm friendliness as very attractive characteristic of this parish. But, if you dig a little deeper, that’s not why they keep coming back. And our friendliness does not produce a longing to return.
If the Bible is to be believed (and I think it should be!), the most important tool that God has given us to attract people to the Christian faith is the one we too often take for granted. The Mass itself attracts. And the more often we offer Mass—the more often we attend the Mass that is offered—the more people will be attracted to Our Lord and the service He provides for us in His Divine Liturgy.
Consider, again, this question: how did the nascent church grow so quickly? Simple: they had Mass every day. Listen to these words carefully: “Daily they continued with one accord in the temple, breaking bread…praising God. And daily the Lord added to the church those who were being saved.”
Those words occur just moments after the baptism of 3000 is described; and just seconds after it described their devotion of the Christian Faith. Their devotion was centered on two things: the apostolic teaching and the Eucharist. And that devotion—shown in the simplest of ways, by attending Mass—that is what caused others to want to be there with them.
And don’t think that this is simply an early church phenomenon. That is how the church has grown in every country where it has been planted. To be sure, street preaching and miracles attracted the first folks. But the sustained growth in God—the growth that is truly theosis, the inner relationship with God, as well as numerical growth—that growth occurred because Mass was celebrated daily, and people came to the daily celebration.
Just to give one example, which is quite common: when monks first landed in Ireland, all they did was build a small chapel and begin to pray. Every day. With Mass. It didn’t take long, and people wanted to know what they were doing, and why it was so important. And what attracted them to stay, to convert, to pass along the faith was the daily Mass.
I don’t think it’s any mistake, then, that this little parish has recently experienced continued, sustained growth—both inwardly and outwardly—especially in the last two months. For in the last two months, there has been Mass daily. Since February 28, there has been only one day when Mass was not served. And I’m convinced that this faithfulness, this daily offering of Our Lord’s sacrifice—this is what has attracted people.
Now, if you ask them, they won’t say that. And if you seek a scientific answer (like with polling data), you won’t find it. For this is a spiritual thing—a mystery governed most graciously by the Holy Spirit. And so it takes spiritual eyes to see it. Just as it also takes spiritual eyes to see that the growth has not simply been in numbers, but also in a longing, a desire, to live in God and to live for Him. And all of that, I lay at the doorstep of the Church: where Our Lord’s Spirit is poured out daily, even if only a handful are in attendance on any given day. For the Lord is pleased when we give thanks by offering and receiving the Sacrifice that He desired to offer and give us in His Son.