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Why do Some People Say Mass is Boring?

Why is it that some people say that Mass is boring?  Is the Mass boring?  I’m sure everyone reading this definitely has an opinion on this question.  This question seems to plague parents in particular when trying to get their teenage children to attend Mass with them.

Often the response by many parents is, “I don’t care if you think it’s boring you’re going to Mass anyway.”  This answer is usually more effective with younger children, but hardly every satisfies a pubescent teenager.  In many cases with teenagers a parent just decides that it is too much trouble to try to get their teenager to Mass, and so they go without them.  “The music is so boring.” parents might hear.  “The priest just drones on and on.”  “The readings are ancient and are talking about shepherds and kings; we live in the modern world of businessmen and women and presidents.”  If this is the case then it is no wonder that it is difficult to get young people excited about going to Mass.  But this is not just a problem that teenagers and children struggle with.

How often do we say to ourselves, “I really don’t want to go to Mass today; Father never says anything that I understand.”  Or maybe its, “Well, the football game is at 1:05, and Mass gets over at 1:30, so maybe I’ll just leave right after communion.  Heck what does it really matter if I just miss Mass every once in while.”  How often do we grudgingly go to Mass just because we don’t want to feel guilty for missing it?  Have you every done this?  I know I have.  How often have we attended Mass and just felt like we just didn’t get anything out of it.  “What a waste of time” we might be secretly thinking, although we might never verbalize it.

 The answer that we might have for this dilemma could be, “Well, if the Mass was just a little more engaging, and a little less boring, then maybe I would actually like going to Mass.” “If only we changed the music to something more contemporary then it wouldn’t be so droll.” If only we had more sacred music then it would lead us to an experience of the holiness of God.” “If only we got a new more vibrant priest, he could enliven this parish up.” “If only we had a more serious and experienced priest then we could get into some real life homilies.” I use these examples because these are some of the most common complaints about the Mass, but the list of complaints and solutions is almost infinite.

So where is the problem and where is the solution to this problem? Is the Mass boring?  If it is then how do we fix it?

Is it wrong to ask this question? Should we just go to Mass and accept that it is boring?  Is it that we are not supposed to like Mass; we are just supposed to go regardless of what it does for us?

Let me say one thing here before continuing: this is not a bad question to be asking!  It is an excellent question and you should not feel guilty asking it.  If we are asking this question then we are realizing that there is something wrong. We have been told that we go to Mass to experience the love of Christ.  We want to experience the love of Christ in our lives.  But when we don’t experience anything but boredom at Mass, we know that we are missing something.  This realization that we are bored is in fact the first step of many whereby God is calling us into deeper relationship with him.  If we are bored then it must be because we want more than what we are getting.  We get bored of things that are repetitive and stale. We want things which are fresh, vibrant, and alive.  This is not a bad thing; the Mass is not meant to be dry, repetitive, and boring; it is meant be alive, life-giving, and powerful. We become bored with something when we it stops growing; when we have exhausted something we grow tired of it and move on to something new.  Rarely do you read a suspense novel twice or see a horror movie twice; the mystery and excitement often wears off after the first or second time.  But a romance movie or a good biography is sometimes worth seeing or reading several times because you often see things that you didn’t see before and you are pleasantly delighted.  But once you have exhausted them you move on to new things.  This is the natural order of things.

Let me use an example.  A child who is learning to do math does not continue with addition and subtraction when he has already mastered it; the child moves on to multiplication and long division, otherwise he becomes bored and starts to disrupt the class.  We all want to learn new things, discover new things, and experience new things.  Therefore the child’s boredom can be a sign for his teacher to give him something new to learn.  In this way the boredom can be seen as being a neutral state of mind. It is what the child does with the boredom that makes his actions good or bad.  If he chooses to continue learning math and moves on to multiplication and division when he grows bored with addition and subtraction then his boredom has spurred him on to learning new things that will make him a smarter person.  But if he abandons math altogether because he believes that he has learned all there is to know and he then starts to disrupt the class then his boredom did not serve him well. It was not the boredom that was bad, but what he chose to do with his boredom that made his actions productive or disruptive.

 This can be applied to our going to Mass as well.  Small children (and adults occasionally) are often delightful to observe when they enter into a beautiful and magnificent cathedral.  They are often found to be in awe of the beauty and majestic grandeur of the art and architecture.  Children when they are small often ask quaint and charming questions even during Mass.  “Daddy, why does Jesus look so sad on the cross?” “Mommy why is the priest wearing that long dress (alb)?”  “Why is there smoke coming out of that gold chain thingy (incense)?”  It is when they have learned all about what their eyes, ears, nose, and other senses can tell them that they then grow bored with Mass.  The same can be said of us adults. When we have heard most of the bible stories, know most of the responses, know when we sit and when we stand, have heard most of Father’s homilies, and know most of the hymns and songs that are sung that we become bored.  If we are raised Catholic then this period of time might even come when we are still adolescents.  We know what Mass is all about, and we become bored with it.

 We then usually fall into one of two mindsets. We go to Mass because it is the right thing to do, or we stop going to Mass. Oftentimes parents are bewildered by their college age children who went to Mass their entire lives, and as soon as they moved out stopped going to Church within a few weeks.  It really is not surprising when you think about it.  They most likely attended Church growing up because it was expected of them; not because it meant a great deal to them.  Or you might have a not so compliant teenager who outright refuses to go to boring old Church anymore.

So what is the solution? If we are going to Mass thinking that we know what the Mass is all about, and we just have to go because we are supposed to, then, to use an old phrase, we have “missed the boat.”  Just like the child who gave up on math because he had mastered addition and subtraction, we have in a very real sense given up on Mass.

The Mass is meant to be a time whereby we grow in our relationship with God.  When we go to Mass as children we think that going to Mass is about listening to the readings and the homily and then receiving communion.  This idea of Mass is often carried into our adulthood, and if when are honest about it, we grow bored of Mass.  But this is a child’s understanding of the Mass.  Being bored is neutral; being bored is about not receiving what we want.  We want something new when we are bored. When we enter into the adulthood of our faith, we realize that going to Mass is not just about sitting passively listening to the readings and gospel, and then receiving communion.  When we enter into a true adult faith we realize that going to Mass is about engaging with God himself.  It is about growing in relationship with God Himself.

Any real relationship requires both parties to be active.  This is true in our relationship with God as well as with one another.  A real relationship is not about what ‘I’ can get.  A real relationship is about what ‘I’ give, confident that I will receive.  Mass (as a fundamental part of our relationship with God) likewise is not about what ‘I’ can get.  Mass is about what ‘I’ give, confident that I will receive.

If you find yourself saying, “I don’t like the priest.”  “I don’t like the music.”  I don’t feel like I am getting anything out of Mass.”  “I don’t want to miss the football game.”  then I challenge you to reevaluate what you believe the purpose of the Mass is for.  If you are saying and believing any of these things, then you are missing what the Mass is about.  I am not immune to this and I daresay neither is anyone reading this.  Going to Mass is about growing in relationship with God.  This relationship with God should never be dependent upon the priest, music, liturgical style, or even personal feelings.  These things can stimulate and encourage our relationship with God, but if you stop going to Mass because of a change in one of these things then you are probably more attached to that preference over God who reveals Himself at Mass.  In order for our relationship with God to be authentic we have to give something back to God in spite of our personal preferences.

The first thing that we can give to him is our time and presence.  So actually going to Mass and sitting through it is the first necessary step.  It is not the only step; this is a child’s first step.

The next step is engaging in the Mass.  Listening actively to the readings; trying to understand how this reading is speaking to you today.  to the homily trying to see how its message affects you personally.  Participating with the responses; actually thinking about what each of the responses mean; many of them are responses of gratitude to God for his many gifts to us.  How often are we grateful? When receiving communion do we actually think about what we are receiving?  This is the beginning of our steps into adulthood.

The final step is actually trying to live out the Mass in our daily lives.  Do we proclaim the word we hear at Mass in our personal lives?  Have we separated our faith from our daily life?  Do we give of ourselves freely to others especially our families?  This is the message that receiving the Eucharist tells us; to die to ourselves so that others may live.  This final step is maturing in our adult faith.

You might be asking, “Well, that is a lot for me to do on my part.  What about the receiving part? I thought you said there was give and take.”  What is it that we want from God?  How much more can God give us?  He communicates to us in the scriptures how we are to have true happiness.  He has given us our very lives.  All that we have is a complete gift from him.  If we truly search for it; God is constantly revealing his love for us throughout each and every day of our life.  The problem is that we are constantly focused on what we don’t have instead of grateful for what we do have.  The Father allowed His Son to die on the cross for us to bring us salvation.  Jesus Christ, the Son of God, pours out His life for us on the cross.  This event is what we witness at each and every Mass we attend when the priest consecrates the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Our Lord.  He provides us with the life giving bread in the Eucharist.  It is through the power of the Eucharist that we are able to go out and live the gospel if we so choose.  We are assured that Christ will reciprocate tenfold all that we give of ourselves at Mass.

This maturation of faith is not just for adults.  Young people are often capable of attaining this maturity of faith. That is why we have saints who were only twelve and thirteen years old.  It is only when we grow into this faith that we will truly experience the awesome life-giving power that is present in each and every Mass.  It is a power that is not capable of being boring, because it is always new. We can learn something new about God and ourselves at each and every Mass we go to if we truly listen.  God, through the Mass, is constantly calling us deeper and deeper into relationship with him. In this relationship he reveals his own heart to us and the love of that heart for us.  He also reveals the very own desire of our own heart, the desires that that initial boredom was pointing to: a desire for something that never fades away which is life-giving.  Our desire is for God; and it is only through the Mass that God reveals himself perfectly to us on earth in the Sacrament of the Eucharist.

--Fr. Tom Dillon