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A Book Review . . . Make A Devotional Journey Into The Mass

April 23, 2019 Featured Today No Comments

By DONAL ANTHONY FOLEY

A Devotional Journey Into the Mass: How Mass Can Become a Time of Grace, Nourishment, and Devotion, by Christopher Carstens (144 pages, Sophia Institute Press, Paperback and Kindle). Visit www.sophiainstitute.com or call 1-800-888-9344.

A Devotional Journey Into the Mass is an in-depth study of the Eucharistic Sacrifice, and the first thing that struck this reviewer on glancing through the table of contents is that Christopher Carstens devotes a whole chapter, ten pages, just to the topic, “How to Make the Sign of the Cross.”
So this is no rushed description of the Mass, but rather a slow-motion appreciation of how we can fully enter into the spirit of the liturgy at Mass. The book is really designed to make readers stop and think of how we can get out of the rut of routine Mass attendance. And it provides a solution to this problem by signposting particular elements and themes we should be focusing on, so as to get as much out of the Mass as possible.
The chapter titles, which include some of the following examples, give a good idea of the author’s approach — “How to Enter the Church Building,” “How to Listen to the Readings,” “How to Participate in the Eucharistic Prayer,” “How to Receive Communion to the Fullest,” and so on. And the end of each chapter has a useful brief summary of its contents.
It all might seem very elementary, but surely that is a part of the reason why Mass has become so unfulfilling for so many Catholics — they are just not entering into it with a sufficiently strong spirit of faith and devotion. Rather it just becomes an hour a week which has to be gotten through as quickly as possible in order to fulfill the obligation.
And even for those Catholics who do take the Mass more seriously, there is also a need to slow down and enter into the spirit of the Sacrificial Act as it unfolds — and to look beyond what is happening before us in a physical sense toward the eternal realities to which the physical realities point to.
We are meant to be actively participating in the Mass, as indicated in the Second Vatican Council document, Sacrosanctum Concilium. But as Carstens points out in his introduction, this doesn’t mean becoming “busy” during Mass in an external and visible way. And in order to provide guidance as to how to actively participate in the Mass, he details eight ways of doing this. By following this route, we can enter into, and participate, in the Mass in a meaningful spiritual manner, so that our Mass-going has a real impact on our everyday life.
As regards the “sacramentality” of the Mass, Carstens says that in “focusing on each of the these eight elements of the Mass, we focus on the signs and the symbols, the words and the actions of the Mass, each of which brings Christ and His saving work to the surface — so that we can actively participate with Him in His work.”
Regarding the sacraments, the author says that “sacraments and sacramental signs and symbols are filled with Jesus.” That’s why they are important.
There is quite a focus on this idea of “sacramentality” in the book, and on the related term, “mystagogy” — which has to do with how the mysteries we are participating in are interpreted. We are called to look beyond the physical and see what the symbolism before us in the Mass is pointing to. In this way we are “drawn into the things of heaven through earthly symbols.” And through this, the attentive participant in the Mass is led from “the visible to the invisible by uncovering the roots of sacramental meaning in creation, culture, the Old Testament, Christ, and heaven.”
This idea even relates to the church building. We can think of Christ on entering the church through the door, since Christ said that He was the Door, and that anyone who entered through Him would be saved (John 10:9). In a sense, too, the church door is the threshold or gateway to Heaven, since it allows us to enter into the presence of God. So in practical terms we should think of this as we enter the church, and doing so will help us to enter more fully into what will then happen during Mass.
The Sign of the Cross we make at the beginning of Mass is important, too. It can either be a hurried, routine action, or a way of encountering Jesus’ cross in which our words and actions have a real meaning. As the author says, “The Sign of the Cross, when made thoughtfully and lovingly, lifts us to heaven.”
The Opening Prayer of the Mass is also something we should pay attention to, as it is a prayerful means by which we can focus on the content of the Mass which is just beginning, and also because it quite often sets the tone for the celebration. We can also read this prayer before Mass, and then come back to it during the week.
Carstens also emphasizes the importance of silence, saying that we need to take advantage of those moments of silence during the Mass, when, for example, before reading a specific prayer, the priest says, “Let us pray.” These are very valuable moments we need to utilize well so as to really participate in what the priest is saying.

Salvation History

Listening to the readings is also a very important part of our participation in the Mass. But our biggest task today is to genuinely listen and not just let God’s Word go in one ear and out the other. We have to take the readings into our hearts, conscious that they are a form of “nourishment,” and that just as we feed on the Eucharistic Jesus in Holy Communion, so in listening attentively to the readings we are being nourished intellectually, and spiritually, by Jesus, the Word of God.
And since the readings come from the Bible, the record of God’s dealings with mankind, then in listening to the Liturgy of the Word at Mass, we should hear, “an echo of salvation history’s larger dialogue, and also an invitation for each of us to take part personally.”
As the author says, “we must listen to God with the ears of our hearts.”
Further chapters deal with topics such as preparing our hearts at the Offertory, participating in the Eucharistic Prayer, and receiving Communion to the fullest, as well as responding to the dismissal at the end of Mass.
This is more important than we might think since the name we give to the Eucharistic Sacrifice, the Mass, comes from the Latin for dismissal, Ite, missa est, “Go forth, the Mass is ended.” In other words, we are supposed to take the fruits of the Mass we have just participated in and apply them to our everyday lives.
The final chapter is a summary of what the author has previously said, and pictures the Mass as a journey. He concludes by saying, “The Church calls this heavenly journey a pilgrimage; we can also call it our life — a life made all the richer and holier for participating in the Mass as the Church intends.”
A Devotional Journey Into the Mass is a lively and engaging read, and will make for excellent spiritual reading for anyone who is looking to get something more out of their Mass attendance.

+ + +

(Donal Anthony Foley is the author of a number of books on Marian Apparitions, and maintains a related website at www.theotokos.org.uk. He has also a written two time-travel/adventure books for young people — details can be found at: http://glaston-chronicles.co.uk/.)

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