Homily: Is Mass Practice…or the Game?

February 21, 2019

The following is a summary of the homily I will be delivering at the school Mass at Bishop Chatard High School in Indianapolis today:

In today’s gospel, we heard Jesus ask Peter, “Who do you say that I am?”

Peter responds correctly by identifying Jesus as the Christ – the one sent to redeem mankind. Jesus then teaches his disciples that because he IS the Christ, he must “be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and rise after three days.” All of this done for us. His life and death are a gift to us.

That is why we are here today. This Mass – all Masses – are a celebration. We come together in community to acknowledge and receive this gift and offer our thanks through prayer and song. This is why the priest is referred to as the celebrant of the Mass.

So, who do you say Jesus is?

If your answer is the same as Peter’s – if you truly believe Jesus is the Christ and has given us the gift of his death and resurrection – then it should influence your perception of Mass. If you believe that Mass is a celebration, you would not feel like you are forced to go to Mass; you would feel blessed that you are allowed to go to Mass.

I loved much of what Deacon Harold (a speaker that spoke to the student body last week) shared with us last week, and I know that most of you did as well.  At one point he responded to the question, “Why do we go to Mass?”

He used an athletic analogy. He compared going to Mass to athletic practice. He spoke about the prayers as drills. If you put in the work, you will be prepared for the game. The game in his scenario was life in the outside world. Mass is the practice that allows us to take on the world.

It created an image for us that was easy to understand. I reflected on it throughout the day and came to the conclusion that thinking of Mass as practice might work for some people, but it came up short for me.

Perhaps it is because of my own athletic experience. When I played football and ran track, I had some very good coaches. However, I very seldom looked forward to practice. They were often too long, or too boring, or too exhausting. It was work. Playing in the games was fun. Practice was work. Practice was a necessary evil; if you wanted to play in the game, you had to go to practice.

So Mass as practice doesn’t work for me. I certainly don’t want to view Mass as a necessary evil. So…maybe Mass is the pre-game meal! Mass feeds and fuels us. We come together as family to share this meal, and it gives us the strength and nourishment we need to participate in the game of life.

Or – here’s my favorite – Mass is not practice for the game, and Mass is not a pre-game meal to nourish us for the game…Mass IS the game.

Mass is where we receive the Eucharist, the source and summit of our faith. Mass is a celebration. Our life in the world is practice for THIS – meeting Christ and celebrating the gift he has given us. How we live our life prepares us for Mass, and how we approach Mass dictates how much of a celebration it is.

If you only view Mass as a repetitive series of drills, you’re not paying attention. If you say all Masses are the same, you’re not paying attention. That’s like saying every basketball game is the same because is has four quarters and a halftime. Yes, Mass has a structure to it, but the prayers are different, the readings are different, the homily is different and each of these elements has a richness to be appreciated. And, each Mass offers us the gift of the Eucharist.

Mass is a celebration.

If we have lived well, we come to Mass with excitement, to pray and sing together in community. If we are struggling and have fallen, we drop our baggage at the foot of the altar, confident in his mercy and in the loving support of the community. Either way, it is a celebration!

This is the game! This is what we prepare for!

Each time we come to Mass, Jesus asks, “Who do you say that I am?”

We answer him by how we celebrate his Mass.


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