Life at Gethsemani moves slow. At first, the slowness of it all is daunting and boring. However, as your senses start to relax and you become more aware of everything around you, the slowness brings peace. It is a deep sense of peace.
For years, I have thought praise and worship music at church was necessary. It gets our bodies moving early in the morning. It makes our blood start pumping and we walk out of church dancing and singing these fast paced exciting tunes. It puts a little pep in your step. Since becoming Catholic, I have felt the need even more. As I watch the faithful in the pews yawning, barely singing, going through the motions, looking at their watches during the homily, many leaving after receiving the Eucharist, and many more leaving before the priest even leaves the sanctuary; it brings to mind some questions. Where do they need to go? Is there something burning in the oven? Did they leave their iron plugged in? Why can’t they stay for just a moment and thank God for the glorious gift of his only begotten son?
I thought the answer to these questions would be better more lively music or better homilies that sound more like a motivational speech than deciphering the Gospel, or even locking the people in the sanctuary until they understood what they just encountered at Mass (obviously this would be against fire code). But this week I came to a greater understanding of just what we are encountering as we enter into Mass. We are encountering a part of our week where we GET to be with Jesus. We don’t HAVE to be with Jesus, we GET to be with Jesus. The best part, we GET to receive him in the Eucharist; body, blood, soul and divinity. Why should we rush this? Why should we make the sanctuary loud and more about us than about Him?
The intention of Mass is for you to enter into a deeper relationship with Jesus. Can you enter into a deep relationship with anyone when you have to rush a conversation? Can you really give that person all of your attention when you have to rush out? Can you really understand them if you just tell stories about yourself rather than study their words? No, you can’t.
Mass here at Gethsemani is slow. You enter the sanctuary early to sit in silence and prepare to enter into the most intimate relationship of your life. When Mass begins, the tune of the hymn is simple but sweet to the ear. It is sung at a slow pace for you to really enjoy and listen to the words while lifting them to His ear in praise. Even the responses are said slowly. The first mass I attended felt strange. I was done saying the response while the monks were still on the first few words. Had I really listened to what I was saying? Had I really understood the words that came out of my mouth and what I was responding to?
As I started to slow my responses and really listen to the words and their meaning, I felt a deep sense of love for the liturgy come over me. When it came time for the Gloria and the Lord’s Prayer, they were sung. This was like angelic voices being lifted to heaven. The slow, intentional voices of men who have dedicated their entire lives to living as Christ lived was like the sweetest choir of angels surrounding our Lord in heaven.
This way of celebrating Mass goes back to the beginning of the church. Laypersons didn’t have soccer games, work, grocery shopping, or other places to be. They came to be with God. There was no where else they wanted to be. Their attention was on God and the sacrifice that would be performed during Mass. They couldn’t wait to receive Jesus into their souls. To drink him into their being. To take Him, who is now part of their body, with the grace of God through their week until they came to see, hear, taste, touch, and smell the Holy Mass the next Sunday. It was the beginning of their week, not the end. It was the highlight of their week, not an obligation. It was the gift of eternal life they were seeking, not just checking a box.
Through this deeper understanding of the Mass, I have come to realize, the slower the better. Take time to be with Jesus. Take time to understand why you are there. Take time to listen and respond with joy for what Jesus has done for you, and take time to praise Him after receiving Him. There is nothing more important in this life than a slow, intentional relationship with our Lord.