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September 26, 2011

So the Mass is boring, is it? What would help? Perhaps a brass band marching through the church? Maybe replacing the praying with card or video games of one's choice? Or, might such new wrinkles also become boring once they had been tried a few times?

Complaints about the Mass being boring sound much like the whining of the Israelites after they had received the miracle of manna in the desert: "Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we detest this miserable food" (Numbers 21.5).

A daily miracle was not enough. The Israelites also had to have cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic.

For us also, the miracle of bread and wine being transformed into Christ's Body and Blood seems like it is not enough. Our eyes and ears and tongues itch for novelty - a new flavour, more siss to go with the boom and the bah.

The saints, however, were bowled over by the Eucharist. They wanted nothing more. In fact, as wildly diverse a group of people that the saints are, they do have this one thing in common - they all held the Eucharist to be the centre of life.

What is a saint? A saint is not someone who got an A+ from the Church authorities. A saint is someone whose whole life - his or her mind, heart and actions - was focused exclusively on God.

How did they get that way? By practice. They prayed hours daily and, when they were not praying, they kept their minds focused on what would be pleasing to God. Sometimes, no doubt, they were distracted or their prayer was boring. St. Teresa of Avila famously shook the hourglass that timed her hour of prayer so it would empty sooner.

But the saints persevered in prayer so that when they came to Mass, it was the most alive, most crucial moment of their day. There, they encountered Jesus in all his fullness under the appearances of bread and wine. There, they witnessed the miracle of his real presence.

Why do we find Mass boring? Because we don't practice. We don't make Jesus the centre of every moment of every day; we give him only one hour a week and even that begrudgingly. We must loathe divine realities because we give them so little attention.

The cure is not "a better Mass." The solution to the "boring Mass" is to change ourselves. It is to pray often, to read the Scriptures, to constantly turn our minds to God. St. Thomas Aquinas gave wise advice: "The more we reflect on spiritual things so much more pleasing do they become, thus causing spiritual sloth and sadness to cease."

A saint like Aquinas would know. We would know too if we took seriously the call to pray and to read God's Word. Then, we would realize that, far from being boring, the Mass is a great miracle before which the only fitting response is to bow in awe and wonder.