Father Dwight Longenecker over at Standing on my Head received a question that has likely been asked by countless Catholics:
What are we, the faithful (read: not clergy) supposed to do during the Mass? … As a layman, I know I am supposed to prepare myself before receiving the body and blood, but apart from not thinking on how fast I can get back home to watch my sports team, I’m at a loss as to what I am supposed to be preparing for. Receiving Jesus into myself obviously, but what does that mean in real life? I guess what I’m searching for is some kind of concrete, step-by-step explanation on what I am supposed to do. Something low on poetic language and high on basic, everyday language instructions. Or at least guidelines. Obviously one is often distracted, but it would be good to learn what I should be trying to do.
Fr. Longenecker offers some basic suggestions – such as arriving early and joining in with the words and hymns of the liturgy – before getting to the heart of the matter. He writes:
The Mass is essentially an offering. It is a sacrifice of worship and praise to God.
Consequently, every action of the Mass is focused towards his greater action of making a sacrifice–making an offering. …When Mass begins you offer your attention. As the process comes down the aisle you offer yourself as the bride of Christ coming down the aisle to meet the groom. As you confess your sins you offer the dark side of who your are to God for cleansing and renewal. When the ministry of the Word begins you offer your thoughts and attention and your preconceptions and bigotry and small mindedness asking that the Scriptures will renew your mind. You seal this by reciting the creed with attention and fervor.