2011: A Year for the Mass  

Advent has begun, the Church’s annual interior preparation for Christmas.

In less than four weeks, we will celebrate the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. You know what that Hebrew word means? House of Bread. And, He was born in a manger, a feedbox—because He came to be our food.

Seems as if Jesus, the Teacher, wanted to tell us that He was the bread of life from the moment of His birth in a manger in a little town called the house of bread.

Fast forward three decades, this time, not to the joy of His birth but the gloom of His death: the night before He died, the first Holy Thursday, at the Last Supper, where “He took bread, broke it, gave it to His disciples, and said, ‘Take this all of you and eat it, for this is my body….’ Then He said, ‘Do this in memory of me!’”

Bread…the bread of life…the bread of heaven…the bread of angels.

This bread—Jesus Christ—comes to us at Mass, the Eucharist.

A year from now, the first Sunday of Advent, 2011, the Church in the United States will begin to use the Third Edition of the Roman Missal, the prayer book we priests and people use at Mass.

Actually, the changes in the prayers the people will say at Mass are not that many. The prayers of the priest will have more. We’ll detail more about just what these changes in our Mass prayers will be throughout the year.

My thought is that we might make this year before the introduction of these new prayers an invitation to a renewal in our love for, understanding of, and gratitude for the bread of life, Jesus, who comes to us in a uniquely powerful way at every Mass, especially Sunday.

We could just plan on a couple of Sundays next November to practice the changes, and leave it at that. Or, we could use this as a teachable moment, a teachable year, not just to practice the few new responses, but to renew our love for the Mass.

I’m hardly a pessimist, as I hope you will agree, but I am a realist, and we’re in big trouble. An old proverb in the Church claims, “No Eucharist, no Church.” The scholars tell us that most of our Catholic people no longer go to Sunday Mass. We better do something about that.

Last Sunday morning, I drove by a very popular, exclusive, expensive store on Fifth Avenue, about an hour before it opened. There was a line—I’m not exaggerating—around the block of people itching to get into that store!

Five minutes before that, I had left my house behind St. Patrick’s, and drove in front of the Cathedral: no lines waiting to get in there! Yet, where was the better product? Where was the greatest treasure? Where was the bread of life?

If we ever really understood the awe, power, beauty, grace, and mercy of the Eucharist, we couldn’t build churches big enough or fast enough.

As a matter of fact, that’s precisely what’s happening in the developing countries of the world, like Asia and Africa, where our churches are jammed and where people walk a day’s journey for the Bread of Life.

While I admit there’s no “quick cure” for our lack of appreciation for the Mass, what do you say we give it a try this coming year and attempt in some very simple yet practical ways to restore the lustre of the way we approach the Eucharist?

So, I went to the bullpen and got three seasoned veterans—Msgr. William Belford, our vicar for clergy; Sister Janet Baxendale, S.C., long a consultant on the Sacred Liturgy to the archdiocese and the bishops’ conference of our country; Father Dennis McManus, my own theological consultant; and then to bring up a rookie, Father Matthew Ernest, who just returned to us after earning a doctorate in Sacraments from The Catholic University of America—four devoted experts who have a deep knowledge of and passion for the Eucharist, to develop a Year for the Mass.

They graciously agreed. Over the last couple of weeks, they ran this idea past the Priests Council and the Archdiocesan Pastoral Council, both of whom enthusiastically endorsed the strategy.

Stay tuned for further developments and details. For now, just know that, throughout the coming year, you’ll be hearing a lot about the Mass from your parish priests, your deacons, catechists, and from me.

“I love and need Jesus. But I sure don’t need Sunday Mass.” I hear that claim a lot.

Allow me to respond: anyone who admits that he/she loves and needs the Jesus who was born in a little town called “house of bread,” who called Himself “the bread of life,” and who gave us this bread on the night before He died, realizes humbly that you can’t love and need Jesus and ignore Him in the Eucharist.

Maybe, just maybe, they’ll be as long a line outside of St. Patrick’s Cathedral as there is outside Abercrombie and Fitch.