or have you ever left early?
I have. We have been trying to address this problem in our parish for some time, but I have never been seriously, repentantly, convicted of it, until lately.
I want to share my experience with you. We went out of town to visit our daughter at college. We were making our plans, and it appeared that it would be better to go to church Saturday night so we could get up early Sunday morning and return home before the traffic got too bad.
We were having a wonderful time. Our daughter had bought five tickets to the ice hockey game. She was so excited to get them because it was a sell-out. For a college girl she really splurged. She wanted to make this night special.
On the way to church, she asked if we could leave right after communion because the traffic would be backed up, and the center was quite a distance away. Right away, I thought, “If only my pastor were here, he would not like that at all.” I said that we couldn’t leave until we received our final blessing. I began to feel myself waiver and said, “We’ll see what time it is at the end of mass, and I guess it will be all right if we left a little early,” knowing that we would be missing the final song. We sat in the back, so we wouldn’t be too noticeable.
The worship was beautiful, and I prayed that our eyes and hearts would be open to see and hear, and receive all that Christ would want us to receive. I prayed for all of us to receive a tangible experience of Christ’s presence that would change our lives forever. Little did I know that I would be so blest.
At the parish we visited, they had a mission priest, and he talked about the power of Christ in a community. He went on to say that this is where we will see the miracles of Jesus, and more, because Jesus is interceding for us and is present in the word and in the Eucharist. He talked about how essential the liturgy is. It is in the community and the liturgy that we hold each other accountable. It is in the liturgical community that we have someone we can turn to, who can pray for us, and we can pray for them. The more we love one another, and the more we know one another, the more manifestations of Christ’s miracles we will see. He said that if we come only for ourselves without getting to know one another in our community, we will not see as many manifestations that is possible. He also talked about how important it is that we gather each Sunday to receive the nourishment and encouragement we need to be empowered to be sent forth again. It is in the committed faith and love of community, with the word and the Eucharist, that we’ll see Christ through one another. He also talked about how important fathers are, and how essential is their faith commitment for healing relationships with the family and the church. It was just lovely.
Then it was communion time, and we all went up for communion. By this time, I had forgotten about leaving early. On the way back from communion, I was surprised and disappointed to see my family go out the door. There had been a miscommunication, and they understood that this is what they were meant to do. I thought we would return back to the pew, wait for the last blessing, and check the clock before we left. I struggled, and thought, “This is not right. We can’t do this. How can I stop it now?” I was caught up in the battle. It was no longer, “What is my pastor going to say?” It was my own conviction. I had just received communion, mass wasn’t over, and we were walking out the door. I didn’t want to leave, but I saw my family looking back at me puzzled. I was torn. The scripture that came to mind was: Matt 26:40. Jesus was in His agony in the garden when He said to the apostles,
“Could you not keep watch with me for one hour?”
We were in such a rush. It was like we needed to hurry, or we would spend fifteen minutes in the parking lot, plus we would be stuck in traffic and miss the spectacular opening of the game. I thought maybe I’m just being a stickler about leaving mass early, so I left.
On my way out, I took one more glance at the altar, and when I did, it was as if a veil was lifted for a micro-second, and I saw angels and the elite gathered at the altar with Jesus. I didn’t recognize the elite, but I knew this was the most important gathering in the world, not to be matched by anything else. In the same moment, I felt honored and humbled to be present at this liturgy. I also saw Jesus look up and He noticed that I was leaving.
Have you ever longed to be with someone? You planned for a special time, and they came only to tell you they couldn’t stay because they had other commitments. I felt the longing of my Lord to spend that quality time with me. I felt as if I betrayed Him by leaving. I have always been taught that the priest is only a physical representative of Christ in the sacraments. That Jesus is the real High Priest and the victim officiating at the Mass. To see this with my own spiritual eyes left a lasting impression on me.
After I left mass, I struggled all the way to our truck. I am sure it was a combination that I got caught leaving and I felt guilt, shame and disappointment in myself. I wondered, how could I tell my family what I was going through without placing blame, sounding critical or making them feel guilty? My family is very committed to Jesus. How could I help them see the seriousness of leaving early without looking like a spiritual know-it-all? How can I share with them, and still maintain the dignity, respect, acceptance for individuality, and their own spiritual growth process. I couldn’t. I had never experienced what I was going through before. I didn’t know what to say that wouldn’t hurt their feelings, so I said nothing. It was as if I had left the most uplifting, treasured gathering in the world for something good, but not the greatest good. Something was incomplete. If we had just waited five more minutes, it could have all been different.
We got out of the parking lot with no problems. As we left, the topic of conversation focused on the game. There was little time to spend in thanksgiving after just receiving the Eucharist. I wondered, “Do we realize what we did just five minutes earlier?” To me it was like bringing a guest into my home, sitting him down and going about my business without acknowledging his presence. It was like being invited to a wedding feast, and after eating, jumping up from the table and saying I’m sorry but I have to leave. I wondered if everyone knew that for fifteen minutes after receiving the Eucharist, Jesus in His most precious Body and Blood, is permeating every cell in our body, in a way that is not present to us in any other way or at any other time. I wondered if this is what the scriptures make reference to:
“For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the Body, eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many among you are ill and infirm, and a considerable number are dying.”
1 Cor 11:29.
Is it that we fail to recognize the Body and Blood, the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist? Many years ago I would pray, “Lord, I believe but help my unbelief.” Now that I believe, I need to pray, “Lord help my behavior reflect this belief.”
Back to the scene, the traffic was light, and we got to the game in plenty of time. We even had to wait until the game began. We were there from the beginning, and we stayed for three hours to the finish. Our opponents won five to four. I have to admit the game was very exciting and the entertainment was first class, but I really believe that had we stayed to the end of Mass, God would have gone before us and gotten us out of the parking lot and to the game on time. Even if we would not have made it to the game on time, I know that God would have blest us in some way for our commitment to put Jesus first. I really believe He wants us to trust Him for this.
“But seek you first the kingdom of God,
and His righteousness, and all these things
will be given you besides.”
Jesus is not asking us to give up all these other things. He is asking us to put Him first in all things.
Now, I’m not saying that there will not be times that you or I may not be able to make it to mass on time, or that you or I will not have to leave early, especially if you have little children. Sometimes at the last minute someone will get sick. There could be a traffic accident, a flat tire, and a lot of legitimate excuses. I would like to encourage you to make plans ahead of time to address those excuses that are due to poor planning.
If mass is a priority, it may mean more pre-planning and organization. It might mean laying your clothes out the night before, or getting up an hour earlier. Please pray and ask the Lord for the grace to get to mass on time. Think of everything that could possibly go wrong and plan for it. This will minimize the occasions of being late. As far as leaving mass early, trust the Lord for the traffic. If you are stuck in traffic, you could use that time to re-enforce the homily by asking questions and sharing the meaning of one of the symbols used at mass. Most of all, use this time to spend in thanksgiving for the most perfect gift of all, Jesus Christ who you just received. Now, if you don’t like the traffic, plan to stay an extra fifteen minutes after mass and reach out to just one individual you don’t know. If you do this each week, by the end of the year you would have made fifty-two new friends. You can also plan to come fifteen minutes early or stay fifteen minutes late and pray the rosary for your family and your community. I like to suggest along with the one hour fast before communion to fast one hour after you receive the Eucharist in reparation and conversion of the faithful to the real presence of Christ’s Body and Blood in the Eucharist. This discipline will also increase your sensitivity to what is really present during the liturgy.
Attending Mass is much like looking at a 3D picture. If you are in a hurry to get in or out you will only see the motions and participate in surface liturgy; in what you can see, hear and touch. Mass is much more. For those that really seek after righteousness and persevere, God will occasionally lift the veil and give a glimpse of what is really present at the liturgy. In contrast for those who have opened themselves to spirits other than the Holy Spirit, they will be very irritable during mass and can’t wait to get out of there because the evil within can recognize Christ’s real presence, and they are uncomfortable. That is why every mass is a healing mass. Each time we go through the entire liturgy, it leads us through repentance, instruction, encouragement and communion with the one Lord who can dispel all darkness, forgive sin, heal and strengthen us to go forth and evangelize. Think about it!
PLEASE, do not let your being late tempt you not to attend mass. It is better to come late than not to come at all. Being on time and not leaving early must be a priority.
“We should not stay away from our assembly, as is the custom of some, but encourage one another, and this all the more as you see the day drawing near.”
The day is drawing near and we need to encourage one another not to be robbed of our full faith inheritance. Yes, the Lord is always with you BUT there is something more powerful than that, and that is gathering together at the liturgy each weekend, if possible daily. The liturgy of the Mass is THE SUMMIT and THE FOUNTAIN of grace from which the church draws ALL its strength. What is present in the liturgy is not present at any other time, even when we have a beautiful experience during our private prayer time. For in the celebration of the liturgy we are uniting more intimately with Jesus, the members of our family that have died, with the angels and saints, our Lord’s mother, our heavenly Father, and the whole host of heaven, not to mention our brothers and sisters in our Christian community through Jesus Christ. This is the pre-celebration, a preparation for our eternal liturgy in heaven. The Marriage Feast. My Lord have mercy, if I have more important plans and can’t make it to mass, come late or leave early. Lord evangelize my heart.
Let us pray:
Please, dear Lord, help us make getting to mass a priority. Help us make it on time and not leave early. Let us continue to see how You long to spend one hour with us, and how You grieve when we find other things much more important. Continue to open our hearts to the multi-dimensional experiences of the mass. Don’t let us settle for less. Help us to make it a priority to honor our communion fast of one hour before Mass in order to prepare ourselves for the greatest gift of Yourself in the Word and the Eucharist. Help us to be sensitive to Your most precious Body and Blood for at least fifteen minutes after receiving You. Help us to be sensitive to our brothers and sisters worshiping with us and use us to reach out to anyone in need. Help us to be reminded of being a walking tabernacle, taking Your presence to all that we meet after the liturgy, bringing Your healing touch to all that do not have this gift. Never let us take Your Eucharistic presence for granted, but praise You for it unceasingly. In Your name we pray. Amen. Arlene
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