One of the neatest things about working at Palma, an all-boys Catholic High School, in Salinas, is their beautiful Blessed Edmund Rice Chapel. It’s not just that, but that every morning throughout the entire school year Palma contracts priests from the Diocese of Monterey to say morning mass. Promptly at 7:30a.m. the celebrant walks out (this year Fr. Manny) guided by Palma altar servers and helps those gathered to begin the day with right relationships within oneself, with each other, and with God—especially through the Sacrament of Holy Eucharist, the source and summit of the Christian life.
Mass attendance is a funny thing. By all outward appearances, it is nothing more than a quick gathering of but a few people that could just as easily be missed as attended, but for those who attend it is a special opportunity to humbly place oneself before God, be reminded of His mercy and love, and receive the peace and strength to start the day that lies ahead. The mass itself is an important part of God’s ongoing work of RE-Creation.
The Biblical account of Creation, after all, is not simply “things” or “no things” but rather ALL things in right relationship; mankind to God, to the environment, to fellow man, and within oneself. Sin is a disruption of all of the above that begins with division within one’s self that manifests itself in brokenness in all of the most important areas of our life, and ultimately with God. The Christian tradition calls this totality and consequence of this brokenness “Original Sin.” Original Sin is one of the easiest doctrines to understand. All one has to do is look around! Look at the war, violence, selfishness, and greed in the world, in our country, in our communities, in our families, and yes, even within ourself!
St. Paul admits to this struggle in himself when in his letter to the Romans he writes, “I am carnal, sold into slavery to sin. What I do, I do not understand. For I do not do what I want, but I do what I hate…The willing is ready at hand, but doing the good is not. For I do not do the good I want, but I do the evil I do not want.” (7:15-19) Amen to that, huh! I think St. Paul has REALLY hit the nail on the head with this understanding of sin and that it lives in each of us! How many times I think to myself, “What was I thinking!” or “Why have I done that again!” or “Why don’t I just keep my mouth shut and follow my mom’s advice that if I haven’t anything good to say then it would be better to say nothing at all!” St. Paul concludes his rant about his own helplessness to do the good with, “Miserable one that I am! Who will deliver me from this mortal body? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (7:24-25)
There was no part of this broken human condition that Jesus did not come to heal! God’s work of RE-Creation, restoring the whole of Creation to its original rightness and goodness, found fulfillment in Christ and continues until He comes again to judge the living and the dead. And that’s why the morning Mass matters so much!
Our Palma athletes, student leadership, and service groups are on a year-round weekly Mass attendance rotation, and many Palma students attend daily mass regularly or for extra credit. Notre Dame, our all-girls sister school, also regularly participates as well. It is encouraging to know that our administrators are at Mass every morning along with retired brothers, the Sisters at Notre Dame, and members of the Salinas community as well. Probably most impressive to me is seeing so many of Palma’s young men serving at the altar or serving as lectors, musicians, or extra ordinary ministers of communion. And all of this coordination is led by our campus minister, Jim Michelleti. The whole Palma family unites together with Notre Dame and the Salinas community, with all the angels and saints and the whole host of Heaven to worship and give praise to God and the Lamb each day! What a wonderful gift!
At every Mass, members of every community come together in humble brokenness, recognize their own participation in life’s sadness and pain through impatience, selfishness, and a lack of love. We confess with a contrite heart our genuine desire for renewal, healing, and transformation, and ask our brothers and sisters present for their forgiveness, encouragement, and love. We hear and are strengthened by the Word proclaimed in Scripture and the Homily, pray the words the Lord himself gave to us in the “Lord’s Prayer,” reconcile with our brothers and sisters through a sign of peace, and receive the Lord Jesus Himself who nourishes us and strengthens us by His very body and blood.
We go out, healed, renewed, and inspired to be Christ’s light and love in our world. For me, that’s the classroom, for administrators in their dealings with faculty and parents, for my students it is the classroom and the court, for members of the community, it is in their particular places of work. For all of us, we begin our day on the right foot, whole in oneself, in right relationship with others, and in right relationship with God. I can’t imagine a better way to start the day recreated, renewed, and redeemed!
Far from an “obligation,” the Catholic Mass is a wonderful celebration of generosity, mercy, forgiveness, and love. Too often we Catholics attend Mass to “check the box” and fulfill a requirement or a precept, and in so doing we reduce the beauty of the mass to nothing more than a empty routine instead of a ritual rich in depth, and power! But for those who know, we walk out of mass transformed and renewed in Spirit having encountered the risen Lord Jesus. We walk taller and love more deeply, aware of our dignity and the dignity of others, and day by day week by week participate in God’s work of RE-CREATION.