Nothing is more important than participating in Mass
Father Larry Richards
Editor’s Note: The following excerpt from a presentation on the Mass and the Eucharist is one of many articles that will be published by Catholic San Francisco Magazine as part of the U.S. Catholic Church’s Eucharistic Revival (eucharisticrevival.org) that began on June 19, 2022, the feast of Corpus Christi, and continues through Pentecost 2025.
The most wonderful thing I ever do in my life is celebrate Mass. From the time I was a little child, that’s all I ever wanted to do. Ever since Sister Dolores in first grade asked us to draw a picture of what we wanted to be when we grew up, I drew a priest with his hands held up in the air holding up the Eucharist. I believe it’s because of my mother. I was born March 26, 1960, and I was baptized on April 17, 1960, which was my mother’s birthday. It was also Easter Sunday. Right after I was baptized, my mother, who was 18, went over to the image of the Blessed Mother, lifted me up and she gave me away. I believe that day, Mary grabbed me and prayed for me that throughout my life, which in high school wasn’t very good, she would keep drawing me back to the reality that I was called to be a priest.
So, at 17, I came to know the call of the priesthood and entered the seminary. The most important thing I do in my life now is offer the Mass. The reality is, every day of my priesthood, I’ve offered the Mass; even when I was sick in the hospital, I would say Mass every day in my bed because there’s nothing more important in my life or in any of our lives than to participate in the Mass. Why? Every time at Mass, the God of the universe, Jesus Christ, that which universe cannot contain, humbles Himself before us and makes Himself present under the appearances of bread and wine, and He feeds us with Himself. What’s more important than that?
If I was going to give away a million dollars at church, people would come from all around the world to get the million dollars. They would say, “Father Larry’s going to give away a million dollars!” Yet, what we get at every Mass is worth more than a million dollars. It’s the God of the universe! God gives us His very self, and yet some people say they’re bored at Mass. They say, “I don’t go to Mass, Father, because it’s boring.” If you don’t go to Mass because it’s boring, then you don’t realize that God died for you, and that this death is made present for you at Mass. God is giving everything for the love of us, and right from the very beginning, since the creation of time, since the fall of man, God has always been preparing us for this great sacrament.
If we go back to the story of Abraham in Genesis, we see the testing of Abraham. God looks at Abraham and says, “Abraham, I want you to take your son, your only one whom you love, and give him to me.” Abraham says, “yes God, I’ll do that.” Now, some people get crazy over that. How could God ask for someone’s son? Remember, his son, Isaac, is the son of promise. Everything depends on him. Abraham’s future depends on Isaac, and he’s willing to give him up because he knows God can do anything. And so, Abraham takes his son Isaac and gives him the wood for the sacrifice to carry on his back. Isaac looks at his father and says, “Father, here is the wood and here is the fire, but where is the lamb for sacrifice?” Abraham says, “God Himself will provide the lamb for sacrifice.” So, Abraham is uttering a prophecy. He then he goes to the top of the mountain, he takes his son, ties him up and he gets ready to kill him. God stops Abraham and says, “Don’t you dare hurt your son.” God says, “Abraham, don’t you give up your son to prove your love for me; Abraham, I’ll give up my Son to prove my love for you.”
Fast-forward 2,000 years and you see John the Baptist. And John the Baptist sees Jesus walking toward him, and he says, “Behold the Lamb of God.” God Himself provides the Lamb. You see, God provides the Lamb. That’s why at Mass we cry out, “Lamb of God … Lamb of God … Lamb of God!” This is what it cost God. To give us the Mass, it cost God His Son’s life. From the very beginning with Abraham, the father of our faith, God is preparing us for the Mass.
Some people tell me, “Well, Father, I can pray at home, can’t I?” Well, sure you can. But you’re ignoring the fact that Jesus makes His passion and death sacramentally present for you at the Mass, and He gives us His own body and blood, and that’s what we need to survive. But still, some people say their time is more important than what Jesus is doing for me. They ditch God when they say that Mass isn’t important and that not going is no big deal. Well, it was a very big deal to God to give his only boy! Why isn’t it a big deal for us to receive what His boy did for us? Whatever we do in our lives, there’s nothing more important than the Mass. The Second Vatican Council says the Mass is the source and summit of our life! Is it the source and summit of your life? Or is it just something you go through because you want to be a good person, or because you don’t want to go hell. Many people use Mass as a type of insurance. They say, “I go to Mass on Sunday because it’s a mortal sin to miss Mass. I don’t want to go to hell. I don’t like it, but I’ll go.” That attitude is all about me, and what’s going to save me, instead of recognizing what it cost God. We need to have our hearts purified. It’s not about an obligation; it’s about being in relationship with God. If we jump to the New Testament, Luke, chapter 22 verse 15, we see Jesus getting ready to celebrate the Passover with His apostles. The first Mass was a Passover supper. Jesus sits with his apostles, and He says, “I have greatly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.” Jesus greatly desires you at every Mass. Do you greatly desire Him? Jesus greatly desires to suffer for us. He knows it’s going to cost Him everything, but He gladly gives everything. Do you desire Him at every Mass you go to or is it just something you’ve got to do? He desires you. Do you desire Him? Before He suffers, He takes the bread, and then in verse 19 He says, this is my body given for you. Do this in remembrance of Me. When He says, do this, this is a command. It isn’t an option. To this day, I can’t believe how people don’t have the Eucharist or the Mass at the center of their lives. Jesus didn’t say, “Hey, if you get around to it, I suggest you come together every once in a while, and, you know, remember this.” No. He said, do it! It’s a command. We must do it because God commands it of us. It’s one of His last requests of us: Do this in remembrance of Me. He says, “This is my body.” He didn’t say, “This is a symbol of me.” He didn’t say, “This is to remind you of me.” He said, “This is me.” What we get at every Mass is the God of the universe — body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus, who humbles Himself before us and gives us His own body and blood. But again, that doesn’t register with many people.
I watch people when they go to Communion on Sunday. Some receive Holy Communion and go walking out the door. Someone should stop them and say, “Excuse me! Do you know what just happened? God just made His death sacramentally present for you at the Mass, gave you His own resurrected body and blood, and you’re walking out of here like it’s no big deal? You better fall on your face and realize that God just gave His Body and Blood to you. If Jesus came walking in this church right now and he stood here, what would you do? I would imagine that you would fall on your face before Him.”
It became real for me years ago. I went to Rome with a classmate to attend a diaconate ordination for a childhood friend. My classmate had done a lot for Mother Teresa’s order when he was studying in Rome. He’d often say Mass for her and suggested we go and spend time with the sisters. I said, “Oh, I’d love to do that.” So, we got there very early in the morning and rang the doorbell. Mother comes out, and she’s smiling from ear to ear at 6 a.m. I’m thinking, “Mother can’t be right if she’s smiling from ear to ear at 6 in the morning,” you know, because I’m not a morning person. I believe in the Lord’s Supper not the Lord’s breakfast! But anyway, that’s all beside the point. So, she takes us into this room, and she says, “Father, wait for us; we’ll come and get you in a few minutes.” As we get ready to offer Mass, we notice that everyone takes off their shoes because they understand that they are entering holy ground. It is an interesting thing to say Mass with no shoes on when you’re so used to saying Mass with your shoes. Anyway, there are nuns from all over the world, all smiling from ear-to-ear. Earlier in the morning, they were chopping wood, filling their big buckets of water and doing all this hard work. As they kneel on the wood floor, they are all smiling. We go into the sacristy and there is a little sign that says: “Oh, priests of God, say this Mass as if it was your first Mass. Say this Mass as if it was your last Mass. Say this Mass as if it was your only Mass.”
That’s how we should all approach Mass. People of God, pray this Mass as if it was your first Mass. Pray this Mass as if it was your last Mass, because it could be. Pray this Mass as if it was your only Mass. If we all just entered Mass that way!
So, we start the Mass, and these nuns, again, are very happy, singing and kneeling throughout the whole Mass. My classmate was giving the homily, and he’s picking on me, and these nuns are laughing hysterically. Laughing is a true sign that someone’s a follower of Christ. If you have no joy — I don’t care if you go to daily Mass — if you don’t have joy in your heart, you don’t know Jesus Christ, who said to us: “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete.” (Jn 15:11)
If I’m a follower of Jesus Christ, I better be a person of love to everybody, whether I like them or not. The joy of these nuns was contagious; you smile just by looking at them. So, we continue the Mass and take the bread and say, “This is my body,” and we hold up the God of the universe. Do you know what the nuns did? They fell on their faces. They knew who that was — God. These nuns worshipped Jesus. Then, after returning to a kneeling position, we said, “This is my blood.” Once again, they fell on their faces.
Do we fall on our faces? Every time we go to Mass, spiritually, does our heart bow before the God of the universe? That’s what matters. Mass is about worshipping Him, and these nuns knew it.
But that’s not only what it’s about. After that Mass, we went to this little room where the nuns asked us to stay for breakfast. They served us excessively, like we were royalty. In this little room was a plaque of Mother Teresa, and the plaque says, “The fruit of silence is prayer. The fruit of prayer is faith. The fruit of faith is love. The fruit of love is service. The fruit of service is peace.”
These nuns knew what the Mass was all about. The Mass is to make us more loving. If the Mass doesn’t make us more loving, we’re wasting time.
If you want to know Jesus, you got to spend time with Him in the breaking of the bread. At our church, we are blessed to have 24-hour adoration seven days a week. People come and spend an hour a week so that at least two people are always with Jesus 24 hours a day seven days a week. Why? Because He’s alive there, and you come to know Him in the reality of His presence. Do you know Jesus? Do you really know Jesus? Do you know Him like you know your mother, your father, your best friend, your girlfriend, your boyfriend, your son or your daughter? The only way you ever come to know Jesus is by spending time with Him. I promise you, if you spend time with Jesus in the Eucharistic bread, you will come to know Him, and that’s the only thing that matters. There is no way to fall in love with somebody unless you spend time with them. People are constantly saying, “Oh, I want to know Jesus more.” Well, do you ever spend time with Him? The only way to fall in love with someone is by spending time with them. The only way to truly love Jesus is to spend time with Him.
At Mass through the Eucharist, God takes up residence inside of us, and we must leave every Mass and serve, bringing Jesus to the world, bringing others to the knowledge of His love.
Father Larry Richards is the pastor of St. Joseph’s Church Bread of Life Community in Erie, Pennsylvania. He is a captivating teacher, preacher and retreat master and speaks from experience as the pastor of an inner-city parish. A former high school chaplain of eight years, a counselor and an evangelist, Father Larry has directed hundreds of retreats for young and old alike as well as numerous parish missions and conferences. His inspirational talks and presentations have changed the hearts and minds of thousands of listeners worldwide.
Excerpts from a conference talk, printed with permission from Lighthouse Catholic Media.