"Big Four" Highlights


The Mass is Not a Football Game

We need to be more than spectators in church

(On Nov. 27 – the First Sunday of Advent – the new translation of the Mass will go into effect in U.S. dioceses. The structure of the Mass will be the same, but some of the responses by the people will change. This is the sixth and final of a series of articles on those changes and the reasons behind them.)


The experience of many Catholics at Mass reminds me of my Italian cousin’s first time to an NFL football game. Coming from Italy, Stefano knew football very well — but his football was soccer!

So when our family took him to a Chicago Bears football game, he did not grasp all that was happening on the field. When the Bears sacked the opposing team’s quarterback, my family stood up and cheered. And Stefano did the same. But when we sat back down, he asked me, “Why is everyone happy? Did the Bears score?”

When the referee made a bad call on the field, we stood up again, but this time we booed, raising our hands in frustration. Stefano stood up with us. He yelled and raised his hands, too, but he wasn’t sure why. “What just happened?” he asked. “Did the other team get a point?”

Sometimes we Catholics experience the Mass like my cousin Stefano experienced his first Bears game. We go through the motions, but we’re not quite sure what is happening. We stand up. We sit down. We kneel. We say, “Lord have mercy…Holy, Holy, Holy…Thanks be to God.” Many of us have heard these words since childhood. We know them by heart. So ingrained in us are these prayers that if someone in the middle of the night were to whisper to us, “The Lord be with you,” we probably would roll over in our sleep and instinctively respond, “And also with you.”

But do we really understand the meaning of all that we are saying and doing in the liturgy?

The revised English translation of the Mass offers a unique occasion for Catholics to reflect on the meaning of the Mass. Some of those familiar words at Mass are changing. We now need to get used to new responses and new musical settings. It is my hope that this period of transition will not be merely mechanical — simply about training people to say new responses — but catechetical and spiritual. As we are taken out of our routine, we have a wonderful opportunity to ponder anew what we say and do in church and rediscover the splendor of the liturgy, so that we might grow deeper in our communion with Jesus every time we go to Mass.

Other articles in this series:

Dr. Edward Sri is provost and professor of theology at the Augustine Institute in Denver. This reflection is based on his new book, A Biblical Walk Through the Mass: Understanding What We Say And Do In the Liturgy (Ascension Press).