Misusing the Mass

A couple of incidents have made me wonder if people understand and appreciate what liturgy in general, and the Mass in particular, is about.
The first happened a few months ago at a multicultural youth Mass which I had helped organise. During the service, I became aware of a man near me who was conspicuously different on two counts. Firstly, he was about three times the average age of the rest of the participants (myself excluded of course!). Secondly, he made absolutely no attempt to join in the celebration, to the extent of ignoring those who tried to offer him the sign of peace and not even saying the Lord’s Prayer.
I wondered why he was there. Perhaps he was a parent or grandparent who had come along out of interest. Perhaps a “spy” checking up on the orthodoxy of the celebration (it does happen!)
Only at the rite of communion did his intentions become clear. While people were moving in procession to receive the Body and Blood of Christ, he moved around the church leaving on the pews leaflets about devotion to an apparition of Mary of which I had never heard. Most people ignored the material and it was left for the organisers to clear away after the Mass.
This man had used the Mass for his own purposes, to propagate information about a private devotion to a captive and, in this case, somewhat vulnerable audience.
The second incident happened quite recently at a special Mass organised by a group of parishes to celebrate the re-entrustment of Australia to Mary, under the title Help of Christians, in this year of the Centenary of Federation.
It was a marvellous Mass with a near-to-full church, people participating wholeheartedly in the singing and prayers, a moving homily, etc. During the Liturgy of the Word, I noticed that people were writing on sheets of paper on a clipboard that was being passed around. When it reached me, I discovered that it was a Right to Life petition. I could not believe that anyone would have the audacity to use (should I say “abuse”?) the occasion for his or her own purposes. Their action showed a total lack of respect for the Mass, for Christ present in the assembly and speaking to us through the scriptures, for the people who were put on the spot and whose participation was interrupted, and for the organisers whose permission was not sought or given.
The Mass is never an occasion for promoting a particular cause, no matter how worthwhile. Parishes are bombarded with material for special collection and intentions on most weeks of the year. While our worship cannot be divorced from daily life and the realities of the world, letting special causes overshadow the true nature and purpose of Mass does a disservice both to the liturgy and to the community.
The Mass is an act of worship, of praise and thanksgiving to God. At Mass we join with Christ in giving thanks to God and, with Christ, we offer ourselves to God. Every Mass is a celebration of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, that is, the paschal mystery.

Elizabeth Harrington