363. How should we assist at Mass?
We should assist at Mass with reverence, attention, and devotion.
(a) There are different ways of assisting at Mass devoutly: using the missal to follow the priest, saying the Mass prayers as found in a prayer book; singing hymns; and the like.
364. What is the best method of assisting at Mass?
The best method of assisting at Mass is to unite with the priest in offering the Holy Sacrifice, and to receive Holy Communion.
(a)It is evident from the words of the priest himself that we do unite with him in offering up the Holy Sacrifice. After the Offertory he turns to the people and says: "Pray, brethren, that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God the Father Almighty." In the second commemoration of the Canon of the Mass he says: "Remember, O Lord, Thy servants . . . for whom we offer, or who offer up to Thee, this sacrifice of praise . . . "
The phrase “assist at Mass” rather than “attend Mass” is rarely used anymore. It was more common in the pre-Vatican II days. Yet this phrasing captures the concept of full and active participation touted by Vatican II much better than saying, “attend Mass”. The priest offers the Sacrifice of the Mass. We assist him with our own prayers and sacrifices. By merely saying we attend Mass we put ourselves in the role of passive spectators. The Mass becomes a spectacle to observed. Perhaps that is why some seek to “liven it up” with happy-clappy music and liturgical dance. Perhaps that is why some priests feel the need to become stand-up comics. After all, the congregation showed up. They need to be engaged by something.
Yet the Mass is not about those of us in the pews. The Mass is about the awesome supernatural event that occurs on the Altar. The sacrifice of Calvary is made truly present. Heaven and Earth are joined. Saints and angels gather about the altar at the moment of Consecration. By faithfully assisting at Mass we share in the fruits of the Mass. Again, from the EWTN teaching library:
(b) Besides the purpose for which the Mass is offered and the effects that it produces, there are also special fruits of the Mass. The fruits Of the Mass are the blessings that God bestows through the Mass upon the celebrant, upon those who serve or assist at it, upon the person or persons for whom it is offered, and also upon all mankind, especially the members of the Church and the souls in purgatory.
(c)The measure of these blessings depends especially on the dispositions of those to whom they are given.
I think it would be a good idea to go back to speaking of assisting at Mass. Perhaps this simple change in our language will help to convey the true Spirit of the Liturgy. The question will no longer be “What did I get out of Mass?” Instead we each will ask, “What did I give to the Mass?”