One of the fond memories I have from my time in the college seminary was our friendly rivalry between those of Irish descent, and the better ones of German descent (I’ll let you guess which one “Grosch” is…). But we Germans would pride ourselves in our knack for German efficiency, the maximum output for the minimum input. We would try to get things done as quickly and as sharply as possible. I’ll just say, however, beware the combination of German efficiency with college procrastination! It’s a deadly combination!
Sometimes we can adapt an attitude of efficiency to our celebration of the liturgy as well. We can try to get things done as quickly and as cleanly as possible. Eucharistic Prayer I is the longest of all our Eucharistic Prayers, so there are a lot of priests and people who don’t like to use it because they fear it takes too long.
Well, I didn’t want to settle for hearsay, so I took the missal to my secret lab to test the time elapsed from the Lamb of God to the Great Amen. EPIII, the most commonly used prayer, finished with a lightning fast 3:42.9. Turning to the Big Kahuna, EPI came in at a lackadaisical 4:58.2. The difference is a whopping 1 minute, 15.3 seconds, even with all the optional parts thrown in. So I guess sometimes people overreact – in the context of a Mass, 1 minute 15 seconds isn’t going to make a whole lot of difference.
I think the greater question is whether we should have this mindset in the first place. In all fairness, on the one hand, we have to be sensitive to the obligations of our fellow parishioners. That’s especially true for 6:30 Mass on weekdays, when people need to get to work. But it’s also true that convoluted homilies or liturgy can sometimes cause us to focus too much on our frustrations than on the mysteries before us, and can even lead us to sin in our thoughts against others who are going at a “different pace.”
But at the same time, whether we realize it or not, that hour (give or take) for Mass is the most important hour of our day. It’s a direct encounter with Christ – not in some metaphysical or philosophical way, but with his physical Body and Blood. It’s a time to listen to what he has to say to us in the Gospel. It’s a time to offer our prayers, cares, joys, and sufferings. You see, what can sometimes happen is that we sacrifice sanctity in the name of efficiency. This is true for all of us, priests probably more than most people.
Think about it honestly: when you sit down with a friend, and they start pouring themselves out to you, really sharing with you how much they care about you as a friend, what does it say to them if you pull out your phone to check texts or to see what time it is? That’s what the Mass is, and specifically the Eucharistic Prayer is. In some way, it is a conversation between Christ and us, where we pour out ourselves out of love for the other, ultimately culminating in Communion.
So remember that the next time you get a chance to go to Mass. I promise that I’ll do my best to be appropriately efficient as my German descent cries out for me to do. But I would also challenge you, that in as much as you can, strive to be a person who treasures that encounter with Christ, even just in that one hour, and make that hour the holiest that you can.