Dear friends. Last August, here in St Aidan's together with our sister parish of St Senans, we reduced the number of Masses at the weekends. This was partly due to fewer of us priests but mainly due to the falling numbers who come to Mass each week. Why are people falling away? There are many possible answers we could offer but here is one that is certainly true. We have not a clear idea of why we are here and what we do when we are here. Let me explain.
I once heard it said that Mass was taught to us as being like a spectator sport. It was something you watched and listened to but were not really involved in. From the time we were kids, we were told by our parents to watch the priest, listen and keep quiet. The point I’d like to make is that if this all Mass is then little wonder why many people become bored, fall away and stop coming.
So let’s get to the heart of it. Mass is meant to be an act of worship in which we consciously participate by presenting ourselves to the God who loves us, knows us and to whom we belong. This is the spirit of the Presentation of the Lord in the temple and is the spirit of this liturgy tonight/today. Joseph and Mary present Jesus in the temple and offered him to the God to whom he belonged. By that act, Joseph and Mary were saying in effect to God: ‘This child has come through us but he belongs to you. Today we consecrate him to you and to your service’.
I have come to believe more and more in the power of belonging and how it comes first. In times past, we thought that believing comes first and then behaving. But belonging is the most important of all. Then believing and only then behaving. There is so much confusion in our lives today because we fail to grasp the truth that we first belong to the God who loves us. He made us and has claim on us. When a child is baptised, the sign of the cross is traced on its forehead with the words: ‘I claim you for Christ our Saviour by the sign of the cross’. These words mean that we matter to Him and belong to him. As a Christian is welcomed into the Church for burial, we pray that God ‘claims you as one of his own’. So from the very beginning of life until the very end, we belong to Him.
And so then, life is not just about us but about God’s purposes for us. I am not just an individual locked up in myself and a lonely world but I am called to discover the love of someone whose hand has chosen me, anointed me and set his seal on my life.
The spirituality of the Presentation then is one of gentle surrender and acceptance of God’s choice of us. Slowly but surely we are absorbed into the love of the God to whom we belong. With our presence here in God’s house we are stating our belief in belonging to God not just today but for the future and for eternity.
And when we come to see the Mass this way, we don’t see it as a spectator sport. It’s not just about watching or listening but about taking part in one great offering of love where God presents himself in the Eucharist and we present ourselves and give ourselves to Him. With these new eyes, the Eucharist becomes a dynamic exchange that is never boring but a confirmation of God’s choice of you and me. We are His and for this we give thanks.