Book Review: If Your Mind Wanders at Mass

Shortly before Christmas I participated in a Secret Santa exchange on my favorite book cataloging site, LibraryThing. I can only assume that the administrators of the exchange picked people due to common interests, ¬†because ¬†I was paired with a lovely young Catholic woman who picked out a copy of Thomas Howard’s If Your Mind Wanders at Mass for me.

The book is deceptively short at 124 pages, but filled with wonderful reflections on liturgical participation, the parts of the Mass, and the importance of corporate worship. Dr. Howard writes with depth, but doesn’t rely on lofty or inaccessible theological language. For instance, take this passage on “assisting at” Mass:

“Assist at”: that is an old and very accurate way of referring to our attendance at Mass. We are not spectators. We are not an audience. We are the congregation, brought together (congregated) to do something — all of us, not solely the priest up there at the altar. Every one of us who wants to be numbered among “the faithful” is, by virtue of his baptism, made to be a sharer in the priesthood of Jesus Christ. The priest himself, by virtue of his ordination, participates in that priesthood in a particular way. He is “ordained” to preside at the Lord’s Table, that is, to be in the place of Jesus Christ, who instituted this sacrament when he broke the bread and blessed the cup at the Last Supper. But we the faithful share in the action by uniting ourselves to the Sacrifice of Jesus Christ which is made present in the Mass, and by offering our adoration, and our very selves, and all our work and our joys and our sufferings, and our aspirations, to God as the particular things which we alone can offer. No one else can offer me to the Lord. This is an act which I alone can carry out.

The rest of the book is written in the same beautiful, reflective style. This isn’t a “how-to” book on the Mass so much as an extended mystagogy on the Eucharist.

The only thing keeping me from fully recommending the book is it’s copyright date — 1995 — which means that it references the older translation of the Roman Missal. I hope that Dr. Howard or his editor will take the time to update the book with the new English translation recently implemented across the globe.

Even with that caveat, the quality of the reflections are enough to merit their inclusion in any Catholic’s library.

Photo by Kevin Dooley/flickrCC.