New Book Offers Tips on Making the Most of Mass

BOOK PICK: A Devotional Journey Into the Mass

(photo: Unsplash)


How Mass Can Become a Time of Grace, Nourishment and Devotion

By Christopher Carstens

Sophia Institute Press, 2017

131 pages, $14.95

To order: or (800) 854-6316



A frequently heard complaint among some Catholics is that “I don’t get anything out of Mass.”

Compared to that claim, the response of Christopher Carstens’ 4-year-old son is more positive: What he most likes about going to Mass are the doughnuts afterward.

Carstens notes the reply may be cute at 4, but, if that’s all the lad can say at 14, he’ll likely be a “none” at 24. The usual riposte to not getting anything out of Mass is to ask what one is putting into it. That question is, in some sense, what this rich little book is all about.

Vatican II called for Catholics’ “active participation” in Mass, but I’d suggest that, for many, participation is rather passive. Carstens wants to remedy that through very practical suggestions in conjunction with eight moments in the Mass: walking in the door, making the Sign of the Cross, praying the Opening Prayer, listening to the readings, joining one’s sacrifice at the Offertory, joining with Christ in the Eucharistic Prayer, receiving Communion, and going forth to transform the world.

Take the Liturgy of the Word. Carstens asks whether many of us “hear without listening” and how “we might ask ourselves what we can do to keep the Word of God from going in one ear and out the other. Have you ever responded ‘Thanks be to God’ only to realize that you could not name one thing mentioned in the reading?” His remedy is to teach readers to do lectio divina, i.e., a method of reading Scripture that aims to get inside God’s word to discover both what it said in its day and what it’s trying to say to me in daily life’s concrete circumstances.

Take the Offertory. We often hear of the Mass as “sacrifice,” yet what does that mean for modern man?

Carstens’ method is “mystagogical catechesis,” a theologically fancy way of teaching about the sacramentality of our world, first as naturally created and later as progressively containing divine Revelation.

Even the cross already has roots in the created world: “Consider where the bounty is found in Treasure Island: X marks the spot. To ‘be at a crossroads’ signifies an important decision, while ‘being crossed’ means conflict. We can plot points on the x and y axes of a graph — itself the shape of a cross — to represent facts in the real world.”

From recognizing the cross as the mathematical ground of finding a location, we can move to the Old Testament (hands raised in blessing, the saraph serpent) to the full meaning of the cross in the New Testament in light of salvation. 

Carstens’ book helps the faithful to make Mass a living part of their spiritual lives. This book is a great Eastertide tool to appreciate the “active participation” to which we are all invited.

John M. Grondelski, Ph.D., writes from

Falls Church, Virginia.

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