Ryan O'Connell

“Don’t Walk Into Mass Out of Shape”: What is “Mass Fitness”?

“Don’t walk into mass out of shape,” proclaims the bridge of the song “Mass Fitness” performed by some, gangly, shaved-eyebrow dude.

Well that Vanilla-Ice-looking dude is me. I love writing silly songs with catchy hooks and was asked to add a comedic spark to Life Teen’s semester on the Mass through song, dance, and video.

The original idea came from our Life Support Coordinator Joel Stepanek. He thought an 80’s style Richard Simmons workout video featuring specific movements that would get people in shape for Mass would be a fun introduction to the topic (since we all know there’s a lot of kneeling, sitting, and standing going on at Mass). I laughed just thinking about it and then suddenly got inspired to blow it up. So I wrote an original song, shot a music video (with the help of some wonderful and talented people), and decided to give it an early 90’s vibe instead.

One goal was to celebrate and have fun with our Catholic identity in a way that could relate even to those Catholics who maybe aren’t very active in their faith. But I mainly wanted to spark a conversation about what it truly means to “get in shape” for Mass and help youth ministers break into the discussion with their teens in a ridiculous and memorable way.

We as Catholics know that the Mass is pretty active. We can’t physically train for an Ironman race by attending daily Mass for a month, but if you’re like me and you’ve ever felt something slip in your lower back after the third transition from kneeling to standing, then you know that Mass is not like a Netflix marathon on your favorite couch.

But what does it really mean to “get in shape” for Mass?

It’s simple. You get out of Mass what you put into it.

If you come to Mass “out of shape” or unprepared, the graces you could receive are seriously diminished. So how do you get in spiritual shape for Mass? Getting in spiritual shape involves daily discipline and commitment. It’s not just something you can do for an hour on Sundays and expect to compete with the fitness champions in the front row who pay rapt attention to every word and gesture.

There are some things, however, you can do right away to enhance your experience and the graces you receive from Mass:

Go to Confession

The Church encourages us to go to Confession at least once a month. If you’ve committed a serious sin that hasn’t been confessed, you are definitely not in shape to receive the Jesus in the Eucharist. After turning our back on Christ through sin, by Confession we turn around to face Him again. Then we are ready to receive Him in the most intimate way possible—the Eucharist.

Read the scriptures ahead of time

Spend time before Mass reading and reflecting upon the scriptures for that day. Ask God to open you up to the wisdom and grace flowing through His word and how His word applies directly to your life. Reading ahead of time also helps us focus more when the scriptures are proclaimed.

Dress up

The Mass is actually a wedding ceremony where Christ marries Himself to the Church (us). It’s easy to be lazy here because Mass can feel routine. But dressing appropriately for the occasion also helps us psychologically. When we dress as if something is important, we tend to act as if it’s important. And the fact is that Mass is the most important part of your week (or day if you are a daily Mass attendant).

Arrive early

There is so much going on in our lives that it’s hard to set things aside when it’s time to worship. If you get the church 15 minutes early, you have time to pray and center yourself. Place all your burdens and distractions at the foot of the cross. Thoughts of what you were just doing, and what you might be doing after Mass, should be surrendered. “Empty your cup” of worldly concerns so that Christ can fill your cup with Himself.

Pray after Mass

After receiving Jesus in the most intimate way possible, give yourself time to bask in His love and thank Him. Depending on the Mass, prayer time after communion is often rushed. Stay a little longer with Jesus to acknowledge the profound gift you’ve been given. Offer up some intentions for those who need them.

If you flex these Mass muscles regularly you will notice a dramatic difference in how you think and feel about Mass, and the increase in grace will empower you for the rest of your week.

And you don’t have to stop there. Study the Mass! There is so much history, tradition, and symbolism to uncover. If you know nothing about basketball, chances are you’d be bored watching a game. But if you understand strategies, rules, history, and know something about the players, you’re likely to be invested in every nuance of the game. An excellent starting point for your studies is Mark Hart’s book “Behold the Mystery: A Deeper Understanding of the Catholic Mass.”

The Church calls the Eucharistic celebration the “source and summit of the Christian life” (CCC 1324). But many of us are still stuck at base camp looking up at this summit. So put on your holy sweatband and liturgical climbing shoes and get into shape!

To help you get to the summit, “Mass Fitness” has been included in the May Life Support box and is also available on Life Teen’s YouTube channel with a link to download the song on iTunes if you want to jam out on your way to Mass.

Ryan O'Connell

About the Author

After a hard day of work, I look forward to a little exercise, some blues guitar, and a moving-picture creation by my ex-employer and fickle lover, Hollywood. I’m also a fan of basketball, sketch comedy, and vigorously defending my beliefs using this academic gimmick called “truth.” God has blessed me with the most loyal friends a guy could ask for, and a disturbing inability to not laugh at stupid jokes.