Embracing Boredom

“Boredom at Mass is not something that should be eliminated. The moment in which we find ourselves bored while listening to the readings and the homily, bored while hearing the same Eucharistic Prayer offered once again, and bored while singing this same hymn we chant every Advent, is also the moment in which we are invited to participate more fully in the love of God poured out in Christ. . . . To lose our attention during the praying of the Eucharistic Prayer and find ourselves fascinated by the crucifix is not something that should be stopped but is instead our own particular way of participating in the Mass this day.” (Bored Again Catholic, p. 9)

In our contemporary culture, boredom is a state of being that ought to be avoided at all costs. Liturgical celebrations are tailored to eliminate boredom by stimulating people with upbeat hymns and funny, engaging homilies. However, this attention to removing boredom from the Mass and making it more “fun” ultimately has the disastrous effect of distracting people from the real meaning of the Mass.

In Bored Again Catholic: How the Mass Could Save Your Life, Professor Timothy O’Malley of the University of Notre Dame asserts that boredom is something we should embrace, that it is essential to spiritual growth and gaining spiritual insight. Distracting ourselves when boredom encroaches inhibits our ability to receive this insight, or even to pray at all.

In order to help people learn to embrace this boredom, Professor O’Malley offers a series of reflections on every part of the Mass and its significance. Beginning with the entrance hymn and ending with the concluding rites, he helps the reader to understand what is happening in the Mass and encourages a deeper contemplation of it.

One of the topics that he touches on in chapter 4 is the significance of the altar and why it is fitting that the priest reverences it at the beginning of the Mass. O’Malley acknowledges the pagan symbolism of the altar, a bloody place of sacrifice to angry gods; but he explains how the meaning of the altar is transformed because it is the place of Christ’s sacrifice of love that is the very origin of the Church to begin with. When armed with an understanding of the central importance of the altar to the celebration of the Mass, it becomes easy to understand why the altar is the center and focal point in church architecture. “(The priest) kisses the altar because it stands among us as a sign of Christ’s total act of love.”

This book is especially directed towards O’Malley’s undergraduate students, whom he observes struggling to remain engaged with the Mass. However, with brief chapters and an engaging writing style, it is a book that any audience can read to gain a more thoughtful appreciation of the Mass. Professor O’Malley exhorts his readers to allow themselves to be bored by the Mass, but in a good way. He encourages a boredom that opens our thoughts to contemplation of God and the Sacrifice of the Mass—to be fruitfully “bored again.”

Therese Madigan is on the staff of Sacred Architecture and is studying architecture at the University of Notre Dame.