Can we ever offer God perfect worship, completely wholeheartedly, disinterestedly, free of distractions, and with a totally clear conscience? Even if we could do all that, would our worship be worthy of God? Could our music ever be beautiful and magnificent enough, and our places of worship as well? Even if we made them as beautiful as human art can accomplish, would they be worthy of God, who created the whole earth, the sun and the moon and the stars?
If we can’t do these things, is there any point in worship? In modern days people are in the habit of saying, “Of course there is! God knows our hearts and will forgive our shortcomings and imperfections.” But this is due to the mere habit of thinking as Christians. The notion of divine mercy has been so drilled into our heads in Western civilization, even those of us who aren’t Christians, that it’s nearly an axiom, a first principle. But this assumes what we’re arguing for. We assume God will forgive our shortcomings, only because we know (on some level) that Christ has already appeased his justice, by offering perfect worship in our behalf, in his sacrifice on the Cross.
Before the Cross, do you suppose people thought that they could offer any old worship, in any old place, in whatever frame of mind they happened to be in, certain that it would be acceptable and pleasing to God, notwithstanding its being utterly unworthy of him, nay not even the best of which they were capable?
If Jesus’ death on the Cross was a sacrifice, then it was worship, as surely as the worship of the Old Covenant Temple. But even Old Covenant Temple worship was not assumed to be always worthy and pleasing to God. It was worthy only if done in complete accordance with the requirements that God himself had laid down. And even then, they knew that in fulfilling the worship requirements of the Law, they were not meriting God’s approval by the perfection of their worship, but only doing what was required of them.
Why then do we assume God approves of our worship, poor and lowly as it may be? Only because Jesus’ sacrifice, again, was worship — worship utterly pure and worthy, infinitely meritorious. And because his worship is our very own.
Without Jesus’ worship being our own, our worship would be as pathetic as we know it to be. We sit distracted, we’re tired, we can’t wait to be done. We snapped at our wife on the way to Mass. We’re carping to ourselves, or whispering to each other about the homily. We’re covertly glancing at our more attractive neighbors in the pews. Is this an acceptable sacrifice? Does this merit heaven?
It merits heaven because eating of his Body, we participate in his Sacrifice (1 Cor. 10:18). Participating in his Sacrifice, our worship is his worship.
It doesn’t require perfect participation in the Sacrifice, only participation. The Sacrifice is perfect forever, and we can’t sully it. If my attention were total and my singing perfectly on-key, my thoughts always chaste and my patience untiring, for an eternity, my worship would still be unworthy without the Cross; but by the same token, an eternity of my mind wandering, or my off-key singing, can’t make the slightest dent in the perfect obedience and infinite merit of the Cross. It is now and ever shall be the perfect, holy and living Sacrifice of our redemption.
Therefore I needn’t sing perfectly, I need only sing. I needn’t be utterly free of distraction, but make some effort to avoid distraction. Not perfect contrition, but as much contrition as I’m capable of.
This doesn’t excuse laxity at Mass. We should do our best if for no other reason than because God is so merciful as to allow us to offer meritorious worship in our own behalf. If we can’t appreciate that and act devoutly in consequence, why go there at all? But if we fail in giving full attention, and commit venial sins by our wandering eyes and minds, well, that’s just the kind of thing that Jesus came to save us from: The Physician is here for the sick, not the well.
“Charity is the theological virtue by which we love God above all things for his own sake, and our neighbor as ourselves for the love of God.” (Catechism 1822.)
A single act done by virtue of divine charity is sufficient to merit heaven, since it is Christ who acts in us. And if charity is the virtue by which we love God above all things, then a single act of perfect worship by which we express our love for God — attending a single Mass with the right intention — does the same. “He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood” — not a certain minimum number of times, but he who eats and drinks it, period — “has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:54.)