God created us to give Him glory, which we do by sharing in His own happiness. The Catechism describes this reality in its opening line: “God, infinitely perfect and blessed in himself, in a plan of sheer goodness freely created man to make him share in his own blessed life.” The Baltimore Catechism captured the question “why did God make me?” even more poignantly: “God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him forever in heaven.”
The Mass has the same end as human life, though it is the most direct and intense expression of it on earth. We go to Mass for God, to give Him the glory, thanks, and honor He deserves as our Creator and Redeemer. We don’t go to Mass primarily for ourselves, though we do benefit by going, because through the Mass God draws us into His life, which is the goal of our lives.
The traditional prayer before Mass captures the purpose of Mass quite well.
Eternal Father, I unite myself with the intentions and affections of our Lady of Sorrows on Calvary, and I offer Thee the sacrifice which Thy beloved Son Jesus made of Himself on the Cross, and now renews on this holy altar:
To adore Thee and give Thee the honor which is due to Thee, confessing Thy supreme dominion over all things, and the absolute dependence of everything upon Thee, Who art our one and last end.
To thank Thee for innumerable benefits received.
To appease Thy justice, irritated against us by so many sins, and to make satisfaction for them.
To implore grace and mercy for myself, for [any special intentions], for all afflicted and sorrowing, for poor sinners, for all the world, and for the holy souls in purgatory.
During the Mass we unite ourselves with the offering of that Christ made of Himself to the Father. It becomes our offering as we offer ourselves and all of our intentions along with Christ to the Father.
I’ve often heard people say that the purpose of the Mass is catechesis, the instruction of the faithful. The Mass does, of course, have some catechetical aspects, in a broad sense, particularly the homily (although it might be better to describe it as mystagogical – the deepening of our initiation and faith). In general, however, the Mass is not meant for us, but for God. It is about worship, not catechesis. When we pray, we are talking to the Father and He does not need instruction!
We do need instruction, as we are living in a catechetical crisis. Therefore, it can be tempting to say the Mass should be more focused on evangelization. However, the more we focus on “us,” the more we make the Mass horizontal, which will not be compelling to people. The more we make things accessible (the music, the architecture, the preaching), the more blasé and mundane they become. Dumbing things down does not communicate the transcendent reality at the heart of the Mass: our encounter with the living God.
We have to stay God-centered, not self-centered! When we put God first, everything else will be added unto us. If we truly give glory to God at the Mass and keep the focus on the supernatural, then the Mass will communicate its true purpose to us more clearly and we will be drawn in naturally. The Mass is for our good, but it’s a good we receive only when we worship God “in spirt and in truth.”