My first talk at Mt Carmel brought in what the pastor called "the biggest crowd ever" for such an event at the parish, a sign that many, many people want to really know more about the Mass, so they can make the most of their Sunday. Last night I just talked about the "sign language" in the liturgy, which is made up of syllables (drawn from creation), gestures and grammar (the way the liturgy thinks of time, for example). And then there is the predictability of the liturgy. We don't have to make it up fresh every Sunday; instead, all of us know pretty much "what's coming next" and that primes our hearts to respond more fully than we would on the spur of the moment, and to respond together, not just vocally but with all our being.
Really, ritual is your friend.
I remember when I was little, I loved to play jump rope. Not to just "jump rope" by myself, although that could be fun, too. I mean, play jump rope with others. It was a real advantage here to have two sisters close in age: that meant we always had the necessary quorum to provide two rope-turners and one jumper. Not that I was a very good jump-roper. I had to stand there for quite a few turns of the rope, trying to get the pulse into my body so that I could keep up. The predictability of that rope slapping the sidewalk was the condition for my interacting with it!
In the liturgy, the predictability actually helps us pray better, although if you really don't know what's going on, you could be like the woman who met me in the vestibule of St. Peter's the other evening, complaining that in the Catholic Church, "it's always the same thing, over and over" and she didn't get anything out of it. She seemed completely unaware that the Mass includes not one, not two, but three Scripture readings (not to mention the Psalm), and complained that Catholics don't use the Bible. I'm afraid the poor woman had never learned to enter into that "other" world the liturgy means to take us into: a world where the usual conditions of space and time don't apply. Liturgy is essentially contemplative, but she was hoping to find in liturgy the kind of "satisfaction" (that's the word she used) that personal prayer can often bring (at least in the first stages of the spiritual life). When we pray together, it's "no longer we" who give thanks and praise to God, but "Christ living in us" "to the glory of God the Father." But if we don't really have a personal prayer life, we are bound not to "get anything" out of liturgical prayer; it's like trying to converse in a language you never learned!