1. Intellectual Preparation
Our contribution to the worship of Almighty God at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and our capacity to reap the abundant graces it provides, is relative to what we bring to it. Participation begins with preparation. We must prepare ourselves intellectually, spiritually, morally, and even physically. To begin with, we should be keenly aware of what the Mass is. This requires intellectual preparation. It is only when we have a lively sense of what we are involved in, that we can then participate in a full, conscious and deliberate manner, “The Church earnestly desires that Christ’s faithful, when present at this mystery of faith, should not be there as strangers or silent spectators. On the contrary, through a good understanding of the rites and prayers they should take part in the sacred action, conscious of what they are doing, with devotion and full collaboration.” (Vatican II, Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, 48)
2. Order of Worship
To participate well at Mass we need to order our own personal worship to the order of worship in the Mass itself. Our worship should be ordered to the Father, through the Son, and in the Holy Spirit. This is the order of our worship in the Mass, and we have to have a profound awareness of this logic and order. We come to Mass to worship the Father, through the Son, and in the Holy Spirit. Our prayer and worship has to be formed and directed by this sacred order. This is the spirituality of the Mass. Indeed, it is Catholic spirituality in a nutshell. This sacred order is summarized succinctly at the end of the Eucharistic Prayer, at the crescendo of the entire Mass, when the Priest (often with the Deacon assisting him), lifts the Body and Blood of the Son off the altar, and raising it to the Father, sings or says, “Through him, with him, in him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honor are yours almighty Father, forever and ever!” The people respond, “Amen!”
3. God the Father 1
Each Sunday we are re-presenting the gift Christ makes of himself to the Father in the Holy Spirit. What is essential to realize about the Mass is that the final goal is this gift of ourselves to the Father in loving obedience. This is the primary aim of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. We are called to join the gift of ourselves to that of Christ, “The gift of his love and obedience to the point of giving his life is in the first place a gift to his Father. Certainly it is a gift given for our sake, and indeed that of all humanity, yet it is first and foremost a gift to the Father.” (Pope John Paul II, Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 13).
4. God the Father 2
The Mass is principally directed to the Father. Most all of the prayers are addressed to our heavenly Father. Do we consciously come to Mass to worship the Father? At Mass, do we direct our prayers, devotion and love to the Father? We are there to worship the Father. The Mass is the action of the Son of God worshiping his Father, and we join ourselves to that worship. We greatly inhibit our full participation in the true nature of the Mass if we lose this vital direction of ourselves to the Father.
5. God the Father 3
What then is our relationship like with our heavenly Father? Do we feel tenderness and devotion to the Father like Jesus? Do we obey him, in imitation of Jesus, “I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father” (John 14:31)? What is our concept of the Father? Do we think of him as a tyrant? We know he is not a tyrant, because Jesus is not a tyrant, and Jesus told us, “he who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). All the qualities that we love about Jesus: peace, patience, loyalty, courage, empathy, wisdom, etc., are all found in the Father. Our participation at Mass will increase as we grow in our relationship with our Father.
6. God the Father 4
We have been reflecting for a few weeks on how the Mass is primarily directed to the Father. When we think of our heavenly Father, what image comes to mind? Do we envision an old man with a white beard sitting on a throne in the clouds with a Bible on his lap, and perhaps a bit cracked on religion? Does he look happy and joyful, or angry and sad? Is he controlling and manipulative, or a pushover? Does his personality somehow resemble one or both of our parents? To enter more deeply into this relationship with God the Father we must purify our image of him, “We must humbly cleanse our hearts of certain false images drawn from this world… The purification of our hearts has to do with paternal and maternal images, stemming from our personal and cultural history, and influencing our relationship with God. God our Father transcends the categories of the created world.” (Catechism, 2779)
7. God the Father 5
God the Father is pure spirit. Even though he is ultimately not an old man with a white beard sitting on a throne in the clouds surrounded by naked babies flitting around with wings, he is also not some impersonal ‘divine force’. God the Father is a Divine Person. If we want to improve our participation at Mass, we need to periodically ‘reboot’ our minds and hearts. We must beg the Holy Spirit to purify our concept of God, and help us to grow in our personal knowledge and love of God the Father, “When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ it is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Romans 8:15-16).
8. God the Father 6
The action of the Mass is primarily ordered to the worship of the Father. However, it is difficult for us humans to direct our worship to something invisible and purely spiritual. The Father is invisible to us with our physical eyes. He is a purely spiritual being. The Son became visible when he joined his divine nature to a human nature, and entered the physical universe as a man. However, God the Father did not become a man, nor was he ever a man, “God transcends the human distinction between the sexes. He is neither man nor woman: he is God” (Catechism, 239). We have to realize that God the Father is a different kind of being. And yet, the Son wants more than anything that we know the Father, that we worship the Father, that we love the Father as he loves the Father. The beginning of an answer to this dilemma is found in a simple act of humility and acceptance of this mystery. We must realize and accept that the Father is a Spiritual Being that we cannot see with the eyes in our head, but that the Son will reveal our Father to us through faith, if we become like little children, “At that time Jesus declared, ‘I thank thee, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to babes; yea, Father, for such was thy gracious will… no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and any one to whom the Son chooses to reveal him” (Matthew 11:25-27).
9. Paschal Mystery
We learn about Salvation History in the Bible, but we enter into the heart of it in the Liturgy of the Church. The central saving event that the Old Testament prepared for and pointed towards is what we call the Paschal Mystery. This is nothing other than the passion, death, resurrection and ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ. This constitutes the New Exodus, which the Old Exodus merely foreshadowed. In the New Exodus the New Moses is leading the New Israel out of bondage to sin and death, and into the true promised land of Heaven, where humanity will be reunited with the Heavenly Father. This is “The Event” of all human history. It is an eternal event that reverberates through all time. According to the Catechism, “In the liturgy of the Church, it is principally his own Paschal mystery that Christ signifies and makes present… His Paschal mystery is a real event that occurred in our history, but it is unique: all other historical events happen once, and then pass away, swallowed up in the past. The Paschal mystery of Christ, by contrast, cannot remain only in the past, because by his death he destroyed death, and all that Christ is — all that he did and suffered for all men — participates in the divine eternity, and so transcends all times while being made present in them all” (1085).
10. Paschal Mystery 2
Imagine if you were shipwrecked and treading water in the middle of the ocean. There is no land in sight. You are growing more tired with each passing minute. Just when you are at the point of giving up, you see a boat heading towards you on the horizon. All your thoughts are, “I must hold out for a few more minutes in hope of being rescued.” As the boat draws near, you hear the splash of the life buoy. Reaching out, you grab hold with your remaining strength, and feel the power of someone else pulling you to safety. It is with this determination, and with hearts full of gratitude, that we ought to grasp hold of the Paschal Mystery of Christ each time it is re-presented for us at Mass. His passion, death, resurrection and ascension is our life buoy. It ought to fill us with hope, joy, and motivation to struggle along with our own cross week by week.
11. Primacy of Worship
According to the Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, “the sacred liturgy is principally the worship of the divine majesty” (33). Our attitude can often become overly focused on what we expect to get out of the Mass for ourselves (e.g., a thought from the readings or homily, fellowship with other believers, or perhaps simply a nice feeling from the experience). The liturgy has a dual purpose: it glorifies God, and it sanctifies mankind. However, like the first commandment, “You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve” (Mt 4:10), there is a primacy in the glorification of God. The Catechism declares that, “God’s first call and just demand is that man accept him and worship him” (2084). We certainly come to Mass to derive nourishment and sanctifying grace for our souls, but our principal motivation ought to be an awareness of our deep primordial need to worship the divine majesty of our Creator and Redeemer.
12. Worship = Worth-ship
What is worship? The word comes from Old English, and literally means ‘worth-ship’. It is an acknowledgment of ‘worthiness’. The book of Revelation describes the twenty four elders who, “fall down before him who is on the throne and worship him who lives forever and ever; they cast their crowns before the throne, singing, ‘Worthy art thou, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for thou didst create all things, and by thy will they existed and were created.” (4:11). To worship is to say, ‘Thou art worthy, O Lord!’. Admittedly, there is a degree of sacrifice when we are faithful in honoring the Lord’s Day, and other holy days of obligation. However, in doing so we are essentially saying, ‘Worthy art Thou, our Lord and God! We love You, and we want to covenant ourselves to You forever. We are your creatures and You are worthy of our worship!’
13. Full Public Worship
Many of you have probably already seen the new movie, ‘The Passion of the Christ.’ The freewill offering of himself on the altar of the cross to the Father for our sins was the supreme act of divine worship. This one time act of worship 2000 years ago in Palestine is reverberating throughout time and eternity. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass makes the passion of the Christ present again on our altar here at St. Mary of the Mills. It is not repeated, but re-presented. However, we do not sit there watching the re-presented event like silent spectators, but join ourselves to it. Together with Christ, we offer ourselves to the Father. This constitutes the full public worship of the entire mystical body of Christ, head and members together. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is the Church’s greatest treasure, because, “in Christ… the fullness of divine worship was given to us” (Vatican II).
14. Familiar Patterns
I was driving to a job with one of my previous employers in the carpentry trade, who happened to be a devout evangelical Christian. He wanted me to leave go of my Catholic faith, and join his church. One point he stressed with me was how Catholics seem to do the same thing over and over. He exclaimed, “I don’t want same! I want different!” Of course, if you go to his church week after week, you will find a basic pattern or rhythm to their service, which is always the same. Prayer and worship does not necessarily have to consist of spontaneous and different outward expressions to be authentic. St. Theresa of Lisieux described prayer as, “a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward heaven.” Oftentimes familiar patterns of prayer and worship provide a trusted means to channel this upward “surge of the heart.” The Mass is so familiar to all of us. Rather than breeding contempt, that familiarity ought to facilitate this surge of our hearts towards our God, “O Beauty so ancient and so new” (St. Augustine).
15. External Order
The overarching internal and spiritual order of the Mass and of Catholic spirituality as a whole can be summarized by the formula: To the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit.
This order directs the lifting up of our hearts in prayer and worship internally, but it is also expressed in the Mass by an external order. If you went to a football game for the first time, and did not understand the external order that governs the play of the game, you would be severely limited in your capacity to participate as a fan. “Who are those guys running up and down on the side with poles and chains? Why is everyone cheering right now? Why is that guy kicking it back to the other team again?” The Mass too is governed by an external order. It is a ritual, or a rite. It contains a certain set of prescribed words, gestures and actions. The football game always begins with the singing of the ‘Star Spangled Banner’, the ceremonial shaking of hands by the Captains, and then the customary coin toss. At half time the band comes out, we eat a hotdog, discuss the first half, and offer predictions about the second half. A football game is kind of ritual. It is a solemn repetition of this familiar external order or pattern that acts as a vessel or container to express, channel and direct our interior delight in the human spirit of competition, excellence and achievement, and our passion for this particular team. Since we are made up of soul and body, the Mass is made up of both an internal and an external order. The prayer and worship of our hearts may be the meat of the sandwich, but to be a sandwich it needs the bread on either side. To participate fully in the Mass we need to be attuned to both the internal and the external order.
16. Worship Feels Good
It feels so good to worship God! It fulfills something deep in the human person. It gives order to the world, and meaning to our lives. To praise, thank and glorify the Lord of heaven and earth, who created and redeemed us, is profoundly satisfying! To glorify God completes our enjoyment of God. C.S. Lewis claims that in essence, glorifying and enjoying God are the same thing, “Fully to enjoy is to glorify. In commanding us to glorify Him, God is inviting us to enjoy him.” When you experience or witness something truly praiseworthy you want to share it with others, and have them praise it too. This is true of places we have traveled, restaurants we’ve dined at, a book we’ve read, movies we’ve seen, or a flying tackle or diving catch. If you took all that is beautiful and good in this world and rolled it into one, God would still be infinitely greater. In heaven, those who finally see God directly will be filled with such intense delight, so completely ravished, so enchanted, enthralled, and captivated, they will be content to spend eternity dancing around in ecstatic joy with everyone else, and crying out, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty! Heaven and earth are filled with your glory!”
17. Worship Takes Work
Liturgical worship takes work. The word liturgy comes from a word in Greek (leitourgos), which literally means a, ‘public work.’ Usually we think of Sunday as a day of rest. However, in a certain sense, we work on the Sabbath. You could almost say that Catholic liturgy is a workout. We have to get up, groom and dress ourselves worthily, commute to the church, and then worship through a whole series of sacred words, gestures and actions. However, this is the highest form of work. It’s a work that in essence we will perform for all eternity. The sublime irony is that this work will ultimately become our eternal rest. This public work our heavenly Father wants us to begin doing now is merely the tiniest foretaste of the public work that is going on forever in the ‘eternal now’ of heaven. Indeed, our public work of worship is a participation in this one eternal liturgical act of worship in the kingdom of God.
18. Unity of Interior and Exterior Person
Liturgical prayer and worship involves the whole person. It engages us on both the interior and exterior levels. Catholicism is a wonderfully interactive religion. We become physically involved in the mysteries of our faith. This occurs through ritual enactments, symbolic gestures, performative utterances, acclamations and singing. Liturgy engages not only our intellect, but also our senses. Understood properly, you could say it is a very sensual religion. We are not angelic beings. We’re not pure spirit. Our spirit expresses itself through our body. In liturgical prayer and worship there is a unity of the interior and exterior person.
Our reverence at Mass is a vital aspect of how we worship God. What is reverence? Reverence is the outward manifestation of inward fear of the Lord. What then is this inward fear of the Lord? Fear of the Lord is more than mere respect. It is even more than the respect we owe to an especially important person. Fear of the Lord is infinitely more than standing up when God walks into the room. Fear of the Lord is a sublime sense of awe at the utterly unique majesty, nobility and holiness of God. Fear of the Lord is the proper response of the believing heart, which knows that God is supremely worthy of our worship. Our vision of faith gives rise to fear of the Lord, which then compels us to outwardly revere and worship our awesome Lord. This holy fear is not the kind that is motivated simply by dread of punishment. Fear of the Lord is a loving fear. Rather than repelling us from God, it mightily draws us to him. True fear of the Lord fans into flame a fervent love of the Lord, and a passionate desire to worship him. We participate more perfectly in the supreme act of worship, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, when our inward fear of the Lord spills over in an outward attitude of reverence.
20. Presence 1
Catholic spirituality is oriented towards presence. When we pray and worship as Catholics, our focus ought to be on coming into the presence of God. This is vastly different from some vague God-consciousness or spiritual awareness. We come into God’s presence in a special way when we attend Holy Mass. Our Lord Jesus Christ becomes present to us at Mass in four distinct ways: in his Word, in the priest, in the congregation, and most especially in the most holy Eucharist. Our reverence when entering a Catholic Church flows from the faith filled knowledge that we are coming into the presence of God. For those of us who have received the sacrament of Confirmation, the Bishop prayed over us with the following words, “Give them the spirit of knowledge and reverence. Fill them with the spirit of wonder and awe in your presence.”
21. Presence 2
The Jews had a profound sense of the presence of God in their Temple. Within the Holy of Holies was the Ark of the Covenant. Above the Ark was what God instructed them to call the mercy seat. Facing the mercy seat on either side were two angels. The Lord told the Israelites, “There I will meet with you” (Exodus 25). The two Angels reverently kneeling in adoration on either side of the tabernacle in our own church ought to remind us of the eucharistic presence of our Lord in his body, blood, soul and divinity. The Lord is present in a Catholic Church in an even more real and substantial manner than he ever was in the Jerusalem Temple of old.
22. Presence 3
Faith enables us to discern the presence of God. God is a holy and awesome God. He is not Santa Claus, nor is he a great Teddy Bear in the sky. His presence ought to inspire us with inward fear of the Lord. According to the Catechism, fear of the Lord is one of the gifts of the Spirit (cf. 1831). In Isaiah 11:2, it says of the Messiah that, “his delight shall be the fear of the Lord.” John Henry Cardinal Newman explains it this way, “Are these feelings of fear and awe Christian feelings or not?… I say this, then, which I think no one can reasonably dispute. They are the class of feelings we should have— yes, have to an intense degree— if we literally had the sight of Almighty God; therefore they are the class of feelings which we shall have, if we realize His presence. In proportion as we believe that He is present, we shall have them; and not to have them, is not to realize, not to believe that He is present” (Catechism, 2144).
23. Beauty of God’s House
You may have noticed the new appointments/furnishings in the Sanctuary, (Altar/Processional Candles; Processional Cross; Book of the Gospels; etc.). Thank you to all who have given donations. It gives greater glory to God, and strengthens the faith of the congregation. The words of Pope Pius XII from 1941 are very relevant in this regard, “Without doubt, it is the spirit of faith that is the most substantial and strongest bond uniting the faithful to their parish; but the spirit depends on the material for love and for support to raise itself from the material to divine thoughts, to visions and contemplation. Is it not true that unceasing and active participation in parish life and its works, attendance at church and at religious ceremonies is more facilitated and encouraged when the beauty of the sacred altars becomes a gentle invitation and a powerful attraction to the devout soul’s eye, ever yearning for the beautiful, even in church?” (Pius XII, The Beauty of God’s House).
24. Beauty of the Liturgy
Beauty is very important for us as Catholics. It can greatly assist us in our worship and prayer at Mass, “The whole People of God desire that what is true and beautiful should find an important place in liturgical worship, there is still a need for what is sometimes poetically described as the ‘splendor of worship’. There is still a place for evoking in the individual a sense of wonderment which is one of the first steps on the road towards contemplative prayer” (U.S. Bishops Committee on the Liturgy).
25. Right to the Roman Rite
The entire Church has been entrusted with this gift of the Mass, and all of us are entitled to its proper celebration according to the liturgical law of the Church. In a certain sense, Roman Catholics have a right to the Roman Rite. It is the duty of the Bishop to safeguard the proper celebration of all liturgies in his diocese. Priests and Deacons share this responsibility in a special way, “The primary collaborators of the bishop in the area of liturgy are the priests and deacons he has assigned to serve in the various parishes and other institutions of the diocese. Assisted by the parish liturgical ministers and liturgical committee, the parish clergy directly share in the bishop’s responsibility for the liturgical life of the diocese.” (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Committee on the Liturgy)
26. Priest as Leader in the Preparation of the Liturgy
According to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishop’s Committee on the Liturgy “One of the major responsibilities of priests is leading the preparation of the liturgy” The priest who is the main celebrant at a given Mass has a special leadership role in preparing and directing that particular liturgy, “The priest who presides at the celebration… always retains the right of arranging those things which are his own responsibility” (General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 111). The US Bishop’s Committee on the Liturgy states further that the priest, “is responsible for directing the choice of liturgical songs, readings, prayers, introductory comments and gestures which may better respond to the needs, degree of preparation and mentality of the participants” There are two fundamental principles that ought always to guide his leadership. First, he ought to ensure that the celebration of the liturgy is “in accord with the Roman Missal and other liturgical books” (GIRM, 111). Secondly, “The priest, therefore, in planning the celebration of the Mass, should have in mind the common spiritual good of the people of God, rather than his own inclinations.” (GIRM, 352)
27. Greek, Hebrew and Latin in the Mass
Did you know that sometimes you pray in Hebrew, Greek and Latin during the Mass? Towards the beginning, in the penitential rite, there are many different options for the priest and the deacon to choose from to lead the congregation in an act of repentance. One of those options is to say, “Lord have Mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy”. Often we use the Greek version, “Kyrie Eleison, Christe Eleison, Kyrie Eleison”. We also use Hebrew words such as Hosanna, Sabaoth, Alleluia, and Amen. The “Holy, holy, holy” and the “Lamb of God” are often chanted in Latin. All this can take place within a Mass that is predominantly said in English. It is very good for us to maintain contact with these ancient languages. Even if it pushes us slightly out of the comfort zone of our own native tongue, it makes us realize that we are connected to a Tradition that is far bigger than the 21st century United States of America.
28. Importance of Latin
In a special way in the Roman Rite we have reverence for the Latin language. For so long in the West, the prayers of the Mass have been said in this ancient tongue that it has taken on a certain holiness. Many saints were nourished by the Mass when it was said in Latin, even though it was not their native language. The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy of the Second Vatican Council maintained that, even though the vernacular or common language may be allotted a more suitable place in the Mass, “care must be taken to ensure that the faithful may also be able to say or sing together in Latin those parts of the Ordinary of the Mass which pertain to them” (54). It makes allowance for a wider use of the vernacular language of the people, but does not completely jettison Latin from the Liturgy. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal states, “Since faithful from different countries come together ever more frequently, it is fitting that they know how to sing together at least some parts of the Ordinary of the Mass in Latin, especially the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer, set to simpler melodies” (41). It is good for us to keep in touch with Latin. It is part of our shared tradition.
Do you ever struggle with distraction during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass? Even the greatest Saints have had to combat this same tendency. Most of us these days are accustomed to being passively entertained by TV and Movies. The Mass, however, requires more of us. Liturgy is literally a public work of worship. We are involved in what is happening. In order to participate well we must compose our hearts and minds for the work of worship, and for the quest to understand what the Christian life is all about, in order to respond more generously to the Lord’s call in our own personal lives. Each time our thoughts distract us from this work and this quest we must gently turn our minds and hearts back to our purpose for being here. These distractions often reveal to us what we are attached to. What do we really love? Which master do we serve? Our battle to be a servant of God is against the world, the flesh and the devil. Let us not forget that the tempter “does all he can to turn man away from prayer, away from union with God” (Catechism, 2725). Do we really believe fervently in what we are doing? When we are struggling with distraction we should repeat to ourselves the humble prayer of the father in the gospel story whose son was possessed, “Lord I believe, help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24).
30. The Battle of Prayer
The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that “prayer is a battle” (2725). While it is true that the Holy Spirit helps us to pray, it also involves a “determined response on our part” and “always presupposes effort” (2725). Each week when we come to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass we must renew our resolve to fight against the world, the flesh and the Devil. These are our enemies, and they are determined to keep us from praying. If we experience dryness, tepidity, and a general distaste for prayer, we are like the seed planted on the rock, “As it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture” (Luke 8:6). Our soul needs to pray as the seedling needs water, and “if dryness is due to the lack of roots, because the word has fallen on rocky soil, the battle requires conversion” (Catechism, 2731).
31. Rest for Your Souls
There is something so restful about the rhythm of the ocean waves washing up on the beach. After resting by the seashore for a few hours, we arrive at a place of inner peace that few places in this world can produce. Each Sunday Catholics wash up to the altar of the Lord out of the ocean of the world. This is the Lord’s Day, and a day of Sabbath rest for our souls. While liturgy is a public work of worship, it is so restful for our hearts. It brings us a deep inner peace. We are with our Beloved in a special way for that hour. During the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass we can rest in the sure knowledge that God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit knows us and loves us perfectly. The Catechism expresses this reality beautifully, “We let our masks fall and turn our hearts back to the Lord who loves us, so as to hand ourselves over to him as an offering to be purified and transformed” (2711).
32. God Hears Us
God hears us at Mass. God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit hear us when we pray. This may seem like the most obvious thing in the world, but we ought to consciously think about it when we are singing hymns, and speaking or chanting the words of the various prayers and acclamations during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. We address ourselves to the Lord God Almighty, and he hears us. The Lord is listening. He is pleased by our words. He’s especially pleased when these words flow out of hearts imbued with the meaning of these words. He delights when we mean what we say. Our singing and vocal prayers at Mass are most effective and beneficial when they well up from our soul. The Lord listens to the words of both our mouth and our hearts, and he loves to hear them both.
33. Receptivity to Grace
When we participate in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass we open ourselves to the grace of God. We will receive more grace to the extent that we are disposed to receive it. Our soul is like a container. Those who prepare themselves well will have a greater capacity to receive this divine grace. They will have a greater openness. Their container will be larger. Those who do not prepare themselves well will have a lesser capacity to receive. Their container will be small. Catholics walk into the Church each Sunday with varying capacities for receiving God’s Spirit, his wisdom, his life, his power, his grace. Some come to Mass with two 5 gallon buckets, and others shuffle in each week with a Dixie cup. The Lord God Almighty is lavishly generous, but he can only give his beloved creatures what they are open to receiving.
34. Confession 1
One of the best ways that we can expand our capacity for receiving as much of God’s grace as possible through our participation in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is by going to the sacrament of Confession on a monthly or bi-monthly basis. We know that God forgives us when we are perfectly contrite and sorry for our sins, but the Lord wants us to avail ourselves of this sacramental grace of forgiveness by confessing to a priest. It is the Lord’s intention that this sacramental grace should come through the instrumentality of his new covenant priests. The absolution of the priest is a sacramental grace. The Catechism teaches that “The sacraments are efficacious signs of grace, instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church, by which divine life is dispensed to us” (1131). We can confess our sins to God in prayer, and receive forgiveness, but we would not be availing ourselves of the divinely chosen means of receiving the grace of forgiveness for us as Catholics, and that is through the sacrament of Confession.
35. Confession 2
After we have made a good confession to a priest in the sacrament of Reconciliation we have a tremendous receptivity to grace. The Spirit of God shines into our soul as sunlight through a window pane. Our sins leave smudges, grime and dust on this window. This wondrous sacrament is almost like a spray bottle of Windex and some paper towels. We usually feel so good after we receive this sacrament, and that is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. God’s Spirit floods our soul with light when we are absolved of our sins. The sacrament of Reconciliation can awaken a voracious appetite for the Lord Jesus Christ. We hunger for Holy Communion. Our desire to pray is renewed and reenergized. We want to grow in charity. We may even feel an impulse to cry out like the Blessed Mother, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior” (Luke 1:46ff). Going to Confession regularly is one of the best ways to prepare ourselves well for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
36. Dressing Well for Mass
When our faith is strong it gives rise to a desire to express itself. We do this in many ways. One simple way that is often overlooked is in dressing and grooming ourselves well before we come to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. We say we believe, but does our appearance bear witness to that faith? Do we believe that we are coming into the presence of the King of the Universe? Do we really believe we receive the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ in the Eucharist? Do we act like we believe? Judging by our appearance, could someone deduce that we take our faith very seriously? If we had an invitation to visit the President of the United States in the White House, or the Holy Father in Rome, how would we dress and carry ourselves? When men shine their shoes and wear a coat and tie, and women dress modestly and beautifully, it makes a strong statement of faith and love. Dressing well for Mass can become part of our worship. The Lord cherishes these small efforts we make to demonstrate our reverence, respect, and desire to honor him.
37. Unique Space of the Church
Entering a space produces a feeling. When you walk into the Super Market there is a certain feeling that is a little different than the Home Depot. The Blockbuster makes us feel one way and the Motor Vehicle another. The Barber Shop or Hair Dresser feeling is not the same as the Dentist. When we walk into a space we enter a whole ‘feeling world’. Think of how you feel when you walk through the doors and into the church on Sunday. What does it feel like? How is it different than anywhere else you go? It is worthwhile to take a moment and become consciously aware of these feelings, and to then appreciate anew this sacred and unique place and how important it is in your life.
38. An Outpost of the Kingdom of God
When you walk through the doors of the church on Sunday you are entering an outpost of the kingdom of God on earth. While we may be citizens of the United States of America, the reality is that at one time there was no such thing, and it will not last forever. Our beloved Nation is an earthly and temporal reality. America is not our ultimate homeland. Coming to church on Sunday is an acknowledgement of this truth.
39. Deep Wonder at Ourselves
Do you know who you are? Coming to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass each week ought to profoundly build up your confidence and self esteem. Each time we come to Mass we enter into the mystery of the Son of God becoming man, restoring the true image and likeness of God in us, uniting himself with each and every one of us in the depths of our being, and allowing us to share in the inner life of God as adopted sons in the Son. Do you remember the bewildered prodigal son when his father throws the best robe around him, puts a ring on his finger, and shoes on his feet? Then he has a huge feast for him! This younger son had no idea of his tremendous dignity. Maybe as we come into the church each week we should have the ushers distribute fine robes, rings, and shoes for all of us gathered for Mass? We come to Mass to adore God, but simultaneously we are awakened to deep wonder at ourselves, “the name for that deep amazement at man’s worth and dignity is the Gospel, that is to say: the Good News. It is also called Christianity” (Pope John Paul II, Redemptor Hominis, 10).
40. Silence 1
Brief periods of silence during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass can be powerful experiences. The radio or television can never be silent, because their objective is to entertain and constantly stimulate us. The Mass in not entertainment, and periods of silence can serve a variety of purposes within it. It helps us to compose ourselves, reflect more deeply, and encounter the Lord living within us, “Sacred silence also, as part of the celebration, is to be observed at the designated times. Its purpose, however, depends on the time it occurs in each part of the celebration. Thus within the Act of Penitence and again after the invitation to pray, all recollect themselves; but at the conclusion of a reading or the homily, all meditate briefly on what they have heard; then after Communion, they praise and pray to God in their hearts” (General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 45).
41. Silence 2
Prayerful silence is particularly important in preparing ourselves properly for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, “Even before the celebration itself, it is commendable that silence be observed in the church, in the sacristy, in the vesting room, and in adjacent areas, so that all may dispose themselves to carry out the sacred action in a devout and fitting manner” (General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 45).
42. The Mass is not Entertainment
The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is not entertainment. We are not there to have our attention diverted, but to have our hearts converted. The Mass is not entertainment, but encounter. We come to Mass to encounter the Lord Jesus, and to become more closely united with him in his obedience to the will of the Father, in his grace and power, and in his mission to save the world. All the various elements of the Mass ought to serve, enhance, and move us more deeply into this personal encounter with the Lord, which culminates in our communion with him in the Eucharist. To participate fully we have to grow our understanding and become more and more conscious of the sacred mysteries we are entering into. According to Pope John Paul II, since the liturgical renewal began in the years following the Second Vatican Council, “in some cases there has been a misunderstanding of the very nature of the liturgy… the challenge now is to move beyond whatever misunderstandings there have been and to reach the proper point of balance, especially by entering more deeply into the contemplative dimension of worship, which includes the sense of awe, reverence and adoration which are fundamental attitudes in our relationship with God” (Ad Limina Address to the U.S. Bishops, 1998).
43. The Mass as a War Memorial
War Memorials have always been a way for humanity to remember and honor the sacrifice of others. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is in a certain sense a ‘War Memorial.’ Our Lord told the Apostles at the Last Supper to “do this in memory of me.” When we offer the Mass we remember the historic invasion of the kingdom of God into our world 2000 years ago, which was languishing in bondage to sin and death under the tyranny of the devil. We recall the titanic struggle between the Son of God and the devil, our Lord’s heroic sacrifice, as well as the many martyrs who have also made the supreme sacrifice in union with him. At the World War II monument in Washington DC there is a wall full of gold stars that represent the 400,000 Americans who gave their lives in service to our great nation. Underneath the stars is the inscription, “Here we mark the price of freedom.” When we participate in this Memorial Meal, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, all the freeborn children of God ought to mark the price of our freedom. Our Lord did combat with the ultimate oppressor of the human race, and decisively and definitively defeated him, but at a terrible cost. We honor this sacrifice, make this victorious battle present, and join ourselves to it, each Sunday on our altar.
44. God is Good
By participating in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass we are making the powerful implicit assertion that God is good. We have all heard those three simple words so many times that the meaning may have gone flat like an old tire, or stale ginger ale. Sometimes we need to pump up our knowledge of religious truth, and add some fizz and pop to our understanding of the Catholic faith. The devil wants more than anything to blur those three little words in our mind and cause us to doubt that God is good. He would love for us to replace God with Satan, or anything else for that matter. His tactic is always the same, to incite us to fundamentally distrust God’s goodness. Say those three words very slowly in your mind. Say them with a strong emphasis on ‘God.’ Try it with special stress on ‘good.’ The ‘is’ binds together God and good. Now say them again with the accent on the ‘is.’ The devil is a liar. God is good. As followers of Christ we hold on tenaciously to this ultimate truth no matter what happens to us. We cling to this truth even if we are deserted by our friends, feel abandoned by God, are falsely accused, mocked, scourged and crucified. Our worship in the Mass is a deep act of faith in the fundamental goodness of God.
45. The Altar
Something obvious about a Catholic church that you notice immediately is the centrality of the altar. The altar is the beating heart of every Catholic church. This is where time and eternity touch, nature and grace converge, creation and Creator connect. Our Lord remains present in the tabernacle, but we should remember that the Blessed Sacrament would not be there without the sacrifice that takes place on the altar. As the cross on Mount Calvary was the altar of Christ the High Priest, and was the point of intersection and reconciliation between heaven and earth, so is the altar in our church. The altar and the cross go together, “The altar of the New Covenant is the Lord’s Cross, from which the sacraments of the Paschal mystery flow. On the altar, which is the center of the church, the sacrifice of the Cross is made present under sacramental signs” (Catechism, 1182).
46. The East
Christianity is not an abstract religion, but an incarnational one. It is full of signs, symbols and sacraments. Our prayer and worship is connected to our bodies and to the physical world. We pray and adore the God of the universe in and through the universe or cosmos. Christian spirituality is in a certain sense, cosmic. God entered time and space to save us. Salvation history tells the story of his saving words and deeds. The Lord God is ultimately separate from the created universe, but he has chosen to become involved in it. We too are obviously involved in it. One way we express this reality is by giving our prayer and worship a certain direction. Christians traditionally pray towards the east. The sun rises in the east. We call the lands of the east ‘the orient,’ which comes from the Latin word ‘oriri,’ which means ‘to rise.’ Our Lord’s first coming was marked by a star in the east. This has always been the direction of our Lord’s anticipated second coming in glory as the ‘Sun of Justice’ (Malachi 3:20). Our Lord rose from the dead on the first day of the week, which the pagans called ‘the day of the sun’ (Catechism 1345, 2174). Interestingly, our great high feast of the liturgical year, where we celebrate our Lord’s dying and rising, Easter, ultimately derives from the word ‘east.’ Maps in Christendom were always made facing east. This is where we get the sense of the word ‘orientation.’ It was a modern phenomenon to make maps facing the north. In Christian tradition, the west has been associated with the devil. This is the direction of darkness, where the sun falls. We derive the word ‘occident’ from the Latin word ‘occidere,’ which means ‘to fall.’ In the early Church, adults who were to receive baptism would first stand at the entrance of the church, face west, renounce the devil, and then turn and walk into the church, which was typically built facing the east.
47. Ad Orientem
Churches used to be built with the altar facing toward the east. St. Mary’s was originally built in this way. The high altar used to be where the choir now sings. The congregation and priest would all face the same easterly direction. Gathering on Sunday, the day our Lord rose from the grave, we would orient our prayer and worship over the cemetery and towards the east. What some people refer to as the old days when the priest ‘had his back to the people,’ or offered Mass ‘to the wall,’ was always traditionally known as Mass ‘ad orientem,’ or ‘towards the east.’ The priest was not so much turning away from the people as facing in the same direction with the people. Priest’s for centuries offered Mass on the same side of the altar as the people. In a certain way, being on the other side of the altar separates the priest from the people. Turning the altars around after the Second Vatican Council was an effort to develop a renewed sense of the communal reality of the Mass, but we have unfortunately lost something as well. The danger is that we become liturgically disoriented. A living sense of the ultimate purpose, finality and directedness of our prayer and worship will help keep us from turning in on ourselves in our celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. We are all on a pilgrim journey together ‘ad orientem.’ When we are all turned towards something greater than ourselves, a much more profound sense of community is created.
48. Hierarchy 1
The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is “the action of Christ and the people of God arrayed hierarchically” (General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 16). The hierarchical structure of the Church is a gift to us from the Lord Jesus. He arranged it this way when he instituted the New Covenant on the foundation of the 12 carefully chosen apostles, and on Peter in a special way (Matthew 16:16-18). The Second Vatican Council confirmed once again that “Jesus Christ, the eternal pastor, set up the holy Church by entrusting the apostles with their mission as he himself had been sent by the Father (cf. John 20:21). He willed that their successors, the bishops namely, should be the shepherds in his Church until the end of the world. In order that the episcopate itself, however, might be one and undivided he put Peter at the head of the other apostles, and in him he set up a lasting and visible source and foundation of the unity both of faith and communion”(Second Vatican Council, Lumen Gentium, 18). The celebration of the Mass has to be connected to the bishop, who is a successor of the apostles, and presides over that local church, “Every legitimate celebration of the Eucharist is directed by the Bishop, either in person or through priests who are his helpers” (GIRM, 91).
49. Hierarchy 2
To fully participate in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass as Catholics we have to embrace the hierarchical structure of the Church as something good for us and specifically willed by our Lord. The Second Vatican Council stated that “The apostles were careful to appoint successors in this hierarchically constituted society… The sacred synod consequently teaches that the bishops have by divine institution taken the place of the apostles as pastors of the Church, in such wise that whoever listens to them is listening to Christ and whoever despises them despises Christ and him who sent Christ” (Lumen Gentium, 20). As far back as AD 107, St. Ignatius made it explicitly clear when he wrote to the church in Ephesus, “Do ye, beloved, be careful to be subject to the bishop, and the presbyters, and the deacons. For he that is subject to these is obedient to Christ, who has appointed them; but he that is disobedient to these is disobedient to Christ Jesus.” The hierarchical order in the Church is Bishops, Priests and Deacons. The Bishop is first in Holy Orders, “It is the bishops who enjoy the fullness of the sacrament of orders, and both priests and deacons are dependent on them in the exercise of their power… It is therefore bishops who are the principal dispensers of the mysteries of God, and it is their function to control, promote and protect the entire liturgical life of the Church entrusted to them” (On Bishops in the Church, Christus Dominus, 15).
50. Hierarchy 3
To serve the accomplishment of the Church’s mission the Lord saw fit to institute a hierarchical structure in his body. However, there exists in the Church at one and the same time both hierarchy and equality. All the baptized, whether clergy or laity, are members of Christ’s faithful. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “there exists among all the Christian faithful a true equality with regard to dignity” (872). Through baptism, all the Christian faithful are members of the Church and are therefore members of the one Mystical Body of Christ. The members of Christ’s Body share in the same Spirit of God, possess an equal dignity as children of God, and are united in a common God given mission. However, as St. Paul pointed out, “there are varieties of service” amongst the members of the Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12). There is diversity of function within the members and organs of a body, while at the same time maintaining an overarching unity of composition and purpose. In the Church there is unity and diversity, and they are not opposed, “the very differences which the Lord has willed to put between members of his body serve its unity and mission” (Catechism, 873).
51. Priesthood 1
To participate well in a Catholic Mass there needs to be a healthy appreciation for, and acceptance of, the role of the Priest. The Primers for the next few weeks will dwell on this aspect of Catholic worship. To begin with, why are only men chosen for this particular role of service, and even further, only some men in particular? Our contemporary American culture abhors the idea of excluding anyone. For many Americans, to exclude is always unfair discrimination. The hierarchical order of the Catholic Church represents a substantial challenge to American thinking. The hierarchy of Bishops, Priests and Deacons consists exclusively of men. The fact of the matter is, women, as well as many men for various reasons, are excluded from the sacrament of Holy Orders. To some, this is an outrage and offense against the dignity of those who are excluded. However, God has often chosen particular people, tribes, nations, and even genders, for a certain role in salvation history. This choice flows from his prerogative, and not from any inherent superior dignity of those chosen. Actually, it often seems like he goes out of his way to choose the weakest things in this world to accomplish his plan. Christ chose twelve particular men to be his Apostles out of all the men and women who were following him as his disciples, and for that matter, from all the men and women living in the world at that particular time. We may never fully understand why our Lord calls certain men for this particular role of priestly service to his body, the Church. What it boils down to is coming to terms with the ‘scandal of particularity’. This is a stumbling block for the thinking of many in our time. The bottom line is, particularity necessarily involves exclusion, but does not necessarily mean injustice.
52. Priesthood 2
The final answer often given for why only men are priests usually goes like this… “It is apparent from Scripture and Tradition that this is what Jesus intended for the Church that he founded, and this was entirely his prerogative. The Church does not have the authority to change something without a sufficient basis in Scripture and Tradition. There simply is not a sufficient basis for the practice of ordaining women to be priests in either Scripture or Tradition. Not many would accuse Jesus of being a sexist or caving to social pressures. He had many close female friends, and he did not seem to be afraid to sometimes break with social mores and customs (Eg., the Samaritan Woman at the well, etc.). If he had wanted women to be priests, you could imagine he would have made some indication that this was his will for the Church. The fact remains that he chose twelve men to be the first priests of the New Covenant. These twelve men were chosen based on a Divine prerogative, and not because they had an inherent right to be priests. No one has a right to the priesthood. It is not necessarily an injustice against women to exclude them from the priesthood. Neither our Lord, nor the Church, is oppressing women by this exclusion. Our Lord simply saw fit to reserve the ordained priesthood to certain men who are chosen and approved to serve his body in this manner. This answer is ultimately unsatisfying for many. It represents a real thorn in the side of those who have lingering doubts as to why this is the case. We may feel the need to wrestle with this aspect of our Catholic faith, in the hope of arriving at a deeper and more satisfying place of acceptance of an all male priesthood. Next time we will press further into this question of why our Lord may have seen fit to arrange things this way.
53. Priesthood 3
“For there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5). The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass for Catholics is not simply a gathering of God’s creatures to worship their Creator without any intermediary. Our worship is mediated through the God man, our Lord Jesus Christ. Catholic worship is bound up with the union of divine and human natures in Christ Jesus. As a man, he worships and prays to the Father with us. But as the Son of God, he also speaks the word of the Father to us, and nourishes us with the life he received from the Father. He is our “great high priest” (Hebrews 4:14). It belongs to the role of a priest to mediate between God and man, or to stand in the middle of this encounter and exchange. Jesus left his apostles and their successors, the bishops and the priests who assist them, to stand in his place and be a visible sign of him. He appointed them to fulfill this role of priestly mediation in his place. According to Pope John Paul II, “The priest is a living and transparent image of Christ the priest” (Pastores Dabo Vobis, 12). In light of our two previous Primers, can a woman truly be a “living and transparent image of Christ the priest”? Is the male sexuality of Christ significant and meaningful, or arbitrary and incidental?
54. Priesthood 4
In order to work towards a deeper understanding, acceptance and appreciation of why it is that God has chosen men to stand in the person of Christ the priest, we have to have a profound awareness of what a sacrament is. What is a sacrament? A sacrament is a sign which has the power to effect what it symbolizes. Our Lord took up signs, like water and oil, and made them effective channels of his divine power. We cannot change the signs, or we invalidate the sacramental power. Hence, we cannot choose to baptize with wine, and consecrate water in the chalice at Mass. The masculinity of the priest is a sign. The Son of God became a male, and he chose males as a sign to represent him in the priesthood. Further, from a Catholic perspective, priesthood is mysteriously bound up with masculinity and paternity, and not with feminity and maternity. The masculinity of the priest is an essential part of the sign of Christ’s priesthood. The ‘maleness’ of Christ was apparently not arbitrary. It was essential to his priesthood. A woman cannot be a priest for the same reason that a man cannot bear a child. Priesthood, masculinity and fatherhood go together essentially.
55. Priesthood 5
A Sacrament is not just a human action. If it were, it would merely be a sign or a symbol alone. A sacrament is also a divine action. It is an action of Christ Jesus, the High Priest. This is the case with all 7 sacraments. They are mysteries. We used to call the sacraments mysteries. In fact, the Latin word sacramentum can be translated in one of it’s senses as mystery. Sacraments are mysterious because they contain both a human and a divine element. We hear words, or see a visible ritual sign or performative gesture, and through faith we hear and see the invisible action of Christ that is happening simultaneously. Sacraments are mysteries that we can never fully understand, because something sensible happens, but something that transcends our senses also happens. Water is visibly poured over the child’s head while Christ Jesus invisibly pours the Holy Spirit into his soul. Word’s of absolution are spoken by the priest in confession, combined with the visible sign of the cross over the penitent, but on the invisible supernatural level, Christ the High Priest is standing in the person of the visible priest, and by the power of his cross he is forgiving the sins of that penitent in and through the visible priest. The sacraments are channels or conduits that Christ willed to establish as means of dispensing the graces of his Paschal Mystery (his passion, death, resurrection and ascension). Catholics must have a sacramental mindset to truly live their faith. We need a sacramental imagination. We must have eyes of faith that see beyond the rituals, gestures, and words to the invisible, supernatural, divine actions occurring simultaneously.
56. Priesthood 6
The Sacrament of Holy Orders is a great gift to the Church, by which “the mission entrusted by Christ to his apostles continues to be exercised in the Church until the end of time” (Catechism 1536). Ordination is far more than simply an election by the community of someone designated to preside. It is a sacramental act, which “confers a gift of the Holy Spirit that permits the exercise of a ‘sacred power,’ which can only come from Christ himself through his Church” (Catechism, 1538). Being a priest is not simply a role or function. It is not merely being an elected presider or leader. It is an identity. You are not just delegated to perform certain tasks or duties in the name of the community, but you are inwardly changed and transformed in your being. As in Baptism and Confirmation, Holy Orders imparts an indelible mark to the soul. That mark can never be deleted or destroyed. Once Baptized or Confirmed, there is no way to remove the mark that these two sacraments put on your soul. You are marked for God for all eternity. It is the same with Holy Orders. After you are ordained, you have become a priest, and not just someone appointed to do priestly things. It is first something you are, before it is something you do. It is not a job that you can clock out of. Being a priest is not a career. Although a priest can in fact ‘retire’ from active priestly ministry, he will remain a priest forever.
57. Priesthood 7
There are two participations in the one priesthood of Christ, namely, the common priesthood of all the baptized, and the ministerial priesthood of the ordained. We are all made sharers in the priesthood of Christ at our baptism, “the common priesthood of the faithful is exercised by the unfolding of baptismal grace— a life of faith, hope, and charity, a life according to the Spirit— the ministerial priesthood is at the service of the common priesthood. It is directed at the unfolding of the baptismal grace of all Christians” (Catechism 1547). These two ways of participating in this one priesthood of Christ “differ essentially and not only by degree” (Second Vatican Council, Lumen Gentium, 10). It is not as though the ordained priest is more of a priest than a lay person as one person may have a higher degree of income at the same corporation, or a higher degree of talent in the same sport, or a higher degree of involvement in the same club or organization. They are essentially two different types of sharing in the one priesthood of Christ.
58. Priesthood 8
Within the ministerial priesthood there are degrees of participation in this particular kind of sharing in the one priesthood of Christ, namely, Bishop, priest, and deacon. A Bishop exercises the fullness of the sacrament of Holy Orders, the priest exercises it to a lesser degree, but at the same time, to a higher degree than the deacon. However, we must not confuse these degrees of participation within the ministerial priesthood with the common priesthood. The baptized who are not ordained priests are not simply priests of one less degree than the deacon, two removed from the priest, and three from the Bishop, in a continuous hierarchy of participation in the one priesthood of Christ by degree. The ministerial priesthood and the common priesthood are essentially different ways of participating in the one priesthood of Christ, and not simply by degree.
59. Priesthood 9
The masculinity of the catholic priest is not arbitrary, incidental, and meaningless. As Pope John Paul II said, “The priest is a living and transparent image of Christ the priest” (Pastores Dabo Vobis, 12). The Son of God assumed the masculine expression of human nature. The fact that our Lord came as a man and not as a woman reveals and confirms something of tremendous theological importance. God is masculine in relation to us, and for that matter, in relation to all of creation. He is separate from creation. All of creation is feminine in relation to God. God comes down into creation and ‘impregnates’ it with life from the outside. Men and women share an equal dignity, but the man stands outside the woman and initiates the gift of himself to her. The feminine principle is initially receptive. Even though God is not a man or a woman, because he transcends the difference between the sexes (cf., Catechism 239, 370, 2779), it is right and fitting to say that we are feminine in relation to him, and he is masculine in relation to us. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the use of masculine pronouns in reference to God. We should not try to eradicate them from our prayers, songs, or speech when referring to God. It sows confusion when we forcibly switch references of Him and He to ‘God’. All uses of pronouns for God in the Sacred Scriptures are masculine, and never feminine. The Bible is full of imagery analogously describing God’s being in relation to us in masculine forms, e.g., father, king, bridegroom, etc. He is never described in this fashion as a mother, queen or bride. However, there are a few places where feminine imagery is used to describe God’s attributes, “As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you” (Isaiah 66:13) This is similar to feminine imagery used by our Lord to articulate how he feels about his people “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem… How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!” (Matthew 23:37). Although typically feminine qualities of nurturing and caring love could be metaphorically ascribed to God the Father, Son or Holy Spirit, that is essentially different than an assertion regarding their being and identity in relation to us. The masculinity of the Father in relation to us is revealed by his Son, and the masculinity of Christ in relation to us is revealed by the priest.
60. Priesthood 10
Christ Jesus told us that he would be with us until the end of time (Matthew 28:20). He remains with us above all in the Eucharist. His word continues to echo in his Church through both Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition. He is present in all the baptized, which is his mystical body. The Lord Jesus also remains with his Church through the presence of his priests. By virtue of the sacrament of Holy Orders priests act “in persona Christi Capitis,” or in the person of Christ the head of his body (Catechism 1548). The Catechism teaches that the priest, “is truly made like to the high priest and possesses the authority to act in the power and place of the person of Christ himself. Christ is the source of all priesthood: the priest of the old law was a figure of Christ, and the priest of the new law acts in the person of Christ” (ibid). The priest makes Christ present in his Church in a very special way, “The ordained minister is, as it were, an ‘icon’ of Christ the priest” (Catechism 1142). God wants himself to be made visible through these special ministers that he has consecrated and set apart for service to his body, and in an especial way the bishop, “In the beautiful expression of St. Ignatius of Antioch, the bishop is typos tou Patros: he is like the living image of God the Father” (Catechism 1548).
61. Priesthood 11
In the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, “Christ is present in the person of the presiding priest” (U.S. Bishops Committee on the Liturgy, Introduction to the Order of the Mass, p. 7). This is an awe inspiring reality for a priest to reflect on as he steps up into the sanctuary. When a priest reminds himself of this often, it awakens in him a keen desire to make that union of his own heart with Christ so profound, that he can truly say with St. John the Baptist, “He must increase, and I must decrease” (John 3:30). To the extent that the priest is living an intense interior life of union with our Lord he will be an effective celebrant of the Mass. One of the principal reasons the people of God come to the church each Sunday is because they want to see and hear Christ, to be touched and nourished by him, and to come to know him more. The role of the priest is to help mediate this encounter, “By virtue of the sacrament of Holy Orders, as well as by the depth of the priest’s prayerfulness and the dignity and humility of his bearing, the people should be able to recognize the living presence of Christ” (Ibid, p. 6).
62. Celibacy is Romantic
What bride does not want to be romanced by her bridegroom? A man romances his bride when he demonstrates his true love for her. When a bridegroom sacrifices his own will and comfort for the love of his bride, in a gesture of thoughtfulness and tenderness, this endears him to her. Christianity is a romance, and the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass celebrates the most romantic gesture in the history of the world, our heavenly bridegroom laying down his life for his bride, the Church. The celibacy of the catholic priest is romantic in this sense. In imitation of Christ, it is a demonstration of his exclusive love for his bride, the Church. There is a unique bond between the faithful and their priest. They often like to refer to ‘their priest’ with a sense of affectionate ownership, because they know that he belongs to them in a special way. The celibate priesthood is a great gift to the Church. Priests stand at the altar, in the person of Christ, and our Lord says through them to his bride, the most romantic words ever spoken, “This is my body, which will be given up for you.”
God has revealed himself to us, but he still ultimately remains a mystery. We will never fully comprehend the mystery of who God is. If we understood God completely then he would not be God. Even in heaven there is no angel or saint who can fully fathom this mystery except God himself, “for the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God” (1 Corinthians 2:10). The Biblical concept that best expresses this acceptance of God’s mystery is: holiness. Especially in the Old Testament, the notion of holiness was one of total separation. The Jews had a profound awareness that the Lord was utterly unique, different, and separate from all creatures. It was revealed to them that the Creator existed outside the brackets of the created universe, and belonged in a totally different category of being. All creatures have their being from God. God is his very being. He is pure ‘is-ness’. The only reason we are ‘is-ing’ is because the God who by definition is, shares some is with us. Thank goodness he is, or we would is out. He is, and we are, and that is wonderful! Next time we will dwell more on the sheer holiness of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
64. The Sanctuary
The Sanctuary is the holiest place in a Catholic church. The word ‘sanctuary’ comes from the Latin word ‘sanctus,’ which means, ‘holy.’ Think of the holy things that take place in our Sanctuary. Children of God are born in our baptismal font, the womb of the Church. The Paschal Candle stands by the font, and is a rich symbol of our resurrected Lord. Our Holy Oils are reserved there. God’s Word goes forth from our ambo. Think how many couples have exchanged their vows, in the holy sacrament of matrimony, right in front of our altar. The bodies of so many of our parish’s deceased brothers and sisters have been placed in front of the altar during Funeral Masses. There we find the crucifix, candles, flowers, the golden book of the gospels, the sacramentary (the red book the priest uses), incense, bells, angels in adoration, and of course, the altar where the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass takes place. Mary and Joseph keep vigil over our parish on either side. Finally, our Lord is present, body, blood, soul and divinity, in our tabernacle. Mysterious and divine things happen in our Sanctuary. Holy things are kept there. This is the holy place where our parish draws its spiritual life.
65. The Sense of Smell in Worship
Catholicism is a very sensual religion, and the sense of smell plays an important part. In a certain way, holiness has a fragrance. We often refer to saints who die with the ‘odor of sanctity.’ The holy chrism oil that is used for baptism, confirmation, ordination, and the blessing of altars and sacred vessels, has aromatic balsam mixed in with it. Pleasing and agreeable odors are a sign of the sweetness of the Holy Spirit, and the blossoming and fruitfulness of the life of Christian virtue, which exudes from the soul that is united with God, “For we are the aroma of Christ to God” (2 Corinthians 2:15). The use of incense is a powerful symbol of the prayers of the Church, “Let my prayer be counted as incense before thee” (Psalm 141:2). Incense adds solemnity to our worship and is a powerful sign of its mystical dimension. It helps us to enter into the mystery of how our liturgy on earth is caught up in the liturgy of heaven. In the book of Revelation, St. John describes a vision of heaven that he received, “And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer; and he was given much incense to mingle with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar before the throne; and the smoke of the incense rose with the prayers of the saints from the hand of the angel before God” (8:3-4).
Deacons make a gift of themselves to the Church. In receiving the sacrament of Holy Orders their soul is imprinted with a character that can never be removed. They are configured to Jesus Christ in a special way, and bound more closely to the altar. This configuration and dedication comes about through the ancient practice of the laying on of hands by the bishop. The first recorded instance of this is found in Acts 6:1-6. Deacons are set apart for service. The name deacon comes from the Greek word ‘diakonos,’ which means minister or servant. In the words of the Second Vatican Council, “strengthened by sacramental grace they are dedicated to the People of God, in conjunction with the bishop and his body of priests, in the service of the liturgy, of the Gospel, and of works of charity” (Lumen Gentium, 29). Currently it takes five years of preparation before a man is ordained a deacon. He must first go through a lengthy application process, after which, if accepted, he enters into a year of spiritual direction and discernment, followed by four years of academic work. The minimum age for a married man is thirty five. If a man is unmarried at the time he is ordained a deacon he also takes a promise of celibacy.
67. The Pope
Before a man is ordained as a priest, he is first ordained a deacon. Typically he remains a deacon for a year before becoming a priest. A bishop was first a deacon and priest before being made a bishop. The Pope is the bishop of Rome. Although, technically he could be chosen from the ranks of any of the clergy or laity, to be consecrated as Pope he would have to be made first a deacon, then a priest, and then a bishop. A bishop is a successor of one of the apostles. The Pope is the successor of St. Peter in particular, and therefore head of the college of bishops. “Thus the risen Christ, by giving the Holy Spirit to the apostles, entrusted to them his power of sanctifying: they become sacramental signs of Christ. By the power of the same Holy Spirit they entrusted this power to their successors. This ‘apostolic succession’ structures the whole liturgical life of the Church and is itself sacramental, handed on by the sacrament of Holy Orders” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1087).
68. Cooperative Effort
The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is a liturgical action. We reflected many weeks ago on the fact that a liturgy is a ‘work of the people.’ Truly the Holy Mass is a work of the people: bishops, priests, deacons, altar servers, lectors, extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion, cantors and musicians, the choir, gift bearers, sacristans, ushers, the entire congregation’s interior and exterior participation, etc. When we all co-operate, or work together, in humble obedience to the norms and guidelines of the Roman Ritual of the Church, we worship well. A well prepared, coordinated, and cooperative effort, gives God glory and makes us holy. If you find yourself drawn into the worship of God, the hearing of his Word, the opening of your heart to his grace and mercy, being lead to a devout reception of Holy Communion, and being renewed in your resolve to fulfill your Christian mission, then you know that this Mass is achieving its desired effect.
Vestments add to the beauty, sacredness and solemnity of the liturgy. This word comes from the Latin word ‘vestire,’ which means ‘to cloth.’ The difference in vesture expresses the diversity of roles in the liturgy. The amice is a garment that can be worn by any liturgical minister. It is a rectangular piece of cloth that is worn around the neck under the alb, and is meant to cover any non-liturgical street wear. It comes from the Latin word, ‘amictus,’ which means ‘cloak,’ and is likened to a helmet of salvation and a sign of resistance to the temptations of the devil. The alb is the name of the white robe worn by the priest and deacon, and could potentially be worn by any other liturgical minister. It comes from the Latin word ‘albus,’ which means ‘white,’ and is a symbol of integrity. The cincture is the cord that fastens the alb at the waist. It comes from the Latin word, ‘cingere,’ which means ‘to surround,’ and is a symbol of purity. The stole is the narrow strip of cloth worn across the chest for the deacon, and draped around both sides of the neck for the priest. This is a mark of the office of the ordained ministry, and a symbol of immortality. The dalmatic is the name of the garment worn over the alb and stole by the deacon on solemn occasions, and it takes its name from the Slavic land of Dalmatia where it originated. The chasuble is the proper garment of priests and bishops, and is derived from the Latin word ‘casula,’ which means ‘little house’. It is the outermost garment, and is meant to symbolize charity, which should cover all else.
70. Importance of Mass Attendance
In a certain sense, our worship begins when we set aside time for Sunday Mass attendance. So much of our life revolves around scheduling and rescheduling events. It takes creativity and persistence sometimes to fit in our worship on the Lord’s Day. From the very beginning our Creator has wanted the creatures he has made in his image and likeness to gather once a week to be nourished and sanctified, and to give him adoration, praise and thanksgiving. This is good and natural for us. It fulfills a deep and primordial instinct within our hearts. Our commitment to participation in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of obligation ought to be a non-negotiable part of the rhythm of our lives. It is also an important witness to our co-workers, neighbors, friends and family when we make a strong and consistent effort to attend Mass, even if we are on vacation, or some other adversity comes up.
71. Being Authentically Religious
Being authentically religious is virtuous, good, and fulfilling for us. On one hand, mankind has a natural duty to be good stewards of creation, and on the other, a natural obligation to worship the Creator. Religion involves justice, but it ultimately goes beyond that. Although it is truly just and fitting that we worship the Lord of the universe, it is not simply about paying our dues to our Creator, or fulfilling a debt of gratitude for our redemption, but loving God with our whole soul, mind and heart “Thus charity leads us to render to God what we as creatures owe him in all justice. The virtue of religion disposes us to have this attitude” (Catechism 2095).
72. Solemnities, Feasts and Memorials
One of the most beautiful and rich aspects of being Catholic is our liturgical calendar. This annual cycle of seasons and feasts is complex, but wisely and judiciously ordered. It centers on the person of Jesus Christ, “this arrangement is so suitably disposed that Our Saviour dominates the scene in the mysteries of his humiliation, of his redemption and triumph” (Pope Pius XII, On the Sacred Liturgy, 151). The Church ascribes varying degrees of solemnity to what it celebrates. There are three basic degrees of importance given to individual days in the liturgical calendar: solemnity, feast, or memorial. A Solemnity is the most important, with Easter being the ‘Solemnity of solemnities.’ There are 18 total solemnities throughout the liturgical year: Immaculate Conception, Christmas, Mary Mother of God, Epiphany, St. Joseph, Easter (8 days), Divine Mercy, Annunciation, Ascension, Pentecost, Trinity, Corpus Christi, Sacred Heart, Nativity of John the Baptist, Peter and Paul, Assumption, All Saints, and the grand finale and exclamation point of the entire cycle… Christ the King. Seeing this list gives us a nice bird’s eye view of the major celebrations of the year, and of our Catholic Faith. Liturgical seasons and celebrations are meant to bring the mysteries of our faith alive, and provide us with outstanding models of holiness.
73. Early Arrival and Immediate Preparation
To participate well in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass involves remote preparation: daily prayer, regular confession, spiritual reading, praying over the scriptural readings for the upcoming Sunday Mass, being faithful to the duties of our state in life, and struggling to live the Mass in lives of self sacrificial love, etc. Good participation in the Mass, however, also involves immediate preparation. It is very important to arrive early before Mass begins, in order to prepare ourselves. Participation at Mass is more than exterior gestures, prayers, responses and singing. That is all very important, but what is of most importance is our interior participation. Our hearts must be opened and our minds focused. Arriving early before Mass, and making an effort to become recollected and composed, is essential. It helps sometimes to form the most basic intention in our wills before Mass begins. We remind ourselves why we are here, to give public worship to Almighty God, and to be sanctified and nourished by him. It is the day of Sabbath rest and the day of the resurrection, the Lord’s Day. We are here consciously and deliberately to adore God, and be fed by him in his word and in the most holy Eucharist. Becoming profoundly aware of his presence in the tabernacle, we place the past week before him, and ask for strength to meet the challenges of the upcoming one.
It is good to be reminded of the unique nature of this community we are members of. Is coming to church like participating in other communities? What makes it different from a political convention, a Lion’s Club meeting, or an aerobics class? The difference is that, ultimately, we have not gathered on our own initiative. Each and every soul present in the assembly has received a unique calling from God. Being part of the Church literally means being one of those who have been called out of the world. The Latin word for church, ‘ecclesia,’ was borrowed from the Greek language. It literally means, ‘the called out ones.’ We don’t gather on our own initiative, as though coming to church is like a club we decided to join, and this happens to be the meeting hall. No, God has summoned us here. We are responding to God’s initiative. The Church is more than the a mere human community that gathers, it is the Ecclesia. We are members through the sheer grace and mercy of God, who has called us out. We belong to the Church at his invitation. The word ‘church’ came through the Middle English word, ‘kirche,’ but is finally traceable to the Greek word ‘kyriake,’ which means ‘belonging to the Lord.’ The building where we gather is not simply a gathering space. It is God’s house that he has invited us to.
75. The People in the Pews According to Screwtape
Don’t you just love your fellow parishioners? How could you not? We are so cute and loveable, right? We always inspire you with deep feelings of admiration, don’t we? When you shuffle into church each Sunday, aren’t you often overcome with affection for all of us sitting all around you in the pews like saints posing for holy cards? There is a famous little book by C.S. Lewis’s, entitled, ‘The Screwtape Letters,’ which is a series of notations from a senior demon to his apprentice demon, who has been entrusted with the destruction of a particular man’s soul. In one of these letters he instructs his apprentice regarding this man’s participation at church, “Provided that any of those neighbors sing out of tune, or have boots that squeak, or double chins, or odd clothes, the patient will quite easily believe that their religion must therefore be somehow ridiculous… I have been writing hitherto on the assumption that the people in the next pew afford no rational ground for disappointment. Of course, if they do— if the patient knows that the woman with the absurd hat is a fanatical bridgeplayer or the man with the squeaky boots a miser and an extortioner— then your task is so much the easier. All you have to do is to keep out of his mind the question ‘If I, being what I am, can consider that I am in some sense a Christian, why should the different vices of those people in the next pew prove that their religion is mere hypocrisy and convention?’
76. Parents and Children 1
Crying, fidgeting or fussing children present a challenge to the congregation and its ministers during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. A balanced approach to this issue is very important. On one hand, parents must do all they can to prevent their children from being a serious distraction. Care must be taken, however, that bad behavior in church is not unwittingly rewarded by allowing them to run around and play outside. A timeout in a corner at the back of the church could be much more effective in helping them to see that paying attention to the Mass is at least more interesting than staring at the wall. Parents also have a responsibility to make the Mass meaningful through catechesis of their children before, during and after Mass, teaching them the prayers at home, giving them religious books or coloring books, etc. Their experience and knowledge of their Catholic faith ought not to be restricted to one hour on Sunday that is isolated from the rest of the week. The strength of the parents own personal non-negotiable commitment to Sunday Mass, their prayerfulness and Christian example throughout the week, and their reverence during the Mass, will speak volumes. If the parents are half hearted in attendance or punctuality, dress too casually, and communicate an overall lukewarm attitude towards the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and the practice of their faith in general, the children will follow their lead. In the next Primer we will balance the equation with some thoughts about the proper attitude the congregation and its ministers ought to have towards children in the assembly.
77. Parents and Children 2
What should the attitude of the congregation be towards children? It should be one of patience and mercy. We are not an assembly of the perfect. If all the children were removed, we would be missing something very important in our church. They are a part of the family of God by virtue of baptism, and in a certain sense, they have a right to be here. Recall the words of our Lord, “Let the little children come unto me. Do not hinder them, because to such belongs the kingdom of God.” (Mark 10:13-16) We ought to extend mercy to the parents as well. We all know that the temperament and personality of children can vary quite a bit, making it a greater or lesser challenge for parents to manage them. Our criticism ought to take this into consideration. Perhaps we should imagine that if this was our child, we might be doing a worse job than their mother or father is doing at this particular moment. Of course, sometimes full advantage should be taken of the back of the church, which we have closed off with glass doors and piped in sound for meltdowns and timeouts. Parents have a responsibility to lead their children through a process of growing in their participation at the Mass, but outside of serious neglect of this duty, or total disregard of the other congregants when a child is clearly being a significant distraction and needs to be taken out, we ought to do our best to show patience and mercy towards them and their children.
Genuflection is an ancient sign of respect and obeisance to someone in authority. Even if it is a somewhat foreign gesture for us 21st century Americans, as Catholics, it can still be a rich and beautiful recognition of the majesty of God. It literally means, ‘to bend the knee.’ This is the proper greeting for our Lord in the most holy Eucharist. It is customary to genuflect towards the Lord Jesus present in the tabernacle as we enter our pew before Mass begins, and as we leave our pew at the end. This particular display of reverence is reserved for the Eucharist alone (except for the cross on Good Friday). Our genuflection could become more meaningful if we perform this profound gesture with two powerful scripture passages in mind. The first is taken from the prophet Isaiah, “Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other. By myself I have sworn, from my mouth has gone forth in righteousness a word that shall not return: To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear.” (45:22-23). The second passage is from St. Paul, “God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth, and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:9-10).
79. Sign of the Cross
One of the things that families share is their family name. The Church is God’s family, and we share God’s name. We receive this name when we are baptized, “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” The preposition ‘in’ is a very important part of the sign of the cross. We should include it consciously and deliberately. Notice also that we say ‘in the name,’ and not ‘in the names.’ There is one God. The three divine persons share one divine nature, and one divine name. The name of God is, ‘The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.’ At the start of each Holy Sacrifice of the Mass we invoke our family name. We ought to make the sign of the cross slowly, with reverence and devotion.
As we work our way systematically through the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, there will be numerous references to the ‘rubrics.’ This word comes from a Latin word ‘ruber,’ which means ‘red.’ Rubrics are the red lettered liturgical instructions throughout the sacramentary. The sacramentary is the large red book which contains the prayers and instructions for the Mass. It is either held by the altar servers, or is placed on the altar itself. The Mass is a rite, and follows a prescribed order and form regulated by the law of the Church. The rubrics in the sacramentary and the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, which is a document found at the beginning of the sacramentary, provide the authoritative and universal norm for how to celebrate the Mass in the Roman Rite. Only the bishop can approve an adaptation, and then only within certain limits. In general, “Regulation of the sacred liturgy depends solely on the authority of the Church, that is, on the Apostolic See, and, as laws may determine, on the bishop.” (Sacro Sanctum Concilium, 22). The Mass is a public liturgical prayer that belongs to the entire universal Church. A Rite can naturally and organically take on a certain flavor and style in different cultures, but always safeguarded within the protective boundaries found in the rubrics and the General Instruction of the Roman Missal. This is a sign of the Church’s unity.
Processions are an important sign of the pilgrim journey of the Church to the promised land of heaven. The word ‘procession’ is derived from Latin (pro & cedere), and literally means, ‘to go forward.’ The procession is usually led by the cross. On more solemn occasions, sometimes incense will precede the cross. Candles, lectors and extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion follow behind the cross. If there is a deacon assisting, he will be either holding the book of the Gospels, or walking beside the main celebrant. The priest or bishop who is presiding as the main celebrant comes last. His entrance is a sign of the triumphal entrance of Christ into our assembly. He has received a priestly office, which was given directly to the apostles by our Lord himself, and handed on to their successors. We have to train our spiritual vision to see Christ coming into our church in the person of the bishop or priest. This representation is by virtue of the office of the priesthood he occupies, and not because of any special personal holiness that he may or may not have. The office of the ordained priesthood is a great gift to the Church. After the genuflection to the tabernacle, the ordained ministers kiss the altar. This is a beautiful and rich sign of gratitude for the gift of our redemption in Christ.
82. Kissing the Altar
As the ordained ministers enter the sanctuary for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the kiss of the altar is a beautiful and rich symbolic gesture that we ought to dwell on for a moment. The altar is a great symbol of Christ. When you see it being kissed, think of the sinful woman in the home of the Pharisee who wept fervent tears of repentance, and kissed the feet of our Lord many times. Envision also that the priest is acting as a representative of the bride of Christ, his holy Church, in kissing its heavenly Bridegroom. The Mass can be understood in one sense as the wedding feast of the Lamb. This is how heaven is depicted in the book of Revelation. We are celebrating the union of God and mankind, through the marriage of Christ and Church, each time we come to Holy Mass.
After kissing the altar, the celebrant greets the people. He has three options to choose from in the Roman Missal. The first is the most elaborate, and is taken directly from the closing of the second letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” The second greeting is perhaps the most common. St. Paul begins nearly all of his letters with these exact words, “The grace and peace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ be with you.” For the third option, the presider may simply say, “The Lord be with you.” If a bishop is presiding, he has the further option of saying, “Peace be with you.” And of course, the familiar response of the people to all of the above is, “And also with you.” This is a rendering of the Latin, “Et cum spiritu tuo,” which means even more precisely, “And with your spirit.” This formal exchange between the presider and the congregation, as it is provided by the Roman Ritual, should be from the heart, and ought to function as an actual greeting. It is not absolutely necessary for the presider to then greet the congregation again in less formal language. Granted, this formal style is not the typical manner we are accustomed to greeting each other in less formal circumstances, however, the nobility and elevated formality of the language of the Mass is intended to draw us into the sublimity of what we are participating in. Although there is nothing stated in the Ritual to prevent a priest from adding his own spontaneous informal greeting, it is also the option of the priest to simply move right into either the introduction of the Mass of the day, or directly into the Penitential Rite.
According to the rubrics, after the greeting, “The priest, deacon or other suitable minister may very briefly introduce the Mass of the day.” The word ‘may’ is important here, because it is perfectly valid to simply bypass this option. If it is a solemnity, feast or memorial, introducing the Mass of the day may mean no more than simply stating what that solemnity, feast or memorial is, and perhaps elaborating on it briefly. A short word of introduction to a theme in the readings, that the presiding priest or bishop may be developing in his homily, is also a possibility. As the leader in the planning, preparation, and carrying out of the liturgy, he has the option of delegating this to the deacon or other suitable minister. The private devotion of those who prepare themselves before coming to Mass, those who arrive early to pray, the entrance procession and song, greeting by the celebrant, and the other parts of the Introductory Rites, all serve to lead us into prayer and worship. At the discretion of the celebrant, an additional word of introduction may or may not be inserted into the Introductory Rites of the Mass.
85. Penitential Rite 1
The procession and opening song have ended. The formal greeting between the main celebrant and the people has taken place. A word of introduction may or may not have followed. The Introductory Rites of the Holy Mass now continue with the ancient practice of an act of penitence. We have writings dating back to the beginning of the second century that describe the order of the Mass, and which speak of this act of penitence. God loves honesty. When a child, on their own initiative, comes to their mother or father and owns up to something, with sincere sorrow for the wrongdoing, it endears that child to their parent. It grieves the heart of parents when they see their children unrepentant. There is a great deal of sin in our world, but a much greater problem for God is unrepentant sin. We can choose to own up to our sins now and repent, or face them later. At the final judgment, all the truth, which we so desperately need to face, will come out. All the layers upon layers of denial, blame shifting, entitlement, excuses and rationalizations, deflections and downplaying, will be swept away in the brilliant light of Truth. There will be no argument or disputation. It will all become as crystal clear as one of those tickets we get in the mail that has a picture of our bumper and license plate speeding through the red light, “Everything now hidden will be made clear” (Matthew 10:26). Our Lord urges us to, “come to terms with your accuser in good time while you are still on the way to the court with him, or he may hand you over to the judge and the judge to the officer, and you will be thrown into prison. In truth I tell you, you will not get out till you have paid the last penny” (Matthew 5:25ff).
86. Penitential Rite 2
If there is one thing we know about our Lord from the Gospels, it is that he is merciful to repentant sinners. Think of Zacchaeus in the tree, the woman caught in adultery, the thief on the cross, the parable of the prodigal son. Remember also the comparison our Lord made between the self righteous pharisee and the repentant tax collector who beat his breast. In the Penitential Rite there is a rubric that does actually call for us to strike our breast when we recite the prayer together called the ‘confiteor’. If you look on page 8 of your missalette you will see ‘strike breast’ in parentheses on the left side of the prayer. This is not just an instruction for the priest, but for everyone. This can be one of the most profound moments of unity and solidarity between the people of God in the Holy Mass. We are all united in the struggle against sin, and crying out in unison for the mercy of our Lord.
On Sundays and Feast days, immediately after the ‘Act of Penitence,’ the ‘Introductory Rites’ continue with the singing or reciting of the ‘Gloria.’ The only exception to this would be during the seasons of Advent or Lent, where it is omitted. This is a very ancient hymn, which dates back to the early centuries of Christianity. We derive the beginning of the ‘Gloria’ from Luke’s Gospel. As the angel was announcing the birth of a Savior to the shepherds, “suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and peace to his people on earth!’” These are truly heavenly words. The remainder of the ‘Gloria’ is taken from either St. Paul’s or St. John’s writings. The transition from the ‘Act of Penitence’ to the ‘Gloria’ is dramatic. The action of humbling ourselves and then surging upward in praise of God has an almost trampoline or spring board effect. This tremendous act of childlike simplicity and confidence in God’s mercy launches us into the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
88. Opening Prayer or Collect
After the procession and opening song, reverence of the altar by the ordained ministers, sign of the cross, greeting and introduction, penitential rite, and the gloria, the ‘Introductory Rites’ are concluded with the ‘Opening Prayer.’ The priest begins with the invitation, “Let us pray,” which should be followed by a moment of silence while each one of us recalls the presence of God and formulates our petitions to him. Then the priest assumes the ‘orans’ position, and prays in the name of the whole congregation. The ‘orans’ position is very ancient. It is a sign of our openness and receptivity to God. The ‘Opening Prayer’ is also called the ‘Collect.’ This is because it sums up and gathers together all the prayers of the people, and focuses us to hear the word of God that is about to be proclaimed. The people respond ‘Amen,’ which could be translated, ‘So be it.’ By saying this Hebrew word to close the prayer, the people make it their own.
89. Liturgy of the Word 1
The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass consists primarily of two major parts: the Liturgy of the Word, and the Liturgy of the Eucharist. These liturgies are like two acts of one single play. The Covenant between God and mankind is first announced and then it is renewed. There is first word, and then there is action, “The liturgy of the Word and liturgy of the Eucharist together form ‘one single act of worship’, the Eucharistic table set for us is the table both of the Word of God and of the Body of the Lord.” (Catechism 1346). These two elements of the Mass were present in the encounter between our Lord and the two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35). The Risen Lord first set their hearts on fire with his explanation of the Scriptures, and then they recognized him in the breaking of the bread. It is fundamentally no different for us when we come to Mass. Each Sunday we encounter the Lord on the road of our own lives, “At its head is Christ himself, the principal agent of the Eucharist. He is high priest of the New Covenant; it is he himself who presides invisibly over every Eucharistic celebration.” (Catechism 1348).
90. Liturgy of the Word 2
It takes courage to listen to God’s word. Once we hear it we become responsible for it. It calls for a response. We will be answerable for how we respond, “He who rejects me and does not receive my sayings has a judge; the word that I have spoken will be his judge on the last day.” (John 12:48). Once we hear the word of God it starts to go to work on us. It is a purifying fire. The word is meant to disturb us from our sleep. It goes to work on our half-hearted, lukewarm, and mediocre attitudes and efforts. God’s word is not neutral, nonaligned and dispassionate. It is not a dull or dead word, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12). If we have the courage to listen to the word of God, and to take the risk of being disturbed by it, we will find the true peace our hearts are longing for.
91. Liturgy of the Word 3
What is the Bible? Let us begin by going back to the origin of the word itself. Scripture was originally written on papyrus scrolls. The papyrus plant was a reed that no longer exists today, but which grew beside the Nile river in ancient times. The pulp inside the stalk was called ‘biblos’ in the Greek language. It was removed from the plant and pressed into long strips, which were then overlapped and pressed again to produce sections of scroll, which were then linked together and dried in the sun. The Greek language referred to a scroll as a ‘biblion’. The plural would be ‘biblia.’ The early Church fathers who wrote in Greek referred to what we know as the Sacred Scriptures as ‘The Scrolls,’ or the ‘Biblia.’ Church fathers who wrote in Latin adopted this word into the Latin language, but now the ‘Biblia’ was understood to mean one singular, specific and unique collection of writings. This is where we derive the English word, ‘Bible.’
92. Liturgy of the Word 4
The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is permeated through and through with the Bible. The rituals, prayers, songs, acclamations, chants, responses, and readings, if they are not taken directly from the text of Sacred Scripture, the content and substance is often drawn from it. The lectionary is the book that the lectors read from, which contains all the scriptural texts for the Liturgy of the Word. The Lectionary for Sundays is divided into a three year cycle. In the course of this three year period, Catholics are exposed to nearly the entire New Testament, and the majority of the most important passages from the Old. We refer to these three years as A, B, and C. What most clearly distinguishes each year is its focus on a specific Gospel account. Year A uses primarily Matthew, B focuses on Mark, and C draws mainly from Luke. John’s Gospel is sprinkled strategically throughout. Each new liturgical year begins with Advent, immediately following the feast of Christ the King. We are currently approaching the end of Year A.
93. Liturgy of the Word 5
If you gathered together all the Bibles on the planet, piled them up, and destroyed them, you would not destroy the Word of God. Why? Because, our Lord Jesus Christ is ultimately the Word of God. However, we do also rightly refer in a secondary sense to the Bible as the Word of God. The one Divine Word, who was with the Father in the beginning, the Son of God through whom all things were created, the second divine person of the Blessed Trinity, condescended to speak in human language. Contained within the human words of the Bible is the Divine Word. In Sacred Scripture, human words, with all their limitations, are granted the tremendous dignity of being used by the Divine Word of God to express himself to humanity in a way that they can understand. How can this be? It is in some sense similar to the miracle that God could become a man, and yet remain God. The Son of God has a divine nature, and assumes a human nature. Since the incarnation of Christ, the Son of God has both a divine and a human nature. In an analogous way, the Sacred Scriptures are both of a human and divine origin. It is at once a human word and a Divine Word. If you looked upon our Lord when he walked the earth two thousand years ago, he would look like an ordinary man, but we know that he was also divine. The Bible looks like an ordinary book, composed of ordinary human words, but it also truly the Word of God.
94. Liturgy of the Word 6
The Catholic Church has faithfully guarded and handed on the Word of God down through the centuries. Monks spent their lives tediously copying manuscripts onto parchment, which was made from dried animal skins. This was a technological breakthrough in the first centuries AD. Before the coming of parchment, scrolls were made from the papyrus plant. Parchment had the advantage of being bound in the form of a book, which makes it much easier to study the text, then having a 30 foot scroll to work with. These texts of Sacred Scripture were very valuable, and had to be protected. Some were literally chained to the altar, to avoid theft. Not many people were literate, and instruction in the Bible came primarily through preaching, teaching, memorized stories and prayers, art and stained glass windows. It was not until 1440 that the German Catholic Johann Sebastian Gutenburg invented the printing press. From that point forward the Bible has been the best selling book of all time. It has been a heroic effort on the part of the Church to maintain the integrity of the Word of God through the ages both in its physical composition, and faithful interpretation.
95. Liturgy of the Word 7
Growing in our love and knowledge of the Bible will draw us deeper into Christ, and increase our participation in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. In the upcoming weeks we will sample a few quotes from Popes, Councils and Saints regarding the Sacred Scriptures and their importance in the lives of all Catholics. To begin with, in the stained glass window closest to the lectern, where the Word of God is proclaimed in our church, we see the image of St. Bernard of Clairvaux (AD 1090-1153). He was declared a Doctor of the Church, and therefore his teaching is especially worthy of our trust. He writes in his Commentary on the Song of Songs (Sermon 23:3), “The person who thirsts for God eagerly studies and meditates on the inspired Word, knowing that there, he is certain to find the One for whom he thirsts.”
96. Liturgy of the Word 8
During the Second Vatican Council there was a renewed emphasis on Sacred Scripture in the life of the Church. However, this did not occur out of the clear blue sky. It was in continuity with what many Popes had been saying in the century leading up to Vatican II: “The solicitude of the apostolic office naturally urges and even compels us…to desire that this grand source of Catholic revelation (the Bible) should be made safely and abundantly accessible to the flock of Jesus Christ” (Pope Leo XIII, 1878-1903). “Nothing would please us more than to see our beloved children form the habit of reading the Gospels – not merely from time to time, but every day” (Pope St. Pius X, 1903-1914). “Our one desire for all the Church’s children is that, being saturated with the Bible, they may arrive at the all-surpassing knowledge of Jesus Christ” (Pope Benedict XV, 1914-1922). “This author of salvation, Christ, will men more fully know, more ardently love and more faithfully imitate in proportion as they are more assiduously urged to know and meditate the Sacred Letters, especially the New Testament…” (Pope Pius XII, 1939-1958).
97. Liturgy of the Word 9
The Second Vatican Council document, Dei Verbum, The Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, states, “The Church forcefully and specifically exhorts all the Christian faithful… to learn the surpassing knowledge of Jesus Christ, by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures.” It then goes on to quote St. Jerome from the fourth century, “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.” If we want to know the Lord, we must listen to his Word, and soak it into our thirsty hearts, “Let us know, let us press on to know the Lord; his going forth is sure as the dawn; he will come to us as the showers, as the spring rains that water the earth” (Hosea 6:3).
98. Creed 1
After hearing the Scriptures proclaimed, and listening to the homily, the General Instruction of the Roman Missal states, “a brief period of silence is appropriately observed” (paragraph 66). At this point, with renewed faith, we recite the Creed. God has spoken his Word to us, and with the grace of the Holy Spirit, we in turn declare our fidelity to Him, “Faith is man’s response to God” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 26). In professing our faith we are taking a stance towards reality. In effect we are saying that this is what we believe to be the case, and we are willing to stand by it. The Creed is a summary statement about the meaning of life, and a sweeping description of all that is. This act of faith, however, is more than an intellectual assent. It has a direct bearing on each of our lives. There are tremendous implications that flow from each article of the Creed. Our profession of faith involves us in a commitment. It comes with a certain responsibility to live in conformity with what we profess to believe.
99. Creed 2
The Creed is far more than a formula of faith. It is not merely a set of propositions. Rather, it is a radical assertion about what is true and real. We believe that this formulation expresses what is truly the case in reality, “The believer’s act of faith does not terminate in the propositions, but in the realities which they express” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 170). As an exercise, we ought to try saying it slowly to ourselves, holding each word, phrase and article of faith in our mind and affirming it to be true. Someone who does not really believe could understand what the Creed means in a certain notional manner, without actually holding it to be true. We have to move from a mere notional assent to a real assent. Our faith must go beyond the propositions and touch the realities that they point to.
100. Prayer of the Faithful
Within the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass there are different movements of prayer. In the course of one Mass we meditate on the Word of God, and we also adore, praise, thank, and bless God. At certain points of the Mass the prayer of our hearts is expressed vocally, or through symbolic gestures, and at other moments we sit in a silent contemplative communion with the Lord. The Mass also includes the prayer of petition or intercession. To petition is to ask for something. To intercede literally means to act as a go between. In the order of the Mass, why are these prayers of petition placed right at the very end of the Liturgy of the Word? Hearing the Word of God calls for a faith response. We first responded by standing up and professing our faith. This flows naturally into prayers of petition to the Almighty Father that we just professed to believe in. Part of our faith response to God’s Word is to take immediate action. We call this part of the Mass, ‘The Prayer of the Faithful.’ True faith gives rise to charity.
101. Presentation of the Gifts
When the priest concludes the ‘Prayer of the Faithful,’ the Liturgy of the Word is complete. Now begins act two of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the Liturgy of the Eucharist. It is composed of four parts: the Preparation of the Gifts, the Eucharistic Prayer, the Communion Rite, and the Concluding Rite. The focus of our attention shifts now from the Pulpit to the Altar. Since the earliest days of the Church, there has been the practice of taking up a collection from those gathered. This will be distributed for the needs of the church and the poor. This collection is brought forward with the gifts of bread and wine. It serves both a practical and a symbolic purpose. In the Mass, we are making a sacrifice of ourselves to God the Father Almighty, united with the offering of his only beloved Son, “Christ’s faithful… Offering the immaculate victim, not only through the hands of the Priest, but also together with him, they should learn to offer themselves” (Second Vatican Council, The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium,).
102. Preparation of the Altar 1
After the gifts are brought up, the priest places the gifts on the altar with a short prayer over first the bread and then the wine. This practice has its roots in Jewish table prayers. The central idea in these prayers is one of acknowledgement that everything we have comes from God. The peoples response to each prayer is, “Blessed be God forever.” The priest or deacon must prepare the chalice by pouring in the wine, and then a very small amount of water. The water symbolizes our humanity being absorbed into the wine of Christ’s divinity. The priest or deacon says an inaudible prayer at this moment, “By the mystery of this water and wine, may we come to share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity.” You might want to read those words again, and try to take in the magnitude of this prayer. We will discuss it at greater length next time.
103. Preparation of the Altar 2
What we believe as Catholics is truly astounding! The prayer that the priest or deacon says inaudibly while preparing the chalice is a profound illustration of this, “By the mystery of this water and wine may we come to share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity.” Jesus, the Son of God, is divine by nature. Through our baptism we are adopted as sons in the Son. By a sheer gift of God’s grace at baptism, we are made to share in the divine nature. In a certain sense, through grace, we become God. Sound too good to be true? Too radical? Truly, our Catholic Faith is radically good news! If you are having a hard time believing that this is actually Catholic doctrine, read paragraph 460 of the Catechism. Here are two quotes from Doctors of the Church to ponder: “For the Son of God became man so that we might become God.” (St. Athanasius); “The only-begotten Son of God, wanting to make us sharers in his divinity assumed our nature, so that he, made man, might make men gods.” (St. Thomas Aquinas).
104. Preparation of the Altar 3
After the priest prepares the bread and the wine, and says the prayer of blessing over them, he bows and says an inaudible prayer, “Lord God, we ask you to receive us and be pleased with the sacrifice we offer you with humble and contrite hearts.” It is very important that we humble ourselves when we pray, because “to the humble he shows his favor.” (Proverbs 3:34). Next the priest washes his hands and says quietly, “Lord, wash away my iniquity; cleanse me of my sin.” What the priest is about to do, and what we are all going to do with him, is sacred beyond our ability to fully comprehend. We are doing it at the request of our Lord. We are about to pray the ancient and venerable Eucharistic prayer, the most powerful prayer on earth, and “humility is the foundation of prayer.” (Catechism 2559).
105. Stipend 1
The idea of a Mass stipend can be confusing. The word stipend comes from the Latin words stips (a small coin), and pendere (to weigh out, or pay). However, it is not payment in the strict sense of commerce. We do not buy or sell sacred things. But on the other hand, a stipend is not simply a donation. A donation is a free will offering without a binding obligation necessarily attached to it. When a priest freely accepts a stipend, he enters into an agreement to offer the Mass for this particular intention. It is a means of applying the grace of the Mass in a special way, while also contributing to the livelihood of the priest. The Revised Code of Canon Law no longer uses the word stipend, but refers to the offering. And yet, the word stipend is still in common use in the Church. More on this next time.
106. Stipend 2
All the baptized are sharers in the common priesthood of the faithful, and therefore, in a certain sense, offer the Mass through and with the ordained priest. They cannot offer it on their own, because they need an ordained priest, but in and through his offering of the sacrifice of the body and blood of Christ, they unite their lives also as sacrificial offerings. The ordained priest and the baptized member of the faithful do not offer the Mass in the same way. In the strict sense, only the ordained priest offers the Mass. By virtue of the sacrament of Holy Orders and the authorization of Mother Church, he stands in the person of Christ, and has the power to utter the words of consecration, and make present the sacrificial offering of Christ. Strictly speaking, it is not necessary that the congregation even be there. It is, of course, preferable that they are present. After the priest washes his hands, he says, “Pray brothers and sisters, that our sacrifice may be acceptable to God the Father Almighty.” The people respond, “May the Lord accept the sacrifice at your hands, for the praise and glory of his name, for our good and the good of all his Church.” In the official Roman Missal in Latin, it states even more precisely, “Orate, fratres: ut meam ac vestrum sacrificium…” Or, in a literal English rendering, “Pray, brothers and sisters, that my sacrifice and yours…”. Here you see the distinction between the sacrifice the priest is making and that of the laity more clearly than in the official English translation we use, which translates this as, “our sacrifice”. Christ ultimately offers the sacrifice, and in a certain sense it is “our sacrifice”. The one eternal sacrifice of Christ for our sins on Calvary belongs to the whole Church. However, in another sense, Christ chose to enable his Church to make present his one sacrifice through the instrumentality of ordained priests, until the end of time. It is by the hands of the priest that the sacrifice is offered. The faithful are called to participate in this sacrifice being offered through the hands of the priest at the altar, by uniting the sacrifice of their lives to it.
107. Stipend 3
By its very nature the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is offered for the whole human race. This is especially evident in the prayers of the Mass, and in the Eucharistic Prayer in a special way. However, while there are general and universal intentions for every Mass, we can also offer our own particular intentions. Because of the close proximity with the sacrifice that is taking place on the altar at his hands, the prayers of the priest for a particular intention, which he offers the Mass for, have always been thought to have a special efficacy. While there is always a universal application of the graces that flow from every Mass, there can also be a particular application of these graces as well. The priest’s particular intention for the Mass is often announced during the Mass, and/or printed in a church’s bulletin. This is for the benefit of those who have made an offering, and asked to have this Mass said by the priest for their specific intention. However, it is important for all the faithful to be reminded that they can also bring their own particular intentions to the Mass.
108. Turning to the Father
To participate well in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, we must have a deep love of God the Father Almighty. The Mass is fundamentally directed to the Father. As the Liturgy of the Word comes to an end, and we begin to prepare the altar, and our hearts, for the Liturgy of the Eucharist, we orient ourselves to our Father in heaven. The mission of the Son was to reconcile us to the Father. Our Lord wants to lead us to the Father, “Be sons of your Father, who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:45). The Spirit of sonship is calling out in our hearts, “Abba, Father” (Rom 8:15; Gal 4:6). The Mass is primarily worship of the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit.
109. Prayer over the Gifts
I have heard people say that the reason why most people come to Mass is that they feel compelled to fulfill their Sunday obligation, and perhaps they want to take something away from the Liturgy of the Word to ponder for the next week. While both of these motivations are valid and meritorious, what is most people’s attitude towards the Liturgy of the Eucharist? I was discussing the Mass with a teenager once who referred to the Eucharistic Prayer as “the long boring speech that the priest makes.” The sad truth is that for many Catholics the Liturgy of the Eucharist is probably not very meaningful. They may passively accept that these prayers and rituals come with ‘going to church’ as a Catholic, but they are something to be patiently endured. However, notice that as the final act of preparation for the Eucharistic Prayer, the priest invites the congregation to pray, “Pray, brothers and sisters…” He then says a prayer over the gifts on the altar, which the people then make their own by responding, “Amen.” Brothers and sisters, if we are to participate fully, consciously, and actively in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, it must become a prayer.
110. Eucharistic Prayer 1
According to the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, the ancient and venerable Eucharistic Prayer is “the center and summit of the entire celebration” (78). As one Franciscan priest put it, the Eucharistic Prayer is nothing less than “the prayer to the Father that saves the world” (Fr. Patrick Greenough). It always begins the same way, with a beautiful three part dialogue between the main celebrant and the congregation, “The Lord be with you. And also with you. Lift up your hearts. We lift them up to the Lord. Let us give thanks to the Lord our God. It is right to give him thanks and praise.” This opening exchange draws us all together and sets the tone for the sacred prayer and ritual to follow.
111. Eucharistic Prayer 2 (Kneeling)
It has generally been the custom in the United States to kneel during the Eucharistic Prayer. Kneeling is a powerful and rich symbolic gesture. Throughout history, besides being a prayer position, it has typically been a sign of obeisance to a royal authority. We have all seen people do it on television or in the movies, but it is not something we Americans are accustomed to doing. Before the American Revolution we may have kneeled to the King of England, but it has never been our practice to kneel to the President of the United States. The idea that any human being is endowed by reason of their birth to a position of majesty is antithetical to the American system of government. However, regardless of our American outlook, as Christians we know that all authority, both civil and ecclesiastical, ultimately comes from God alone. Our Lord told Pontius Pilate, “You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above” (Jn 19:11). It was our Lord that gave Peter the keys to the kingdom of heaven (Mt 16:18-20). There is nothing antithetical for us as Christians, Americans, or simply human beings, to kneel before the Creator of all that is, and therefore the rightful and true King of the Universe.
112. Eucharistic Prayer 3 (Sanctus)
The Sanctus is the name we use to refer to the acclamation that the entire assembly, the priest and the people, make together right before the congregation kneels during the Eucharistic Prayer. Sanctus means ‘Holy’. Saying something three times is a way to express ourselves emphatically. In the Bible it is a literary way of adding an exclamation point. Both Isaiah in the Old Testament, and John in the New Testament, have visions of the heavenly throne room of God (Is 6:3; Rev 4:8). In both cases they see and hear the angels who stand closest to the throne singing ‘Holy, Holy, Holy!’ They exclaim the praises of the Lord God Almighty, and we join with them and the holy heavenly host each time we offer the Mass together. Our earthly liturgy is caught up in the divine liturgy of heaven. Then we sing the words that the people chanted and shouted as Jesus made his triumphant entry into Jerusalem, “Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” The Lord God Almighty is about to become present on our altar. Our church is about to become his throne room. With eyes of faith we see this, even though our Lord disguises himself under the humble form of bread and wine. We are not fooled by his humility, just as the crowds were not fooled as he rode into Jerusalem on a donkey.
113. Eucharistic Prayer 4 (Overview)
The Eucharistic Prayer contains many parts, so it might be helpful to review it in it’s entirety. It always begins with the same threefold dialogue between the priest and the people, “The Lord be with you… And also with you… Lift up your hearts… We lift them up to the Lord… Let us give thanks to the Lord our God… It is right to give him thanks and praise.” Then the priest prays the part of the Eucharistic prayer called the Preface, which can change with the season, feast or day. Then we all sing or say the Sanctus. At that point everyone kneels, and the priest continues to stand and pray the Eucharistic prayer. There are four different prayers that he can say at this point. They all contain the same basic elements: the calling down of the Holy Spirit, the narrative of the Last Supper, the words of consecration, words of praise, thanksgiving, and supplication, and they all end with the elevation of our Eucharistic Lord, and the climactic prayer of the main celebrant, and any other concelebrating bishops or priests, “Through him, with him, in him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honor is yours almighty Father, forever and ever!” The people respond, “Amen!” So, the Eucharistic prayer includes everything from the opening of the dialogue, “The Lord be with you…”, to the great, “Amen!” of the people.
114. Eucharistic Prayer 5 (Structure of Voice)
Of the four different Eucharistic Prayers, the first one is the longest, and it is referred to as the Roman Canon. Let us reflect for a moment on the overall structure of this prayer in terms of the different voices used. The priest begins the prayer speaking in the 1st person plural ‘we’ (“We come to you, Father, with praise and thanksgiving…”). In this beginning portion of the prayer, leading up to the last supper narrative, the word ‘we’ is used 11 times, and the word ‘us’ is used 8 times. Suddenly, however, the voice of the priest switches, and he begins to narrate the events that occurred at the last supper in the 3rd person singular ‘he’ (e.g., “he took bread in his sacred hands…”). This narration leads to the actual words of consecration, where the voice of the priest switches again, but this time he uses the 1st person singular ‘me’ and ‘my’ (“Take this, all of you, and eat it: this is my body…”). With these words the priest stands in the person of Christ in a special way. This is a sacramental quotation of our Lord’s words at the last supper. They are more than just a quotation. They are a sacramental quotation. In a mysterious way our Lord speaks in and through the priest to cause these words to be effective in transforming the bread and wine to his body and blood. After the consecration the priest begins to pray again in the 1st person plural. He will use the word ‘we’ another 11 times, and ‘us’ 5 more times. So, the overall structure of voice in the Eucharistic prayer is: We He My We.
115. Eucharistic Prayer 6 (Transubstantiation 1)
Does the Church still use the word transubstantiation to express what it believes to happen to the bread and wine during the Eucharistic Prayer? The answer is, yes. According to the thirteenth session of the Council of Trent in it’s Decree on the Most Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist (AD 1551), ‘Because Christ our Redeemer said that it was truly his body that he was offering under the species of bread, it has always been the conviction of the Church of God, and this holy Council now declares again, that by the consecration of the bread and wine there takes place a change of the whole substance of the bread into the whole substance of the body of Christ our Lord and of the whole substance of the wine into the substance of his blood. This change the holy Catholic Church has fittingly and properly called transubstantiation.” Is this word still in use since the Second Vatican Council? Both Popes Paul VI and John Paul II have written encyclicals on the Eucharist (Mysterium Fidei, 1965; Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 2003), and both of them quote this text we just read from the Council of Trent, and affirm the use of the word transubstantiation. This text from the Council of Trent is also cited in the most recent 2003 edition of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (paragraph 3), which states that, “by the very words of consecration… Christ becomes present through transubstantiation”. . The Catechism of the Catholic Church, published in 1994, quotes the entire text from the Council of Trent that we just read, and then states clearly that “By the consecration the transubstantiation of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ is brought about.” (see paragraphs 1376 & 1413). The Church has used this term transubstantiation for centuries to explain the miracle that occurs during the consecration, and she continues to use it.
116. Eucharistic Prayer 7 (Transubstantiation 2)
We established last time that the term transubstantiation still has validity and currency in the teachings of the Catholic Church. However, what does this term mean for our lives? Do we come to Mass for transubstantiation? Ultimately, we want more than the term, we want the reality. We come to Mass for a miracle. Transubstantiation is miraculous. Ordinary bread and wine becomes the Body and Blood of the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, the Word of God, he through whom all things were created, who holds all things in being, the one who has life in himself, who went into a tomb dead and came out alive, and the one who has opened for us the way to eternal life. A miracle happens at Mass. Our Lord Jesus Christ, who ascended to the right hand of the Father in heaven, becomes present on our altar, and then we are united to him in a Holy Communion. Ghandi, who was a Hindu, even said once that if he believed what Catholics believe about the Eucharist, he would be crawling on his belly to receive this Holy Communion. We may never get a PhD in theology. We may never fully understand what transubstantiation is. But every Catholic should know enough to realize that it is truly awesome!
117. Eucharistic Prayer 8 (Transubstantiation 3)
What difference does transubstantiation make in my life? Let’s take it out of the picture for a moment, in hopes of gaining a fresh appreciation for what it means to us. Imagine simply coming to a church service, prayer meeting, common worship, or fellowship gathering, instead of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Instead of Holy Communion with the Lord Jesus, we would eat a piece of bread and reflect on the meaning of a symbol. Symbol instead of substance. Imagine taking the Blessed Sacrament and the altar out of our church. What would that feel like when you walked in? No sanctuary lamp burning? No tabernacle? It would change the whole atmosphere. Why? Because our church is literally the house of God. He is present here body, blood, soul and divinity in the Eucharist. This is a religion based on presence. The Eucharist is not simply a sign, it is a real presence. We do not believe in transignification, but transubstantiation. While these terms may seem technical and academic, the implications that flow from this distinction are enormous.
118. Eucharistic Prayer 9 (Consecration)
The words of consecration “This is my body… This is my blood…”, are different from all the other words of the Mass, because they are a sacramental quotation. This means that mysteriously our Lord is speaking in and through the priest to cause this miracle to occur in which bread and wine become his body and blood. We must see through the human priest to the Divine Priest, “By virtue of the sacrament of Holy Orders as well as by the depth of the priest’s prayerfulness and the dignity and humility of his bearing, the people should be able to recognize the living presence of Christ.” (US Conference of Catholic Bishops, Committee on the Liturgy, Introduction to the Order of the Mass, 12). In a special way, do you recognize the voice of Christ the High Priest, speaking in and through the priest’s voice, when he utters the words of consecration? Try hearing these sublime words as though Christ is speaking to you personally, “This is my body… given up for you… This is the cup of my blood… shed for you.” Our Lord is speaking these words to all of us, but he is also speaking them to you. Let him love you that much.
119. Eucharistic Prayer 10 (Prayers for the Dead)
We pray for the dead during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. There is no absolute separation between the living and those who have crossed over into eternity. We pray for the holy souls in purgatory, and they pray for us. Those who are made perfect, and are in heaven, are praying that all the rest of us are united with them. We are all connected in the Communion of Saints. This is part of the doctrine of the faith. It is expressed in the prayers of the Church, and most notably, the Eucharistic prayer. We are saved by grace alone, and we are ultimately saved when we are safe in the kingdom of heaven. The grace of God works on us throughout our life to sanctify us, and for many, it continues to work after death. God’s grace will not stop working on us until we are made perfect and blessed with the full and direct vision of God. It is a good and holy thing to pray for the dead. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is the most powerful way to pray and obtain graces for the holy souls in purgatory.
120. Per Ipsum and the Great Amen
The essence of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is expressed in the climax of the Eucharistic Prayer, when the bishop or priest who is the main celebrant, with the concelebrating bishops or priests, if there are any, assisted by a deacon, if there is one, elevates the Body and Blood of the Son of God and offers it back to the Father with the words, “Through him, with him, in him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit; all glory and honor is yours almighty Father, forever and ever!” Our worship is ultimately directed to the Father, through the Son, and in the Holy Spirit. The congregation ratifies this through the acclamation, “Amen.” This is the exclamation point of the Eucharistic Prayer, and we refer to it as the ‘Great Amen.’ Some indication of the depth of participation in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass by the assembly can be determined by the way in which they respond, “Amen.” If the faithful are participating consciously and deliberately in the worship, this “Amen” will come from deep in their hearts, with a keen awareness of what they are saying “Amen” to.
121. The Lord’s Prayer
The Eucharistic Prayer is now concluded with the ‘Great Amen,’ and everyone stands up to begin the Communion Rite. The first thing we do to prepare to receive our Lord in Holy Communion is to say the prayer that he taught us. The Lord’s prayer is our family prayer. It is a compendium of the spiritual life. The prayer begins by addressing he to whom the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is directed, ‘Our Father.’ It praises him and declares our fidelity to his kingdom and his will. We then ask for our daily bread. This is a most fitting request to make when we are moments away from receiving our Lord under the form of bread. We repent for our sins, and ask to be delivered from all temptation and evil. When this prayer is devoutly said it aligns and purifies our hearts to make a worthy reception of Holy Communion.
122 The Lord’s Prayer 2
According to St. Thomas Aquinas, the Lord’s Prayer is the “most perfect of prayers” (Catechism 2774). We ought to remind ourselves of this fact often and savor every word with the staggering realization that these holy words were taught to us by the Divine Son of God, the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity, the Incarnate Wisdom, He through whom all things were created and therefore the rightful King of the Universe. That alone gives these sacred words a singular efficacy and power. To say these few brief inspired words devoutly is to realign our thinking and inner attitudes. It reminds us who God is and who we are, “Thus the Lord’s Prayer reveals us to ourselves at the same time that it reveals the Father to us” (Catechism, 2783).
123 The Lord’s Prayer 3
Calling God, ‘Our Father’ is a radical claim that Jews and Christians can take for granted. None of the other great world religions make this claim. The Muslims have 99 names for Allah, but none of them are Father. They see themselves strictly as the servants of the Divine Master, and any notion that they are actually sons of God would be an aberration to them. Buddhists have a very vague notion of God, much less an understanding that God is their Father. Hindus believe in a being of ultimate oneness they call Brahman, who is manifested by an infinity of representations by lesser divinities. Rather than looking to a personal God as their Father, New Age religions seek to discover a higher consciousness within themselves. The end of New Age spirituality is in the discovery of oneself as God. In Judaism God is a Father in so far as he is the Creator of the world (Deut 32:6; Mal 2:10), offering a covenant to and entrusting the gift of the law to Israel. In Christianity God is revealed as actually being the Father of an eternal Son. God is now understood to be a Father in himself apart from the world. This is a huge theological development revealed through the Son of the Father, whose mission was to unite himself with us so that we might share in his Divine Sonship through adoption. Hence, it is with great boldness that we dare to say, ‘Our Father’ (Catechism, 2777).
124 The Lord’s Prayer 4
In the big picture of our entire celebration of the Mass, it is important to see how everything has been building up to this moment of saying the ‘Our Father’. Recall how many weeks ago I reflected with you about how the whole Mass, and ultimately, the whole of salvation history is directed to the Father. Everything came from the Father at creation, and everything is returning to the Father. The mission of the Son and Spirit is to bring creation back to the Creator. It is not random or arbitrary that Holy Mother Church has included the recitation of the ‘Our Father’ prayer at this particular moment of the Mass. The Holy Spirit has just been called down on the gifts and they have then been consecrated and transubstantiated into the Body and Blood of the Son, and then offered to the Father as a perfect atonement for our sins. At the conclusion of the Eucharistic prayer with the elevation of the chalice and the host and the words of the priest addressed to the Father, “Through him, and with him, and in him, O God, Almighty Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honor is yours, for ever and ever.” As a result of this divine propitiatory sacrifice we are now reconciled with the Father. What better moment in the Liturgy to say the prayer that Jesus taught us, the ‘Our Father’.
125 The Lord’s Prayer 5
Did you know that the ‘Our Father’ is a prayer of deliverance? What are we asking to be delivered from? The prayer ends with a final petition, “Deliver us from evil.” But, what does that mean? Evil in general? According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “In this petition, evil is not an abstraction, but refers to a person, Satan, the Evil One, the angel who opposes God. The devil (dia-bolos) is the one who ‘throws himself across’ God’s plan and his work of salvation accomplished in Christ” (paragraph 2851). So, the primary meaning of this petition is deliverance from the power of the devil, however, secondarily it takes in all forms of evil, “When we asked to be delivered from the Evil One, we pray as well to be freed from all evils, present, past, and future, of which he is the author or instigator. In this final petition, the Church brings before the Father all the distress of the world” (Catechism, paragraph 2854).
126 The Lord’s Prayer 6
Usually, when we say the Lord’s Prayer outside of the Mass, it is customary, as with most prayers, to conclude with “Amen.” When saying the Lord’s Prayer in the celebration of Holy Mass however, the “Amen” is postponed until the Sign of Peace. Instead, the priest moves directly into a short prayer called the ‘embolism.’ This funny sounding word literally means in Greek, ‘an insertion.’ It is simply a prayer the priest says that follows from the Lord’s Prayer and leads into the doxology. The ‘doxology’, is literally a prayer of glorification, drawn from the Greek word for glory: doxa, ‘For the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours, now and forever.’ In the earliest Greek manuscripts that we now have the Doxology is not included in the text of scripture where our Lord teaches the ‘Our Father’ (see: Matthew 6:9-13; Luke 11:2-4). The doxology is an acclamation that was added on to the prayer in the early church, “Very early on, liturgical usage concluded the Lord’s Prayer with a doxology. In the Didache, we find, ‘For yours are the power and the glory forever.’ The Apostolic Constitutions add to the beginning: ‘the kingdom,’ and this is the formula retained to our day in ecumenical prayer.” (Catechism paragraph 2760). The Eastern Church and Protestants follow this ancient tradition in merging the doxology into the ‘Our Father’. The Protestant translators of the Kings James Bible used a Byzantine manuscript that contained this doxology, but since it is not found in the more ancient manuscripts, it is the consensus amongst modern biblical scholarship that this was an addendum in the Byzantine manuscript drawn from the liturgical tradition of the Eastern Churches. This discrepancy in versions of the ‘Our Father’ can often lead to confusion and momentary embarrassment at Catholic funerals and weddings where Protestants may be present, because often they will automatically flow right into the doxology at the conclusion of the ‘Our Father’, and then have to cut it short when everyone else has stopped, and the priest has begun the embolism prayer. Or, Catholics may feel lost when saying the prayer with Protestants because they continue the prayer with the doxological ending when Catholics are used to stopping. Outside of Holy Mass, at any ecumenical gathering, it is absolutely appropriate for Catholics to join with Protestants in the Doxological ending when reciting the ‘Our Father’ together. In this case, it is just a matter of custom, and they have adopted a custom drawn from the liturgical tradition of the early Church, finding its way into the King James Bible, and have added this doxology to the words of the ‘Our Father’.
127 The Rite of Peace 1
After the Lord’s Prayer comes the Rite of Peace. Our Lord has become our peace. He has made peace between the Father and the human race. This reconciliation has been the goal of all God’s activity in salvation history. The Lord has made peace between our Heavenly Father and us. He has mediated this peace by standing in the middle between us and our Father, and bringing us back together. The Eucharistic prayer brought about the sacramental representation of this reconciliation through our Lord’s sacrificial offering of himself at Calvary for our sins. This is followed by the prayer that Jesus taught us where we now dare to say, ‘Our Father’. Peace is the fruit of Christ’s redemption. There is a logical progression in the Holy Mass that at this point in the Divine Liturgy we exchange the sign of peace. What is critical to bear in mind however, is that this is the Lord’s peace, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you” (John 14:27). This peace flows from what has taken place on the altar in the hands of the priest, who then gives the Lord’s peace to all present, who in turn exchange it with those around them. At this point in the liturgy we ought to remind ourselves that this is not some generic or worldly peace, or a casual human peaceful greeting, but the exchange of an extraordinarily unique and utterly sublime peace that is flowing down from heaven through the sacrifice on the altar, through the priest, and out into the congregation. It is the Lord’s peace that we are exchanging with each other.
128 The Rite of Peace 2
One of the most beautiful words in the English language is ‘peace’. Just saying the word is relaxing. If anyone shuts their eyes and takes 10 deep breaths saying ‘peace’ each time they exhale, they will be in a different place. The knot of tension in their belly begins to loosen. The peace that we receive at Holy Mass is the most exquisite kind. All other forms of peace are just the merest reflection of the peace of Christ, “For he is our peace” (Eph 2:14). Our Lord has united Jew and Gentile into one body and “through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father” (Ephesians 2:18). The peace that flows from God is infinitely superior to a nice relaxing feeling or soothing sentiment. Peace is one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit. It is a given to us by the ‘Prince of Peace’ (Isaiah 9:5). When our resurrected Lord appeared to his apostles in the upper room he said to them twice, “Peace be with you” (John 20:19-23). When the priest stands at the altar and says those beautiful words, “The peace of the Lord be with you always,” soak them into your heart like the apostles did in the upper room, and then turn to those around you and say with a renewed depth of meaning, “Peace be with you”.
129 The Agnus Dei 1
This week we will consider the Lamb of God, or in Latin, the Agnus Dei. Imagine walking down the street with your best friend one day, and suddenly a Mack truck swerves off the road and is careening straight at you. You realize instantly that you are unable to get out of the way in time, and are bracing for the horrific impact. Suddenly, you find yourself rolling in the grass without a scratch on your body. The truck crashes through the trees and comes to a halt. You look up to see what happened to your friend, and the overwhelming realization rushes into your brain that the reason you are safe and unhurt is that your best friend pushed you out of harm’s way, and that in doing so they gave up their own life! Imagine the emotions that would flood your heart and soul. You will live the rest of your life indebted to this person for their supreme act of self sacrifice. You would most likely feel tremendous awe and admiration, deep gratitude, bitter sorrow for their sad fate, and intense love for this truly heroic person. Our Lord did this for the entire human race and for you personally. He did not just save your earthly, finite, mortal life. The Lamb of God saved us body and soul for all eternity. If we only truly understood in our hearts what we are doing at Mass, we would savor these choice words and they would come up from the depth of our being, “Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.”
130 The Agnus Dei 2
The average untrained male can dead lift a barbell weighing between 100-180 lbs. The average untrained woman can dead lift between 60-110 lbs. The world record dead lift is currently, as of 2012, 1015 lbs. Now, if you or I walked up to that 1015 lbs. barbell, chalked up our palms, grasped hold of that iron bar, took a few deep breaths, and strained with all our might, even if we ate spinach for a week straight, it is highly probable that none of us would be able to budge it the slightest bit. Ok. Fine. We stand up, look around to see who is watching, swing our arms around, hop up and down, slap our face a few times, chalk up again and heave till the veins are popping out of our beat red forehead. At that moment, we would be forced to admit to God, ourselves, and to everyone else that there is no way we can lift that weight. Imagine picking up the entire weight of sin of the entire human race for all time past, present and future. No human being can do this. Even if every human being for all time lined up shoulder to shoulder, chalked up and heaved one enormous barbell with the full weight of all our sins, we collectively would not be able to budge it. Think of this the next you are at Mass and you say or chant, “Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, Miserere nobis” or “Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.”
131 The Fraction Rite
While the Lamb of God (Agnus Dei) is said or sung, the priest breaks the host in half. This rite symbolizes the action of breaking the bread that our Lord took both when he multiplied the loaves and at the last supper. Recall the two disciples who met up with a man on the road to Emmaus after our Lord had been crucified. They were disheartened and walking away from Jerusalem when they met up with the Lord, but were prevented from recognizing him. It was only that evening when he broke bread with them that their eyes were opened and they perceived that this was the Lord (Luke 24:13-33). In the Acts of the Apostles it says, “And they devoted themselves to the apostles teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” (2:42). St. Paul says, “The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” (1 Corinthians 10:16-17). There is powerful symbolism in the harvesting and gathering of many grains of wheat, which will then become the one bread, that will then be blessed, broken and given back to the many so that they may become one body in Christ. This action of breaking the bread immediately refers the entire sacrifice to its final end, which is to make us all one in Christ. The seed that has died and been buried in the ground is now sprouting new life. The death and resurrection of our Lord is culminating in a life giving Holy Communion.
132 The Fraction Rite 2
When the priest breaks the host in half during the Agnus Dei the rubrics instruct him to place a small piece of the host into the chalice. While he does this he is to say a quiet prayer, “May this mingling of the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ bring eternal life to us who receive it.” Eternal life. That is what we are all longing for, isn’t it? We who “dwell in the shadow of death” (Luke 1:79), have been thrown a great life preserver from heaven. We who deserve death as a result of our sins have been spared. The separate consecration of the body and blood of our Lord is symbolic of his death for our sins. However, this quiet hidden ritual of placing a piece of the host into the chalice is bringing the body and blood back together again. This reunion of the body and blood is a symbol of the resurrection of our Lord, and of his “living and glorious body” (General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 83). We want eternal life. After we die, we want to be given back a living and glorious body. This is a fundamental reason why we come to Mass. We want eternal life for ourselves and for as many of our brothers and sisters as possible.
133 Behold the Lamb of God
Behold! This is perhaps a funny sounding word. When is the last time you said that word in ordinary speech? It is a special word that contains an imperative, command, or at least a strong exhortation within it. Webster’s Dictionary says that it has an intensive force that urges one to hold and keep their eyes fixed on something. It is a powerful word. When we hear the word, “Behold,” there is a sense of extreme importance that commands our full attention. Only something truly awesome, something of magnitude and utmost consequence is worthy to behold. A trivial thing would never warrant this singular word. With this in mind, it is utterly fitting that this word is used to draw and fix our eyes on the Lamb of God. Indeed, it is the word that John the Baptist used when he directed our attention to the Lord on the bank of the Jordan River, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” When we hear this word, “Behold,” it is a plea to summon all of our powers of perception to realize in our hearts and minds the full reality of what we are beholding with our eyes.
134 The Lamb’s Supper
“Happy are those who are called to the supper of the Lamb!” This is the new translation of the final words of the priest as he elevates the host and the chalice for all to behold. Our Lord is the bridegroom of the Church, and we make present again in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass the most romantic thing that any bridegroom could do for his bride, lay his life down for her. Then, after dying for his bride, he goes to prepare a place for her, “In my Father’s house are many rooms… and when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you also may be” (John 14:1-3). It was common for a Jewish man to go to his Father’s house and build an addition off of it to settle his new bride in. With that cultural context, our Lord is preparing our dwelling, and when he comes for us, there will be a huge wedding celebration in heaven, “for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready… Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb” (Revelation 19:7-9).
135 The Centurion’s Words
The new translation of the Mass has changed our response when the Body and Blood are elevated and the priest says “Behold, the Lamb of God…” Previously we said, “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed.” Now we say, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should come under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.” This is a much closer rendering of the Latin, which makes the connection much more explicit with the words of the Roman Centurion to our Lord. His servant is ill, and he asks our Lord to heal him. When our Lord indicates that he will come to his house, the Centurion stops him and says those beautiful words that touched the heart of our Lord. The Sacred Scriptures tell us, “When Jesus heard him, he marveled, and said to those who followed him, ‘Truly, I say to you, not even in Israel have I found such faith… Go; be it done for you as you have believed’ And the servant was healed at that very moment” (Matthew 8:5-13). When we say these powerful words in the Mass, we can put ourselves in the place of the Centurion, whose faith so pleased the Lord. We humble ourselves and express great confidence in the Lord’s authority and power to heal.
136 Receiving Holy Communion
After one has, “examined himself at depth” (Instruction on the Eucharist, Redemptionis Sacramentum, 81; cf. 1 Corinthians 11:28), if one is not conscious of grave sin, they are then permitted to receive Holy Communion at the proper time. There is an important final gesture made before receiving Holy Communion under either species, and that is the bow. This is a gesture set forth for the faithful in #160 of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal. It is best if this bow at the waist be done while the person in front of you is receiving Holy Communion so as not to disrupt the flow of the Communion line. When receiving on the hand, it is important that the faithful place one hand under the other to make a level and fitting throne for our Lord. It is helpful if they elevate their hands so that the minister does not have to reach out or bend over to place the host in their hands. They are to receive the host and never take it out of the minister’s hand. If receiving on the tongue, the faithful should tilt their head back slightly, stick their tongue out in a level fashion, and hold still while the host is placed by the minister. Before receiving they should respond with a clear “Amen” to the declaration of the minister, “The Body of Christ”. In saying “Amen”, we are affirming an amazing miraculous fact, that what appears to our senses to be a mere piece of bread and cup of wine, is now the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, He through whom all things were created, the Son of God, the Savior of the world, and my Lord. After receiving the host in the hand the faithful should consume it immediately so that the minister is assured that no one walks away with the host in their hand. This happens from time to time, so it is important that the minister sees you place the host in your mouth.
137 Receiving Holy Communion 2
When we receive Holy Communion we are in union with God. That is what Communion literally means, ‘union with’. Union with God is the goal of the spiritual life. This is far superior to some sort of nirvana or absorption into “The All”. We are not annihilated in our personal identity in this Holy Communion, but fully realized. We are most completely ourselves when united with God. This Communion does not diminish our personhood, but affirms it. The union of love between persons is greater than a union that collapses all identity and uniqueness into one. God wishes to dwell in all of us, but in a union of personal love that lets us be who we are as he made us. God delights to see us become more fully ourselves. According to the famous words of St. Irenaeus, from the 3rd century, “the glory of God is man fully alive” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 294). The union with God we lost in the beginning, we are striving to regain. Receiving the Eucharist on earth is the merest foretaste of the ultimate Holy Communion we will experience in heaven with our Creator when, “God may be all in all” (1 Corinthians 15:28).
138 Receiving Holy Communion 3
After you have received Holy Communion and are back in your pew, rest in the awareness that for a few minutes you are a living tabernacle containing the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of our Saving God. It is unimaginable how the Almighty God, in his great mercy, has humbled himself to take this lowly form. There can be no explanation other than the Lord’s love for us. Know and experience that love as you rest there for a few moments. Let the love of God wash over you and seep down into the depths of your soul. You have received the living God, so just remain in a receptive mode. This is a powerful form of prayer, simple receptivity to God. Let God in. Open your heart as much as you possibly can. Consciously and deliberately remain in this state of total receptivity. The entire Mass up to this point has prepared you for this moment. When you have celebrated the Mass well, oftentimes you will know because you wish to remain in this state. Suddenly you hear a voice summoning you to stand a pray. It is the voice of the priest. You stand for the concluding prayer with a heart full of gratitude and love for God.
139 Closing Prayer
After having communed with the Lord in such a real and powerful way in receiving his Eucharistic presence, we will be summoned once again by the words of the priest, “Let us pray.” The pronoun here is important, us. Notice that he is using the first person plural. The priest speaks on behalf of the congregation in addressing these words to Almighty God. However, everyone is invited to pray through and with him in his prayer. This is indicated quite explicitly when the people respond, “Amen.” In saying this Hebrew word at the conclusion of the prayer they are in fact making this prayer their own. This pattern occurs throughout the Mass, and it is very important that we mean what we say. We ought to celebrate the Mass consciously and deliberately. When we say “Amen,” we ought to know exactly what we are signifying by this response, and we ought to quite simply mean what we say. This goes for all the responses, acclamations, songs, and chants throughout the entire Mass. Amen is a powerful word. It is a word that we say often in the Mass, but it must never be said lightly. When we say “Amen,” we are putting ourselves behind something. We are saying “I stand by what has been said with the entirety of my being
140 Leaving Holy Mass Prematurely
Folks can very easily fall into the bad habit of leaving Holy Mass early. It is one thing if this happens occasionally with a valid reason, but when it becomes habitual that is not good. This problem in the Church has been around since the beginning. Judas left early at the first Mass. There is a famous story of a priest who became so annoyed with one man who walked out of the church immediately after having received Holy Communion, that the priest instructed two altar servers to accompany the man to the parking lot with candles on either side. The man complained to the priest who responded that this was a fitting measure considering the fact that Christ was present in the man Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity. This action by the priest achieved the desired effect, and the man stopped leaving prematurely. There are some important things remaining after having received Holy Communion. After a short period of communing with the Lord in meditation, the priest says the closing prayer. There are oftentimes announcements, which although sometimes repetitive and somewhat tedious, are important in communicating information which helps build and support the community of the parish. Then there is the final blessing, the clergy kiss the altar again, and the final song and recession. To leave before these elements unnecessarily and habitually is rude and disrespectful on many levels. It injures the faith of the individual and that of the community. It displays a lack of charity and proper formation in the Faith.
141 Spending time in and around the Church after Mass
The folks who bolt for the door after having just received Holy Communion are now long gone, and those who remained have participated in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass all the way to its natural conclusion. At this point many will head straight for the door, but something can be lost here if this becomes a habit. There are still things that can be done, experienced, participated in. It is an admirable practice to remain in one’s pew for another minute or two and say a prayer of thanksgiving. Some may want to visit one of the statues, light a candle and say a prayer. Others may want to fill their holy water bottle or make an offering in the poor box. It is important to get into the habit of picking up a bulletin and scanning the shelves and bulletin boards for anything useful. There may be sign-up sheets for volunteers, or some other fundraising or information table to visit. Then there are of course other parishioners milling around inside and outside to visit with a bit. Many folks like to visit the grave of a loved one after Mass. What is the big rush? That extra 15 minutes or so allows the parking lot to clear out a little and allows some time to really enjoy the church and the community. We rush all week. Sunday is the Lord’s Day. Rest and relax in God’s house a little extra and you may find that you grow to enjoy coming to Holy Mass much more.
142 Greeting the Priest
Greeting the priest outside the church is a very good habit to get into if at all possible. Most priests get a real charge out of seeing their parishioners. It is a good connection with the parish for the priest and the people. In doing so it is important to bear in mind that this is not the ideal place to conduct business. Oftentimes people will stand in front of a priest and attempt to schedule something or ask some substantive question when there is a steady flow of folks coming out of Mass who would like to greet the priest. Priests are usually in somewhat of a harried state, and it is probably best to call the rectory or seek out the priest some other time for anything more than a greeting and some simple small talk. Sometimes folks might be upset at the priest, or about something in the parish, however, discretion is important here. There are many folks around usually and this is typically not the best time or place to bring substantive things up. Once in a while it might be good to give a battery charge to the priest regarding his homily or to the music ministers, choir members, altar servers, lectors or whoever. It is good for folks to hear some encouragement or appreciation sometimes, particularly when they are volunteering their time and effort to serve the community.
143 Take responsibility for the church
The more we grow into a local church, the more it grows inside of us. We begin to bond with this sacred place. Our prayer is soaked into the walls. It becomes a very personal attachment. This naturally overflows into a desire to care for it. When the people in the community drive by our church they can tell if it is well maintained and cared for. This is a witness to everyone. It is an extension of our faith. There are many ways that we can all participate in caring for our church and grounds. It begins with simple habits like making sure the pew is clean when we leave it. Too often people leave used tissues, children’s snacks, etc. in the pew. Putting the kneelers up, and making sure the missalettes and/or hymnals are put back neatly is important. Many parishes have volunteers organized to clean the church. Sometimes there might be parish clean up days, or other appeals for volunteers to perform some task in and around the church. There might be a facilities committee, cemetery society, sanctuary society, or some other organization in the church involved in maintenance, upkeep and preservation. There might be special collections which address many of these concerns. We can help the pastor and the maintenance staff or committee by sharing any concerns we may have. Making sure the church is secure and that doors are locked where and when they are supposed to be. Keeping an eye out for trespassers or suspicious behavior is a responsibility we all must share together. Recall the words of scripture that were applied to our Lord when people saw his devotion for his Father’s House, “Zeal for thy house will consume me” (Psalm 69:9; John 2:17).
144 Preserve the Grace
At the conclusion of Holy Mass we are in a different place. If we have participated whole heartedly we are even a bit tired. Liturgy, you may recall from previous reflections, is literally a type of public work. We have performed the ‘work’ of worship, and the slight tiredness can be a sweet feeling. We ought to savor and relish this feeling of satisfaction for having fulfilled our obligation as the creature made in the image and likeness of God, who represents all of creation as its spokesperson in worshiping our Creator. We have praised and honored the God of the universe, soaked in his word, communed with him in the Eucharist, been strengthened by the community of believers. This is good for our body and soul. Grace has been poured into our hearts. We ought to preserve this grace as long as we can. According to a great Doctor of the Church, St. Francis De Sales, after spending time in prayer, “Preserve as long as you can the feelings and affections you have conceived” (Introduction to the Devout Life, 2, 8). He uses the image of a man who has been given a precious liquid in a porcelain vase to carry home carefully. He does his best not to spill it carelessly. St. Francis realizes that folks must adapt to situations that immediately arise, perhaps before they can even leave the parking lot, but they can still return in their hearts later to the graces they received, or to the sense of God’s presence, or to whatever insights, feelings or affections they had when they left the church. Even over the course of the next couple days, as they transition from the Lord’s Day back to their work and the duties of their state in life, they can continue to benefit from these graces if they are carefully preserved.
145 Maintain Your Spiritual Life
The grace we receive at Mass ought to strengthen our spiritual life during the week, and in turn our spiritual life ought to flow back into our participation at Holy Mass. Worshiping God publically on the Lord’s Day is the great upsurge in the rhythm of our weekly spiritual life, but notice that I keep repeating the fact that it must come from and return to a spiritual life. To be a practicing Catholic is far more than showing up at Mass to fulfill our obligation, but living a life in the spirit. This means having a daily plan of life that incorporates prayer and formation in our faith. Here is what the barest framework of a spiritual plan of life ought to look like for a practicing Catholic. It begins each day with a morning offering. This can be an actual prayer that is formulated as a morning offering taken from a prayer book, or it can be simply the Our Father. It is very important that we begin each day from the first waking moment by turning to our Creator. Next, we say grace before each meal, and then end the day with an examination of conscience, act of contrition, some intercessory prayers and a Hail Mary. Now we have a structure. If we are faithful to this we are praying at least 5 times every day! The person who prays at the same time every day, prays every day. These are important check points spread out over the course of an ordinary day that can very easily be built right into our daily routine. Now, we can add things to the structure in many and varied ways, but here are a few simple suggestions. We can pray the rosary on the way to or from school or work, or simply turn off the radio for a certain amount of time and be in the presence of God. We can read a little bit of the Sacred Scriptures each day, or a Catholic book of daily meditations and prayers (e.g., the Magnificat publication), or another spiritual book. We can listen to Catholic tapes or CD’s while driving or exercising. We can periodically watch TV programming on EWTN. We can bookmark Catholic websites. It is important to surround ourselves with holy images, particularly of the Blessed Mother, and the crucifix. We can form the habit of quick glances to heaven, as one of the Doctors of the Church once said, “For me, prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned towards heaven, it is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy” (St. Theresa of Lisieux, Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2558). Ultimately, the spiritual life is about a friendship with the Lord. We must grow and develop this friendship each day, and as we do so we will see our participation at Holy Mass grow as well.
146 Remote Preparations for Mass
Somewhere in the middle of the week our mind begins turning increasingly towards the weekend. Our plans begin to take shape as the week progresses. The highest priority to our weekend plans ought to be our public worship of Almighty God on the Lord’s Day. With this bedrock conviction secure in our hearts and minds there is no struggle, no waffling or compromising. To us it should be a non-negotiable commitment. Kid’s sports, house or yard projects, events and activities of all kinds must bow to the sovereignty of Sunday Mass. With this attitude we immediately factor our participation in Sunday Mass into our weekend plans. We begin to prepare our hearts for worship as it draws closer by working to regain our spiritual focus to the extent that the weeks work and activity has diminished it. In the rhythm of our weekly lives there is a natural spiritual ebb and flow. The graces from last Sunday may be somewhat depleted and we become aware of a growing thirst in our soul for more “Like a parched land, my soul thirsts for you O God” (Psalm 143:6). We recognize our need for the encouragement we receive from the priest, ministers, and the whole community of the faithful to stay strong in our faith in a world that is constantly working to undermine it. We look forward to the next installment of the word of God to enlighten our mind and heart. Looking at the upcoming Sunday readings in advance is a marvelous spiritual discipline that will exponentially increase the benefit we can derive from the liturgy of the word. This can easily be done through various websites, including those of the USCCB or EWTN. However, above all, we long for union with Our Lord in the most holy sacrament of the Eucharist. The primary purpose of our attending Mass is to give the worship of the divine majesty, but we also receive so much from God and from his holy Church. The quality of the worship we give and the grace we receive at Sunday Mass will depend in large part on our preparation.
You may not have long hair and a beard, or wear camel skin and sandals, or walk around with a staff preaching in the streets, but that does not mean that you are not a prophet. When you were baptized, you were given a share in the threefold offices of Christ: priest, prophet and king. A prophet is literally someone who speaks on behalf of another. You speak by your words and also by your actions. Faithfully attending Mass is a prophetic act. In doing so you are evangelizing, “Lay people also fulfill their prophetic mission by evangelization, that is, the proclamation of Christ by word and the testimony of life” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 905). When we practice our faith consistently, people in our extended family notice, folks in our neighborhood or at work notice, our friends or our children’s friends notice, etc. It is a witness to others. The Lord uses our witness. His grace moves in the people around us who are given a moment of pause when they see our example. It is not a matter of being ‘holier than thou’. We always remind ourselves that the Lord came to call sinners. However, he also said, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden… Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16).
148 Mary, Mother of Divine Love
Love is greater than prophecy and knowledge, and it never ends (cf. 1 Corinthians 13). The highest purpose of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is plain and simple, love. Our Lord told us that the supreme act of love is to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. This is precisely what Holy Mass makes present when we celebrate the love of Christ in sacrificing himself for us. At Mass we are drawn into and participate in this infinite act of love, which accomplished the redemption of the entire human race. At Mass our eternal destiny is revealed. Heaven will be a state of love that eye has not seen and ear has not heard (1 Corinthians 2:9). When the darkness of sin is entirely removed from our hearts, and our vision is made completely pure, we will see our Creator and all of creation in the clear light of truth, and we will be filled to overflowing with love. The Blessed Mother was filled with love from the first moment of her existence. Amongst God’s creatures she knows above all that our eternal destiny is found in love, where God, who is love, will be all in all (cf. 1 John 4:8; 1 Corinthians 15:28). When we come to Mass, Mary is there to celebrate love with us. She prays for us that we might be filled with love as she is. She wants nothing more than to draw us towards love. Our efforts to understand, live, and proclaim to others our Catholic Faith, through our words and the testimony of our life, will bear no fruit if it does not come from love (cf. 1 Corinthians 13). Mary, Mother of Divine Love, pray for us.
149 Mary, Cause of Our Joy
Imagine for a moment that you are sinking into a bog of quicksand. You are sinking, sinking, down, down… and now you are up to your neck. You tilt your head back as far as you can to keep breathing as you scream for help. Suddenly a strong hand grabs hold of your flailing arm. Something to hold onto! You have leverage to fight for your survival in this desperate situation. You finally make it out and lie panting on solid ground. You immediately begin looking around to see who your rescuer is as a wave of joy sweeps over you. Our Lord rescued the human race out of an impossible situation as they sank in the bog of sin and death. This rescue came through a Savior who was sent into this world as one like us in all ways but sin. However, the gateway into this world for one like us is the womb of a woman. Mary cooperates with the divine rescue plan. She provides us the Savior. She is rightly called the Cause of Our Joy in the Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary. When we come to Mass, we are celebrating the success of this rescue mission. The mother who would provide the world with a Savior would be truly blessed as she herself says, “For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed” (Luke 1:48). The Blessed Mother is there with us at each and every Mass joining in the celebration, “my spirit rejoices in God my Savior” (Luke 1:47). Holy Mary, Mother of our Savior and Cause of Our Joy, pray for us.
150 Our Lady Queen of Peace
It is fitting that we conclude our 150 Meditations on the Mass with a reflection on Our Lady Queen of Peace. This is my favorite title of the Blessed Mother. It summarizes for me the end and purpose of the Mass, and indeed the whole history of salvation, to restore peace. Mary, as God’s chosen instrument to bring the Prince of Peace into the world, desires this peace more than anything. She above all knows that this is a peace that the world cannot give (cf. John 14:27). She is the Queen of this Peace. It is this peace that our heart longs for. Only when we possess the Ultimate Good, God Himself, will we ever find this peace. Mary was filled with God from the moment of her existence. She will teach us and lead us deeper into the mystery y of the Blessed Trinity if we let her. The Catechism of the Catholic Church declares, “The ultimate end of the whole divine economy is the entry of God’s creatures into the perfect unity of the Blessed Trinity” (260). Let us close with a quotation of Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity drawn from that same paragraph of the Catechism, “O my God, Trinity whom I adore, help me forget myself entirely so to establish myself in you, unmovable and peaceful as if my soul were already in eternity. May nothing be able to trouble my peace or make me leave you, O my unchanging God, but may each minute bring me more deeply into your mystery! Grant my soul peace.” Our Lady Queen of Peace, pray for us.