Monday, September 22, 2014


In his Modern Catholic Dictionary, Fr. John Hardon defines reverence as “The virtue that inclines a person to show honor and respect for persons who possess some dignity.” He identifies four types of reverence: 1. toward parents; 2. toward civil authorities; 3. toward the Pope, bishops, priests, and others who serve the Church; and 4. toward “any person, place, or object related to God.” The highest reverence, of course, that goes beyond all others is the reverence we owe to God Himself.

In this reflection, I'd like to concentration on Fr. Hardon's forth type of reverence, that religious reverence toward “any person, place, or object related to God,” as well as on the reverence we owe to God Himself. I've been noticing something lately that disturbs me very much. Many Catholics seem to have lost their reverence or at the very least have severely diminished it, and they are developing the tendency to treat the Church's sanctuary as just any old place and the Mass as just any old gathering. 

I apologize ahead of time if this reflection turns into a bit of a rant, but Catholics need to regain their reverence for God and for the things of God, and that includes the sanctuary, the Mass, and especially the Eucharist. 

Let's look at a few examples. Many Catholics have developed the bad habit of entering the sanctuary before Mass, praying for a few moments, and then sitting back and entering into conversation with their neighbors. This behavior shows a decided lack of reverence for a holy space, the sanctuary, and a lack of respect for other people. 

When we enter the sanctuary, we are coming into the Eucharistic presence of Jesus Christ. Jesus is present in the tabernacle Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. Therefore, our time in the sanctuary before Mass is to be used in quiet, reverent prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. It is not a time to catch up on the latest news or plan activities for later. Anyone who wants to chat instead of pray should leave the sanctuary and go out into the narthex to avoid disturbing those who do wish to pray quietly. 

Along with sitting in prayerful quiet before Mass, Catholics can show their reverence for the Eucharistic Jesus by greeting Him as they enter the sanctuary. This greeting can take the form of a mindful sign of the cross with holy water upon coming in and a pause to genuflect or bow upon entering the pew. We Catholics need to remember why we do these things. They shouldn't be merely unthinking routine. We make the sign of the cross with holy water to remember our baptism and to recall that we are saved by and united with Jesus Christ Who died for us on the cross. We genuflect as a sign of our belief in and reverence for Jesus, present in the Eucharist. 

When Mass begins, everyone present should strive to be fully attentive and to fully participate. Yes, distractions creep in for all of us. That's very human and very unavoidable, but we must do the best we can to stay focused on the Mass and to pray and worship with our minds and our hearts. Mass should be the high point of the whole week because in the Mass, we offer God the highest possible worship and praise and, what's more, we receive Jesus, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity, in the Eucharist. 

When we receive Communion, therefore, we must recognize Whom we are receiving and do so with the greatest possible reverence. We bow in worship before receiving Jesus, and we say a firm “Amen.” The key here is mindfulness. We are not consuming just little piece of bread or a little drink of wine. We are consuming the King of the Universe Who has stooped down to make Himself our food and drink that we may enter into the most intimate relationship with Him this side of Heaven. This is not something we do lightly and without thinking. 

After receiving Jesus, we should return to our pews for a time of thanksgiving and prayer. Jesus is present within our very bodies at this moment. Now is the time to speak with Him in a special way.

I'd also like to made a note here about proper, reverent attire for Mass. Many Catholics, especially in the summer, show up to Mass looking like they are going to the beach or camping or to a sporting event and often showing far too much skin. Clothing for Mass doesn't have to be fancy or expensive, but it should be neat, clean, and modest. The key word here is modest. Women should pay attention to hemlines and necklines. Short skirts, short shorts, ripped jeans, tank tops, low cut blouses, and anything that is too tight or that reveals too much on the top, in the middle, or on the bottom does not belong at Mass. Men, too, need to consider their appearance and avoid unsuitable clothing that reveals too much. We are at Mass to worship the King of Kings not attract attention to ourselves.

I began this reflection by commenting that many Catholics seem to have lost their reverence or at the very least have severely diminished it and that they are developing the tendency to treat the Church's sanctuary as just any old place and the Mass as just any old gathering. Now is the time to reverse that trend. We all fall into bad habits at times, so we must make an effort to look closely at our behavior in the sanctuary before and during Mass, make changes as necessary, and present ourselves to our Lord and King with as much reverence as humanly possible.

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