Saturday, January 28, 2023

Reflections on the Mass: The Greeting

Mass begins with the Introductory Rite of Greeting. The priest makes the Sign of the Cross: “In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” We all respond with a firm “Amen.” Here we enter again, even more formally, into the presence of the Blessed Trinity, and we recognize that the entire Mass is an act of worship to God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

In fact, the Mass is the highest act of worship and prayer. It is the liturgical rite that God has given to us so that He may be worshiped in the way He has commanded. We give ourselves to Him. He gives Himself to us, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. This is His will for us.

We often hear people claiming that they can pray and worship anywhere and that they do not need to go to church to do so. This is false. Yes, we can and should pray and worship anywhere. But God has given us the Mass as His preferred means of worship. And there can be no greater intimacy with God this side of Heaven than in the Mass, for it is only in the Mass that we participate in Jesus' sacrifice made present on the altar in a unbloody manner.

No, we do not re-sacrifice Jesus again and again as some Protestants claim. That is false, too. Jesus' sacrifice now stands outside of time, and therefore, it remains accessible to us through the liturgy that God has given that we might participate in the sacrifice and have it merits applied to ourselves every day if we so choose.

Further, it is only in the Mass (and because of the Mass) that we receive Jesus in the way He most desires to come to us. At the Last Supper, Jesus first gave Himself to His disciples, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. He continues to give Himself to us in that same intensity every time we receive Him in the Eucharist. It is only in the Mass that Jesus becomes really and truly present in the Eucharist. The bread and wine are truly His Body and Blood in substance. We will not experience the same intimacy with our Lord by praying out in the woods some place or even by watching Mass on television. God calls us to worship as part of His Church and to receive Him in the way He knows that we need.

Next, the priest greets us with either “The Lord be with you” or “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” or “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” This is a heartfelt greeting that urges us to enter into the intimacy of the Mass. We remember that God is with us. In fact, in the Mass, Heaven touches earth in a very special way. We are called to open our hearts and our minds and our souls to God's grace and love. We are urged to enter into communion with God right now at the beginning of Mass so that we will be ready to receive Him in the Eucharist.

We respond to the priest's greeting with a heartfelt “And with your spirit.” At this point, we should say a little prayer for the priest as he acts in persona Christi and as Christ acts in and through him throughout the Mass.

Saturday, January 21, 2023

Reflections on the Mass: Entrance

As Mass begins, we rise for the entrance procession. While this might seem like merely a way of getting the priest into church, there is certainly more to it. The entrance represents the arrival into the sacred space. It is a formal way of approaching God in worship and bringing our hearts and minds into the Heaven-on-earth moment that is the Mass. We might even call it a mini-pilgrimage of sorts that we watch but also participate in symbolically as the servers, deacon, and priest journey toward the altar.

We rise in reverence as the procession takes place. At many Masses, a server will carry the crucifix, reminding us of Christ's sacrifice that is about to be re-presented in an unbloody manner during the Mass. Other servers may be carrying candles as a reminder of the light of Christ that is to enter into us and, through us, to enlighten the world. Incense may be used as well as a sign of our prayers rising up to God. The deacon or lector may carry an ornate book of the Gospels, God's Word, to be read during the Mass.

As we watch the entrance procession, participating in our hearts, we may sing a hymn that helps us enter into worship. Otherwise, the priest may read an entrance antiphon that focuses our attention on the feast day or a theme from the readings.

When the priest and deacon reach the sanctuary, they genuflect in the presence of our King. They then enter the sanctuary, which is usually set off by a few steps to emphasize its exalted place. After all, Christ is present in the tabernacle. The priest and deacon then kiss the altar, which is a symbol of Jesus. The altar may also contain relics of a saint to be recognized and venerated (not worshiped). Finally, the kiss symbolizes the union between Christ and His Bride, the Church. It is a sign of love that the priest and deacon offer on behalf of all of us.

Saturday, January 14, 2023

Reflections on the Mass: Preparations

The Second Vatican Council called the Eucharist, which stands at the heart of Holy Mass, the “source and summit” of our Christian faith and life, for in the Eucharist, we receive Jesus, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. Over the next few weeks and perhaps even months, we will reflect on the Mass, digging deeply into its words and actions so that we can experience it with greater reverence and love.

Before Mass, we have the obligation to prepare ourselves to pray devoutly and meet Jesus in the Eucharist. This means going to Confession if we are conscious of a mortal sin, but there is actually quite a bit more to full preparation.

If possible, we should read and meditate on the day's Scripture readings so that we hear them with greater attention when they are read at Mass. This early reading opens our hearts and minds to what God is saying to us in His Word. Then as we listen, we will be more likely to catch what He wants to tell us, and indeed, certain words, phrases, or ideas often jump out that can lead to further meditation later on.

We should always make an effort to arrive at church at least fifteen minutes early. This provides a chance for prayer so that we can transition ourselves out of worldly concerns and into the reverent, sacred atmosphere of the Mass. Our prayer might take the form of offering ourselves to God, leaving our worries at His feet, asking for special blessings, requesting His grace to experience the Mass with a deep gratitude and to receive the Eucharist worthily, and whatever else helps us get our minds and hearts ready to encounter God in the Mass.

As we enter into church, we should make the Sign of the Cross with holy water. This provides us with a visual symbol of our entry into a sacred space. It also reminds us of our Baptism when we entered into God's covenant family and received His indwelling presence in our souls. We might take a moment to renew our Baptismal promises. The Sign of the Cross itself allows us to inscribe ourselves with the Cross, reminding us to unite our sufferings with Christ, and to invoke the Blessed Trinity so that everything we think, say, and do may be pleasing to God and blessed by Him.

Before entering the pew, we genuflect (or bow deeply if genuflecting isn't possible). We are coming into the presence of the King of the Universe Who is in the Tabernacle at this very moment. We must recognize His presence and honor Him with our bodies and our minds.

A note about reverence... The sacred space of the church is not the place to have a friendly chat. That should always be reserved for the gathering area. Within the nave (where the congregation sits), there should be a reverent silence before Mass so that people can pray. Chatting out loud or even in continual whispers is not in keeping with reverence, and it is disrespectful to people trying to pray.

We should devote these precious minutes before Mass to prayer and meditation so that when the liturgy begins we are ready to enter into it fully and worship deeply.

Saturday, January 7, 2023

Gospel Acclamation: The Epiphany of the Lord

We saw His star at its rising and have come to do Him homage.

The magi were pagans, not Jews. They did not have the benefit of the Scriptures with all their prophecies of the Messiah to come. They did not live in Israel and were not immersed in the culture or the religion or the hopes of salvation.

But the magi were more observant and more enthusiastic than the Jews. They knew from some obscure prophecy or message down the line, perhaps from Daniel or other Jews during the Babylonian exile, that a King was coming. They had been watching for the sign of His arrival for many years, perhaps even many decades or many centuries. And when they saw that sign, they recognized it and immediately set out to find the King Who had now come. They did not hesitate. They did not wait. They knew that something remarkable had happened, and while they did not fully understand it, they longed to participate in it. So they followed the star all the way to Jesus.

Do we have the observant and enthusiastic attitude of the magi? To we watch and wait eagerly for what God has to show us? Do we respond at once with joy, willing to set out on a long journey of whatever sort to do His will and find what He has in store for us? Are we like the magi?

Saturday, December 31, 2022

Gospel Acclamation: Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God

In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets; in these last days, He has spoken to us through the Son.

Today's Gospel acclamation emphasizes the amazing new thing God has done in these “last days.” God has always spoken to His people. He sent messages through the prophets. He inspired Scripture. He guided Moses and David and the Maccabees. He manifested His will in many different ways.

Yet all of this was building toward a climax. Every message was preparing the way for something brand new, something never before seen or heard or experienced. Every word God spoke to His people was, in some way, getting them ready for the coming of His Word, His only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ.

Today as we mark the beginning a new year, we should take the time to reflect on how we will let God's Word speak to us anew each day by opening our minds and hearts to our encounters with our Lord in the sacraments and in Scripture, in the depths of our conscience and in other people. These may seem like many and varied ways, but in reality, they are all interactions with God's Word, come to us as Jesus Christ, God incarnate.

Saturday, December 24, 2022

Gospel Acclamation: Christmas

A holy day has dawned upon us. Come, you nations, and adore the Lord. For today a great light has come upon the earth.

On this Christmas, take some time out for quiet worship that you may bask in the great light that has come upon the earth. Let the light of Christ fill your mind, your heart, your soul, and your whole being. Step back from the busyness of the holiday to adore Him. Place yourself in an attitude of awe and wonder before the Baby in the manger, for indeed a holy day has dawned upon us.

Saturday, December 17, 2022

Gospel Acclamation: Fourth Sunday of Advent

The virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel.

These words come from Isaiah 7:14 but are applied directly to Jesus in Matthew 1:23. Isaiah meant the words as a prophetic sign, and of course, those prophetic signs operate on many different levels, most of which are not evident to the prophet and his contemporaries. Isaiah likely never imaged how his words would ultimately be fulfilled by God incarnate, coming among us Himself to save us from our sins and open the way to Heaven.

Jesus is truly Emmanuel, God-with-us. The Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, the only-begotten Son of the Father, has become a human being, a tiny baby, in fact, born of the Blessed Virgin Mary. He has laid aside His glory to embrace suffering. He has become poor that we might become rich. Out of His infinite love, He has given Himself up for our salvation. He entered into our human condition in everything except sin so that He could make us God's beloved children, people of the New Covenant, and temples of the living God.