“The Church's great liturgical tradition teaches us that fruitful participation in the liturgy requires that one be personally conformed to the mystery being celebrated… Otherwise, however carefully planned and executed our liturgies may be, they would risk falling into a certain ritualism. Hence the need to provide an education in eucharistic faith capable of enabling the faithful to live personally what they celebrate.” (Pope Benedict XVI, SACRAMENTUM CARITATIS, 64)

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The First Precept

Parochial Mass
“The parish is established to provide the parishioners with the helps of religion, especially with Mass. The parochial Mass is celebrated for their welfare on all Sundays and holidays of obligation, even when suppressed. The parish priest is not obliged to say it personally; but if he does not, he must offer his own Mass for that intention. Parishioners now fulfil their duty by assisting at Mass in any church; but formerly they had at least to hear a Mass in the parish church (ch. "Vices", 2, "De treuga et pace" in "Extrav. Comm." of Sixtus IV, n 1478)”. [New Advent, my emphasis]
One of the things that motivates me to blog is that our God has offered us INFINITE grace, yet we can only catch so much. And despite our finite capacity to receive grace, it is still amazing to me that the laity, and even some religious, will not place it as a priority to capture more of the grace that is offered. Often we do so little, usually out of ignorance, but sometimes out of a lack of motivation.

As astonished as I am, at the same time, I understand this problem personally. As I blog about this, I am in no position to demonstrate an example of someone capturing this grace. I’m only sounding the alarm. I’m not in fact realizing this in my own life.

I blogged earlier on Father Schnipple’s excellent article, Jesus the New Passover. I quoted this line before, but my focus was on the prefigurement of the cross. I want to now point to this final two lines of the quote, which say so much.
“Each of these lambs, by the thousands, would be carried out of the Temple
and to the homes of the people in and around Jerusalem. ‘Crucified lambs’ were
being offered for the people.”

The sacrifice was, in a sense, completed at the temple, when the High Priest partook, or consumed, the sacrifice that was, “offered for the people.” But in another sense, participation in the sacrifice was extended to the people, as the lambs were delivered to them by acolytes of the temple, from the temple altar to their home liturgical celebrations. Thanks to this insight, we can see with clarity the prefigurement of our Parochial Mass, offered, “for [the parishoners’] welfare on all Sundays…”

Mother Church, in Her wisdom, requires us to “hear” or “assist” at this mass if we are reasonably able to do so. I think the “pain of mortal sin” component is to negatively motivate us to do what we might decline to do in the positive sense, which is to participate in the perfect sacrifice that offers us a flood sanctifying grace, the Life and Love of the Trinity, and makes reconciliation with God the Father possible, for ourselves and for the whole world. Who in their right mind would fail to take part in that? No names now, that was rhetorical.

Those of us not called as priests have to realize that though our participation may not be essential for the sacrifice, it is essential for us and for those whom, for any reason, are not there. Not just to be in good standing, but to be true disciples. Do we realize this?

The human soul has a great capacity to compartmentalize our knowledge, and thus deprive our will from the realization of this great gift. Without that motivation, all too often take the Woody Allen approach of just showing up. We can also alter what the motivation should be, and as a result, we end up at mass to see our friends, sing familiar, catchy tunes, and leave with the warm and fuzzy that we’ve done our duty. This mass, if it’s all it’s cracked-up to be, should be something more than this. Shouldn’t it be?

Well, it’s your lucky day. I’ve spent countless minutes researching the best methods to improved participation at the mass, and I’m going to deliver to you that results of that thorough investigation. Let’s play Twenty Questions. Just take the following survey, and take note of any questions you answer in the negative:

· Do we often study ahead of time, even during the week before, the readings, Introit, Collect, Preface, Communion Antiphon, and Closing so as to more perfectly join in the prayers and mysteries during mass?

· Are we striving for proper etiquette and decorum while present in the nave?

· Do we bring our mass intentions with us, confident of Divine Assistance?

· Are we spending time in meditation, realizing His Real Presence in the tabernacle?

· Do we watch Father’s approach to the altar, aware that it is only he who can “dwell in thy tabernacle” or “rest on thy holy hill” with the rod of God in his hand?

· Are we praying or singing the Ordinaries and responses with conviction?

· Do we often listen carefully to God’s Word and the Homily, open to His voice?

· Do we recall our Mass intention during the Collect and the Offertory, so as to place them properly in the context of the Mass?

· Are we offering ourselves along with the gifts at the Offertory, not allowing the envelopes and sing-a-longs to become a distraction?

· Do we joyfully await His appearance on the altar?

· Are we following the spirit of the Eucharistic prayer, from the Sursum Corda through the Final Doxology? Not hanging on every word, but offering prayers for the Church, for the living, for communion with the saints, for the acceptance and blessing of the offering, for the etc., at the appropriate time?

· Is He adored by us when He arrives on the altar?
· How often do we humble ourselves, convicted in our sinfulness and in awe of His majesty and mercy, as we await communion?

· Is there fervor in our approach to receive?

· If we receive, do we praise Him and express our thanks?

· If we don’t receive, do we make a spiritual communion?

· As we kneel after communion, do we ask Him for a virtue to combat our sinfulness?

· Do we receive, with joyful gratitude, the final blessing?

· Are we taking our time leaving, making sure our Lord is consoled by our appreciation for His presence and sacrifice?

· Do we reflect on the mass in the hours and days afterward to better embody the gift we’ve been given.

So, how’d you do? Give yourself a point for each positive answer and see how you rate:

0 – Menace to Society – Please read Rev 13:5-8 and see if you qualify.
1-2 – Poser – But a strong candidate for a diocesan or parish staff position.
3-4 – CafeCat – I’m surprised you took the test. The picture of Jesus didn’t scare you away?
5-6 – Progressive – “We have been sung throughout all of hist'ry…”
7-9 - Fair Weather – I’d recommend starting a blog and pretending to know something about your faith.
10-11 – Average – Good job! This still would have been an F back in school.
12-13 - RadTrad – Please stop scowling every time we sing that fun, Gnostic hymn.
14-16 – Showoff – Your piety annoys us. Thanks for making the rest of us look bad!
17-19 – Cheater – You are going to Hell.
20 – Our Lady! – Or you can’t follow directions. Start over and read more carefully.

I wrote of our compartmentalized knowledge. We can’t repeatedly recite the Creed without knowing a great deal of our faith. Yet it is so easy and tempting to avoid any deep realization of what we know. So tempting and common is this compartmentalization that many of us forget what we know, and we can be easily led astray by subtle heresies about the nature of God, the Immaculate Conception, the Catholic Church as the only means of salvation, etc.

As hard as it is to believe, if we come away from mass linked more closely to Our Blessed Lord, we too can become, “A light to the revelation of the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.” At the risk of sounding too modernistic, they do have a point when they stress that we are His body. Saint Paul used to stress that too. Thus, no matter what our priorities actually are (and hopefully our priorities align nicely with God’s), we could hardly do better for the greater glory of God, for ourselves, for our family, for our friends, for our Church, for our parish, for our superiors, for our cohorts, for our subordinates, for our enemies, for complete strangers, and for all of creation, than to DO MASS BETTER!

Maybe “doing Mass better” isn’t the absolute highest priority in life – I really don’t know. But I think it can be reasonably argued as such a priority. This can be pointed to in many ways, but for the sake of space, I will simply point to the short instruction contained in the 1962 Roman Missal:
Of all the practices recommended by our holy religion: Morning and Evening Prayers, Prayers before and after Meals, Visit to the Most Holy Sacrament, Rosary, Way of the Cross, etc.--the august Sacrifice of the Mass is infinitely greater. It is the most precious, the most holy of practices, as well as the most conducive to man's salvation.
As we stand now in the heart of Lent, the time of conversion, we should look once again at our priorities. Doing Mass well, better than we have, should be high on our list. One will find no other thing that supports greater spiritual benefit. Shouldn’t we all desire that?

I don’t think I heard any objections, so I’ll continue. Practically speaking, how can we pray the Mass well? I’m here to help. Here's four things you can do:

1. First, make sure to follow the advice of Pope Saint Pius X [my emphasis]:

The Holy Mass is a prayer itself, even the highest prayer that exists. It is the Sacrifice, dedicated by our Redeemer at the Cross, and repeated every day on the Altar. If you wish to hear Mass as it should be heard, you must follow with eye, heart, and mouth all that happens at the Altar. Further, you must pray with the Priest the holy words said by him, in the Name of Christ and which Christ says by him. You have to associate your heart with the holy feelings which are contained in these words and in this manner you ought to follow all that happens on the Altar. When acting in this way you have prayed Holy Mass.
For us in today’s Church, were very little is whispered at the altar, one would think this would be easily accomplished. But because we hear the same words echoed week after week, we rarely “associate [our] heart[s] with the holy feelings” at each point in the Mass, most notably from the Offertory onward. Typically, we let the predictable words flow empty through our ears. This requires true “active” participation. This require the study of the Mass and attempting to find out where our hearts should be at any time. Thus, during Mass, we can “active”-ly put our hearts where they need to be.

2. Read Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, aka Pope Benedict XVI.
Books like Spirit of the Liturgy, Feast of Faith, A New Song for the Lord, God Is Near Us, and his series on Jesus of Nazareth. Take my word for it. HE KNOWS THIS STUFF! Why go to The Shack to unlock the mysteries of faith when you can learn from a man who knows it, and communicates it better than anyone. An easy read? By no means do I mean that. But with time, patience, and prayerful reading, he can shed considerable brightness on your blind spots. This Pope is grace for our times. Take advantage of his wisdom.

3. Go back through the test taken above. Correct shortcomings.

4. Go to my Mid-Lent Virtual Seminar

Yes, I’m going to offer a Mid-Lent Virtual Seminar. I hope you will attend. It will most certainly help with your Mass.
Please read the sidebar to reckognize my numerous creditials and expertice for this. Expect the Seminar to begin in the next few days, give or take a week, and run for 14 or so posts. Consider it like the Way of the Cross, without the indugences or any devotional grace.
But whether you attend the Seminar or not, please take away one thing - pray the Mass. Every Mass offers the opportunity to participate in something beyond anything we could imagine. Jesus Christ is there, through the liturgy, offering our petty gifts to the Father, transformed in His holy hands. You're prayer for the conversion of your sister, or comfort for your dying mother, or for that job that you need to support your family, or for the victims of earthquakes - how are they best offered? Going straight to God yourself? That's good. Going through the Mother of God? That's better. But in the hands of Jesus, the High Priest, the Saving Victim, offered directly to the Father? If prayer is better heard from the righteous, you have no better hearing for your prayers than this.
Don't waste the precious gift of the Mass. Pray it well.

1 comment:

  1. Hi,

    My name is Rev Robert Wright, Editor for Christian.com, a social network made specifically for Christians, by Christians. We embarked on this endeavor to offer the entire Christian community an outlet to join together and better spread the good word of Christianity. Christian.com has many great features like Christian TV, prayer requests, finding a church, receiving church updates and advice. We have emailed you to collaborate with you and your blog to help spread the good word of Christianity. I look forward to your response regarding this matter. Thanks!

    Rev. Robert Wright