Beside the Holm Oak Tree

Making the Mass more Prayerful and Preserving the Sacred

One suggestion for Lent may be to make the mass more meaningful for you.  With so many not attending mass during the shut-down of 2020 and into 2021, Holy Mass has taken a blow as to its necessity and meaningfulness.  Video masses may have been a substitute, though wholly inadequate for those who were not able to attend or weren’t allowed to attend mass. Virtual mass is not the equivalent for our attendance at mass in person.  It’s not even close.  It’s like being virtually married.  It doesn’t work in the long run.

Maybe mass not being available in person will be a wake-up call for some people to really appreciate the sacred liturgy the Church provides for us every day.

For many decades, people have become lazy and only attend mass when it fits into their schedule or attend mass times that don’t interfere with what they really want to do on the weekend.  We dress not for mass but for what we will do after mass.  Casual clothes and even athletic clothing are the norm for Sunday worship. Our own comfort is more important than any sacrifice to come to worship the Lord in our very best attire.  (Dress clothes are actually very comfortable if they fit correctly!)

We don’t arrive as if we are actually going to meet Jesus.  If we did, we would come early to get a seat close to the front and when mass was over, we would want to linger and savor the time we had with our Lord.  Many arrive at the last minute and even consistently late and are putting on their coats and readying to leave before the final prayer.  That doesn’t give the appearance of someone who really wants to be there.

Do we genuflect before entering our pew honoring Who is truly present in the tabernacle? Do we pray aloud trying to reflect on what we are saying?  We don’t need to shout at God, but an incomprehensible mumble doesn’t really reflect honor to whom we are praying.  Do we listen attentively to all of the prayers of the Priest?  We are all prone to distraction.  When we are distracted, do we try to quickly bring our minds back to the liturgy?  People have been described as the “frozen chosen”, looking forward with blank stares with their hands in their pockets.

Our movements are also part of the Sacred Liturgy.  People who are not Catholic are often confused about why we stand, sit or kneel. Do you know yourself, why the different positions have a particular meaning or do you just follow or move out of routine? Have you studied as an adult or just relied on your childhood catechism classes?

For several decades now, people have added their own positions of prayer to the liturgy. Before 1958, the congregation did not recite the Lord’s Prayer with the Priest. The prayer was added for the laity soon after. Beginning with the Catholic charismatic movement of the late 1960’s, the laity began to use the Orans position (arms extended out and upward) during the Our Father.* When the Priest prays in this manner, he is offering intercessory prayer for the people.  For some reason, the people who do not imitate the priest in his other gestures started to imitate him in the Our Father. If you do this, do you know why you began to do so?  The practice of holding hands, even across the aisles and raising them up at the doxology is seen in many places.  None of this is prescribed in the Roman Missal for the laity.

* The Vatican’s 1997 Instruction on Certain Questions Regarding the Collaboration of the Non-Ordained Faithful in the Sacred Ministry of the Priest, says in part:

Deacons and Non-ordained members of the faithful may not pronounce prayers, (e.g. especially the Eucharistic prayer with its concluding doxology) or any other parts of the liturgy reserved to the celebrant Priest. Neither may Deacons or non-ordained members of the faithful use gestures or actions which are proper to the same Priest celebrant.

Simply, we are not to imitate the Priest in word or gesture.  We are silent in our words and obedient to the gestures except for what the Church has pronounced for the laity.

It would be impossible for the Church to list all that should not be done, so it follows that the Laity should only do what they are prescribed to do.

This includes the Sign of Peace.  In some churches, it has been become a time to wave, talk and recognize our friends no matter how far they may be in proximity to us.  It helps to understand why the Sign of Peace is part of the liturgy.

“…in adding the word,”peace” the Church is also reminding us that in the Holy Eucharist, Jesus Christ  is truly present among us and whenever we know and believe that Jesus is present, there is truly peace in that space” *

The Priest prays, The Lord be with you. When the people respond, “And with your spirit”, they are praying that the promised peace and blessings of the Holy Eucharist also come down and rest upon the priest.  It is not a greeting but a prayer for one another.

In the ancient practice of the Church, the greeting was a Holy Kiss. This signified a sign of unity among each other.

Matthew 5: 23 Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother and then come and offer your gift.

In the Redemptionis Sacramentum, the instruction reads: It is appropriate “that each one give the sign of peace only to those who are nearest and in a sober manner”  …the priest should remain in the sanctuary. *

The Sign of Peace is not a social event, it is an intercessory prayer that the Holy Eucharist becomes the true peace and the true eternality, that Christ Jesus comes to abide in us.

Last, the sacred reception of the Eucharist can help us remember Who we are receiving and display for others the dignity Our Lord deserves in the Sacred Host.

The Church allows that reception of the Eucharist may be received either standing or kneeling.  It continues that if we receive standing we should give reverence with a simple bow before receiving.

The norm for receiving communion is on the tongue.  The Apostolic See has given permission for bishops to make reception on the tongue or on the hand the norm for their particular dioceses. If the faithful receive on the hand, they should place their hands one on top of the other and with the bottom hand immediately lifting the host so it can be consumed.  There are endless stories to how people receive the host casually as if they are being handed a set of car keys.

It is commonly argued that the reception on the hand and allowing the laity to distribute the host has led to a lessening of reverence for the Blessed Sacrament.  It is common knowledge that only about one third of Catholics even believe in the Real Presence!

One of the best rationale I’ve heard concerning only receiving on the tongue came from a priest who stated how priests are required to purify the sacred vessels after communion. Any particles on the paten are carefully brushed into the chalice and any remains of the Precious Blood are consumed.

How are your hands purified before receiving the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist? How are your hands purified after they have held Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament?  Do your hands immediately touch your clothing, purse or car keys?  What of any particles of the Host that may remain on them?  Where is the purification?

So, maybe this Lent, making a conscious effort to pray the mass and receive Holy Communion reverently will help us grow in our relationship to the One True God.

* Many references to the Mass were taken from the book, The Divine Symphony, An Exordium to the Theology of the Catholic Mass by David L. Gray

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