May 19, 2013
Thanks - If as children we were trained to be polite, the words “thank you” may roll off our tongues dozens of times daily. Of course, it’s good to be polite, but, in the routine of saying thank you, we may have lost its deeper meaning. In its fullest and deepest sense, to thank someone is to acknowledge their gift or their favor and also to acknowledge that we cannot give something back in return. To thank someone in this more authentic sense means to stand grateful but also indebted before someone who has been so good to us.
“Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.” We hear the invitation at Mass, and it is not an invitation to repeat a commonplace, hastily spoken thank-you. To give thanks to the Lord is a full and humble acknowledgment of God’s goodness to us manifested in the Death and the Resurrection of Jesus. There is truly nothing we can offer to “pay back” the Lord for all his goodness. Together, we stand before God grateful and indebted. God has done great things for us. We will never forget.
May 12, 2013
Support - Several times in the Mass, the priest addresses us or talks to God about us in a way that reminds us that we are not there individually or alone but rather together and even bonded in a special way. “Brothers and sisters, let us acknowledge our sins, and so prepare ourselves. . . .” “Pray, brothers and sisters, that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God, the almighty Father.” “Listen graciously to the prayer of this family, whom you have summoned before you. . . .”
We are at Sunday Mass, and we are not alone. And we are not just there, as if we had happened to board the same bus together. We are gathered as God’s family and the Body of Christ. We come not just for our own personal spiritual benefit, as important as that might be, but because we support each other on the journey to God. And we must support each other because we do belong to the same family.
May 5, 2013
Rise - The organ begins to roll out the Alleluia Gospel Acclamation. On cue, everyone rises.
We all get up, and we look like we are expecting something. And we should.
The words, the teaching, the ministry of Jesus are about to be proclaimed in the Gospel.
That is momentous and worth rising for.
The Word of life and hope is coming to us.
Each time we rise up, we also anticipate the end of time which is the fulfillment of our hopes and dreams.
Jesus said, “Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:28).
April 28, 2013
Go - No one wants to be summarily dispatched or just sent away. “Go. Move on.” It’s not a nice message. Strangely, it’s the last message we get at Sunday Mass. In all the different forms, we are told to go and to move on. “Go forth, the Mass is ended. Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord. Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life. Go in peace.” Not only is that the final message of the Mass, for us it’s also a welcomed message. We want to go and we need to move on and out.
The Dismissal at the end of Mass is critical. We are entrusted with a mission and a high purpose. We are told to move to the world from which we originally came. We have heard God’s Word and shared in the self-sacrificing love of Jesus who has been our Bread of Life. Now, we have a purpose and responsibility. Our mission is to bring and live out what we have celebrated in the Mass. So, we go not only in peace but with joy, determination, and hope.
April 21, 2013
Unite - The Mass unites us and makes us one but not in the ways that you might expect. You may not know the name or history of the person sitting next to you in the pew. Still, the Mass unites you and draws you extraordinarily close to each other. How does this happen?
We are first united in Holy Communion with Jesus and in the unity of the Holy Spirit with each other. Saint Paul said, “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake the one bread” (1 Corinthians 10:17). The Mass, then, unites us with Jesus and, in him, with each other. That is a gift. Besides being a gift, this unity is also a task and a responsibility that flows from the Mass, as we hear Paul urging us to make “every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit” (Ephesians 4:3). Finally, this unity is our hope and destiny, as Jesus prayed for us: “The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one” (John 17:22–23).
April 14, 2013
Feed - At Mass, we receive Holy Communion. We don’t take Holy Communion. We hear, “The Body of Christ”, and the host is placed in our hands or on our tongue. We receive the Bread of Life. This pattern is so important, and it’s not just fussing about words or gestures. The action captures the reality that is so important. The Lord is feeding his people in the Eucharist. We are not taking our own food. We are not feeding ourselves. It is the Lord who in his generous love feeds and sustains us.
Perhaps our independent spirits push us to want to take care of ourselves and to feed ourselves, and maybe even control the whole of our lives. Receiving Holy Communion redirects us to our true dependency on him who feeds us and sustains. And it is the Lord.
April 7, 2013
Witness - When we celebrate Sunday Mass together, we fulfill a weighty responsibility that we have for the whole world. Saint Paul told the Corinthians, and this applies to us as well: “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26). We proclaim and we give witness to the Lord’s death. But to whom do we proclaim and to whom do we give witness?
No matter the size of the congregation or the grandeur (or simplicity) of the ritual, when we believers gather on Sunday to celebrate Mass, we offer the world witness to something that the world desperately needs. We speak to a world broken and divided by sin and death. We proclaim the power of the Lord’s death to heal our wounds and to forgive our sins. We witness hope.
March 31, 2013
Give - The second part of the Mass is called “the Liturgy of the Eucharist”. The key action that runs throughout this part of the Mass is giving and receiving. During the preparation of the gifts, representatives of the community bring up water and wine and give them to the priest, who, in turn, offers or gives them in thanksgiving to God. Later, in the Eucharistic Prayer, Jesus gives us his body which we then receive in Holy Communion. Before Communion, we give and receive from each other - and from God - the gift and sign of peace.
What happens in signs and sacrament at Mass reveals the whole direction of our lives in God. God so loved us that he gave us his Son. And the Son so loved us that he gives us himself. And what does God want of us? Only one thing: that we give ourselves back to him in love. That is the sum and substance, the very heart, of our worship at Mass and, indeed, of our entire lives in God.
March 24, 2013
Remember - Every Mass remembers the Death and Resurrection of Jesus, but not as you would expect. Most of our day-to-day talk about remembering really means recalling or bringing up something that happened in the past. Our remembering at Mass is much, much different. It is not a matter of recall, but rather of making present - here and now - what we remember. The Mass doesn’t just commemorate the Death and Resurrection of Jesus as a past event. The Mass makes this event present to us, right now, right here, in sign and sacrament. Our remembering in the Mass enables us to be present to him - right here and right now - as the self-sacrificing Lord who destroys death and restores life.
Each one of the Eucharistic prayers has an anamnesis, or a special prayer of remembering. So, for example, the priest prays in Eucharistic Prayer IV: “Therefore, O Lord, as we now celebrate the memorial of our redemption, we remember Christ’s Death and his descent to the realm of the dead, we proclaim his Resurrection and his Ascension to your right hand...” And in our prayer of remembering, we don’t just recall Jesus, we meet him as the dying and rising Lord who draws us into new life.
March 17, 2013
Die - We die in and through our celebration of Mass. It sounds strange, but it’s true. We need to start with our Baptism. This is how Saint Paul describes our Baptism: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:3 – 4).
Each time we celebrate Mass, as Saint Paul says elsewhere, we proclaim the death of the Lord, we join him once more in his dying so as to rise with him. At Mass, we keep renewing our baptismal immersion into his death, until one day - at the moment of our physical death - we fully surrender ourselves into his hands to be raised up by him. In every Mass, we take hold of our life and anticipate our death and resurrection to the fullness of life.
March 10, 2013
Love - “Love” is a great word, but unfortunately it’s often an empty word without much depth or meaning. That was not true for Saint Paul who had a powerful and life-transforming experience of love: “I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). Every time Paul celebrated the Eucharist, he knew that love anew when he heard Jesus’s great words: “This is my body, which will be given up for you.”
In Sunday Mass we meet the living Jesus who loves us to the utmost in giving himself up for us. When we truly know and believe his self-sacrificing love made present and real in the Mass, we are forever changed. Nothing else can matter as much. In loving us, Jesus transforms our lives.
March 3, 2013
Hope - We are at our best at Sunday Mass, when we are focused and paying attention to what is going on right now. That isn’t, however, the whole story. Focusing and paying attention in the moment is good and necessary at Mass, but it’s also necessary to keep an eye on what’s ahead - our future. In and through the Mass, we hope; we look ahead to our future; we keep an eye on our future.
The prayers of the Mass express how we hope and how we look ahead: “We await the blessed hope and the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.” And just before Holy Communion, the priest says, “Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb.” The supper of the Lamb is our destiny in heaven. While we wait and as we move forward on the journey, we celebrate the Eucharist looking ahead. Saint Paul says, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26).
February 24, 2013
Link - When we arrive at church on Sunday morning, we are in a particular spot at a specific time. We are mistaken, however, to think that we are just here and right now. When we walk into church and celebrate Mass together, we are linking ourselves across time and space with countless people and a long history.
“Remember, Lord, your Church spread throughout the world, and bring her to the fullness of charity together with our Pope...” Throughout the world, believers are hearing the same Word and sharing in the same Bread of Life. We link ourselves with believers across the entire world.
“Remember also, Lord, your servants who have gone before us with the sing of faith...” We link ourselves with those who have died and with all the faithful saints who proved their love. Not just here and not just now but across a universe of faith and a history of loving fidelity we link ourselves with others at Sunday Mass.
February 17, 2013
Pray - At different points in the Mass, we are invited to pray or even urged to pray. We hear: “Let us pray,” “We pray to the Lord,” “Pray brothers and sisters.” What does this mean? Certainly, it means that we don’t pray on autopilot. We must decide and direct ourselves to pray to God.
We must also recognize what we are doing. When we pray, we are going into God’s presence.
We thank God, we praise God, and we ask God for what we need. And there is more.
When we pray at Mass, we do not go before God as strangers. We pray as members of the household of God, as sons and daughters who have received the Holy Spirit who enables us to cry out to God, “Abba, Father.” We pray, because we are at home.
February 10, 2013
Call - One of the greetings at the very beginning of Mass comes to us from the beginning of Saint Paul’s letter to the Romans: “To all God’s beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 1:7). The greeting “grace and peace” reminds us at each Mass, as Paul reminded the Romans, of our calling to be saints.
God calls us to be saints, that is, to be holy. It’s that simple and that startling. We all have a common calling or a vocation. And it is to share in the very holiness of God. That seems to be a tall and impossible order for us who are limited and sinful. Still, God calls us. And that is why we gather at Mass, not to make ourselves holy, but to let God take hold of our lives and transform us by his holiness. Our celebration of Sunday Mass enables us to hear our calling and to fulfill it.
February 3, 2013
Direct - Perhaps you never noticed, but the Mass we celebrate together on Sundays is loaded with directions. The priest or deacon or commentator directs the congregation in many ways. “Please stand.” “Let us pray.” “Bow your heads.” “Lift up your hearts.” “As without end we acclaim...” “Go forth, the Mass is ended.” In so many words, they direct us to pay attention to God whom we have come to worship or to go and live out our faith.
At times, we all need others to direct us and guide us on a right path. They are living reminders of our movement on the journey to God. The directions we hear and take at Mass prompt us to pay attention to God who wants to direct and accompany us in the whole of our lives.
January 27, 2013
Stand - At Sunday Mass, we sit, we kneel, we bow, and we stand. Every gesture, every action has its own meaning. We sit in a posture of receptivity. We kneel to express our reverent worship, as we do when we bow. And we stand for a couple of reasons. We stand at the Gospel out of respect for the Word of Jesus that comes to us. We stand at other parts of the Mass for a different reason. For example, we stand for the Collect, the Prayer over the Offerings, the Prayer after Communion, the Creed, and for the Lord’s Prayer.
When we stand during these prayers and the Profession of Faith, we express our identity and dignity as adopted sons and daughters of God. Jesus says that we are no longer servants but his friends. And Paul says that we are no longer strangers and aliens but members of the household of God, truly sons and daughters in the Holy Spirit. In the Mass, we stand before God, because we belong to God.
January 20, 2013
Serve - Serving means making ourselves available to meet the needs of others. Jesus served us in the most remarkable way. He identified His mission and His service when He said “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). He serves us by giving up His life for us and for our redemption and healing.
And we meet Him serving us every time we celebrate the Mass - “This is my body, which will be given up for you.”
In the Mass and outside the Mass, we take the service of Jesus to our hearts.
We know that we too must make ourselves available to meet the needs of others. We too must serve.
January 13, 2013
Know - The Mass is no classroom, but it is the place where we come to know the most important things about ourselves, our world, and our future. “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God,” Jesus says. If we pay attention in the Mass, we come to know extraordinary things.
In and through the Mass, we know that God loves us. We know that forgiveness is in reach. We know that death does not have the last word. We know that Jesus, the Bread of Life, walks with us and sustains us.
Amazingly, at Mass we come to know the inner life and intentions of God. The words of Jesus become true for us: “And no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him” (Matthew 11:27).
January 6, 2013
Adore - To adore is not merely to admire, although we use the word “adore” in this loose sense. When I adore someone or something, I center my life on this person or thing. To adore is to worship. To adore is to hold in awe.
Each human being will adore someone or something. We have a drive within us to center our lives this way.
Faith tell us that only God is worthy of our adoration, but people can adore the false gods of money, pleasure, status, and even their own convenience.
Every time we kneel before the altar at Mass, we profess our commitment to adore God alone, our true center. “We adore you, we glorify you, we give you thanks for your great glory, O God, almighty Father.”
December 30, 2012
Believe - Each Sunday at Mass, we make our profession of faith that begins, “I believe in one God...” We re-affirm what we believe. The Creed holds all the great mysteries of our faith: Creation, the Holy Trinity, the Incarnation, the Redemption, the work of the Holy Spirit in the Church, and finally “the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.” To all this, we say, “Amen. I believe.”
What is this Creed about? Why every Sunday? To whom are we speaking? There is repetition. We need that to cling more surely to what we believe. We do talk both to God and to ourselves, so that we can stand more firmly in faith. And there is something else at work in this profession of faith. To believe means both to accept the revealed mysteries and to attach ourselves in ever more confident trust to God who has revealed the mysteries to us. Finally, we seal our profession with a resounding great Amen - at the end of the Creed, but also at other special moments of faith, as at the end of the Eucharistic Prayer and before the Body of Christ presented to us. “Amen. I do believe.”
December 23, 2012
Praise - We praise God. We praise each other. Sometimes, we even praise ourselves. It is good to offer well deserved praise. To praise is to acknowledge the goodness of others and the greatness of their accomplishments. And there is no end to the goodness of God and the greatness of what God has accomplished for us through his Son Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. There is also much to praise for what God has accomplished in and through others and in our very selves.
The whole Mass praises God and sometimes explicitly so: “We praise you, we bless you, we adore you, we glorify you, we give you thanks for your great glory...” Or, “Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ.” We also praise those whom God has made holy - the saints - and look forward to sharing their eternal life, which is life caught up in the full loving mystery of God and praise. We ask that “with the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, with the blessed Apostles, and all the Saints who have pleased you throughout the ages, we may merit to be coheirs to eternal life, and may praise and glorify you...”
December 16, 2012
Share - Jesus speaks of himself as the Good Shepherd and says unforgettably, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10 NRSV). In sharing himself, he shares the fullness of life with us. Every Mass expresses this divine generosity in the sharing and self-giving of Jesus to us, his people. We can only stand before this gift in utter amazement and gratitude.
As Jesus shares with us in the Mass, we share with one another. His generosity is contagious. We bring our voices, our hopes, and our uplifted hands to share with others in the Mass. We each fulfill and share a ministry at Mass from celebrant, to servers, to readers, to ministers of Communion, to musicians, to ushers, and to the singing and praying assembly. Our sharing continues after the Mass and into the world, when we are told, “Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord.”
December 9, 2012
Drink - It makes perfect sense. Before we drink, we must pour what we are to drink. At Holy Communion, when we drink from the chalice, we know there has been a prior ritual action of preparation, the pouring of wine that includes a drop of water symbolizing the union of the humanity and divinity of Jesus. We also know from Jesus’ words of institution that what we drink has been poured in another sense.
In Jesus’s name, the priest says, “Take this all of you, and drink from it, for this is the chalice of my blood, the blood of the new and eternal covenant, which will be poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.” Take and drink what has been poured into this chalice. Take and drink what has been poured out on the cross for your salvation. When we drink from this chalice, we know we can only do so, because the suffering and self-sacrificing love of Jesus has first been poured out for us.
December 2, 2012
Eat - We don’t usually connect praying with eating. But that is exactly what we do, as we pray at Mass and eat the bread of life in Holy Communion. Prayer in all its different forms moves us towards God. Eating the bread of life in Holy Communion moves the Lord towards us, actually, bringing his presence within us.
This praying and eating at Mass seems, at first, simply to be very personal. It is an intimate action that touches us in the core of our being. Indeed, it is. At the same time, notice something else. At Mass, we pray and eat together. So, when we eat the bread of life, we are in deep communion with our saving Lord. And in him, we are also in deep communion with each other.
November 25, 2012
Gather - The great old stand-by entrance hymn begins, “We gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing.” We do gather for Mass, and what an assortment we are - all sizes, ages, shapes, and colors. Although there is no fuss in our gathering for Mass, something extraordinary is at work.
Coming together out of our individual lives to worship God speaks to us insistently of our special prayer, our worship, as something that can only be offered with other people. Without discounting our personal prayer as necessary and important, at Mass we must pray as the Body of Christ, joined to him and with one another. And here in this gathering for Mass, we glimpse something of our gathered future.
As grain, once scattered on the hillsides,
Was in this broken bread made one,
So from all lands Thy Church be gathered
Into Thy kingdom by Thy Son.
November 18, 2012
Sign - In ordinary life, we don’t usually sign or mark ourselves. At Mass, we do so several times. We trace the pattern of the cross or sign ourselves at the beginning of Mass, at the reading of the Gospel, and at the end of Mass for the final blessing. Something important is at work in this simple gesture.
The act of signing the cross on our bodies symbolically pulls us into intimate contact with the reality of the cross of Jesus. It is entirely understandable that we want to identify ourselves with the cross of Jesus. The cross, after all, has freed us from sin and death. It is the source of our new life in Christ. Of course, we take its image and impress that on our bodies in making the sign of the cross.
It makes sense to make the sign of the cross at Mass, because the Mass itself makes present the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross: This is my body which will be given up for you. Our gesture of signing and Jesus’s self sacrifice for us meet in the Mass we celebrate.
November 11, 2012
Sit - “Why are you sitting around doing nothing?” the owner of the vineyard says to the day laborers in Jesus’s parable. It’s a question - and maybe a bit of an accusation - we can sometimes toss at each other in our families. In fact, it happens. We can sit around and do nothing. But there is another side to sitting.
“Sit up and pay attention. This is really important.” We’ve heard that too. Sitting can mean receiving a message, learning something of value, or letting ourselves be affected by what we see and hear. That’s the sitting that goes on at Mass.
We do sit at Mass, and we are ready to be touched by the Word of God. If we sit up and pay attention, how can we not be affected by the message? You are forgiven. You are loved. You have great gifts and responsibilities. You are connected to each other. You are the object of God’s hope.
November 4, 2012
Sing - Most parish congregations singing at Mass certainly don’t offer much competition to the Sistine Choir. We all have our share of off-key singers and raspy voices. But sing we do, and sing we must - certainly at Mass. Why?
When we sing, we let the music carry our words of prayer. And when we sing, we let the music gather us into one voice. When we sing, we begin to link ourselves with the choirs of heaven in the praise and thanksgiving of God. Think, for example, of the “Holy, Holy, Holy.” The words are drawn from the prophet Isaiah who had a vision of heaven and heard this music of the angels directed to the thrice-holy, all-holy God. Here on earth, here at Mass, we make our humble beginning, connecting with angelic choirs.
October 28, 2012
Lift - The priest says, “Lift up your hearts.” We say, “We lift them up to the Lord.” In the Mass, we lift or raise up our hearts to God. We lift up our offering to God. And that offering is the self-sacrificing love of Jesus Christ. We join him and, because we are in him, we can lift ourselves up to God.
We are part of the one offering, the one sacrifice. We can - and sometimes do - stay stuck in our daily struggles, temptations, and even sins.
In the Mass we break free. In Jesus lifted high on the cross, we lift up our hearts, our very selves. We break free of the gravity of sin and death and doubt.
October 21, 2012
Point - I didn’t notice the power and the beauty of so many things in my life, until someone pointed them out. Someone had to call my attention to these good things and summon me to see what had always surrounded me. I saw with new eyes.
In a similar way, John the Baptist points out Jesus to the first disciples. John says, “Look, the Lamb of God. Behold, the Lamb of God, who is already here among us.” The same words have become a part of the Mass before Holy Communion, “Behold the Lamb of God. Behold him who takes away the sins of the world.” The priest holds up the host and points to the presence of Jesus Christ among us.
We need indications. The things of God are deeply imbedded in our lives, but they may remain unseen. The Mass in its entirety points out the presence of the Redeemer in our lives - the suffering and dying Christ in our struggles, the risen Christ in our sense of new life, the power of Christ in our fragility, and the merciful Christ in our acts of compassion. The Mass points out the Lamb of God who even now is with us.
October 14, 2012
Bow - We bow when we want to honor someone. Sometimes, we bow in submission before forces beyond our control. And we may even bow before an audience to receive their applause and recognition. Our lowered head or our bended bodies make a bow for many reasons. And when we bow our heads or bodies at Mass, we do so - not surprisingly - for different reasons as well.
In the Creed, we bow at the words “...and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man”. We humbly and gratefully bow to the Eternal Word who humbled himself to come among us as one like us in all things but sin. We bow before receiving Holy Communion, a gesture of deep reverence before the mystery of the Body and Blood of the Lord. At the end of Mass before a solemn blessing, we bow our heads when we hear, “Bow down for the blessing”. In that moment, we submit ourselves to all the good and gracious gifts God wants to give us. Reverence, submission, and gratitude - all this in a simple gesture.
October 7, 2012
Wait - We wait for Mass to begin. But do we wait during the Mass itself? If we hear Saint Paul correctly, the entire Mass is a waiting time. The Mass waits for and expects the second coming of Jesus.
The Mass proclaims that in the death and resurrection of Jesus our redemption has begun to take hold of us, but we expect and await its completion when the Lord will come again in glory.
Paul told the Corinthians: “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” We live in an in-between time, a waiting time before the Lord will come to bring all things together under his headship. In the meanwhile, especially at Mass, we wait and pray in our struggles with evil.
After the Lord’s Prayer we ask, “Deliver us, Lord, from every evil... as we await the blessed hope and the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.”
September 30, 2012
Bless - After the sneeze, we say a quick “God bless you!” Blessing, however, is far more than an antidote to sneezing. In the Mass, blessing is a wide road of grace that runs in two directions - from us to God, and from God to us. We bless and praise God for his gifts to us. Blessed be God forever. We praise you, we bless you, we adore you. We must bless God and recognize his gifts. We would be completely ungrateful if we didn’t.
In the Mass, we also ask God to bless us and our offerings, to let his favor and his power fall upon what we have brought to him and upon our very selves. Bless these gifts, these offerings, these holy and unblemished sacrifices. May all of us, who receive the most holy Body and Blood of your Son, be filled with every grace and heavenly blessing. May almighty God bless you, the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Never more than when we are at Mass do we acknowledge that we live in God’s blessing and, at the same time, ask that the blessing continue to be poured upon us.
September 23, 2012
Open - You can’t get into church for Mass without opening the door. And that’s only the beginning. During the Mass, the priest who preaches is supposed to open the Word for us. But what does that mean? The Word of God contained in the Bible and proclaimed in the Mass needs to be opened. It’s not a common word from everyday life. It may have a strange ring to it. And so it needs some explanation.
More importantly, the Word of God holds life and hope for us. It contains God’s unfailing promise. That needs to be unlocked and opened up through the preacher’s words. The opened Word of God impels us to the praise and thanksgiving of God in the Eucharist that follows. And at the end of Mass, the opened Word of God enables us to open up the church door to bring life and hope out to the world.
September 16, 2012
Send - For two thousand years, the story of Christian people gathered in the Church has been stitched together with the action of sending. Jesus sent the Apostles to the whole world. In fact, the word Apostle in Greek means “one who is sent.” Across the centuries, the Church has commissioned or sent missionaries to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ. Sending has meant both proclaiming the Word and celebrating the sacraments, especially Baptism and Eucharist. Today, we can celebrate Mass because priests have been sent to us to lead our celebration. The sending, however, does not stop here with priests.
At the end of every Mass, we are all sent. We are all told to go into the world. “Go forth, the Mass is ended.” “Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord.” There are different formulas for this short, easily overlooked ritual at the end of Mass. It is decisively important, however, for us to know that we are sent, that we are commissioned, that we have an extraordinary purpose in the world.
September 9, 2012
Hear - How many times at Mass have you heard after the readings, “The Word of the Lord” or “The Gospel of the Lord”? Probably so many times that the message is blunted. It just glides off of us. Do you realize what happened in the readings? Did you hear? God has actually spoken to us, his people. God has connected with us and communicated with us. Did you hear it?
At Mass, God speaks his word to us and not just one by one but to all of us gathered together. The Word is entrusted to our community where it must find a home, where it is studied, and where it is acted upon. Did we hear it?
In our struggle with the big questions and dilemmas and hurts of life, we are all looking for answers and hope. The breakthrough does come in God’s Word. Did we hear it?
September 2, 2012
Walk - Do you actually walk at Mass? Yes, in fact, you do. You walk in. You walk out. You walk up for Holy Communion. A few people walk up to bring the gifts to the priest. The priest himself and other ministers walk and move across the sanctuary. There is more movement in the Mass than you might expect to find. But, does it mean anything? It does.
Walking is a way of getting from one place to another. Walking in the Mass is a sign of our movement. We are going somewhere. We have a destination, and we are on the way. This is what the Second Vatican Council meant when it called the Church the “pilgrim people of God,” people on the move, people with a destination in God. Each time we celebrate Mass and engage its movements, we remember who we are. And, even more, we recall our holy destination.
August 26, 2012
Acclaim - To acclaim someone is to speak directly to them in praise and recognition, and often in a public way. Real acclaim doesn’t happen too often, but when it does, it’s unmistakable. Something wells up in us that must come out and be directed to the one we want to praise and recognize. This happens at Mass.
We acclaim the merciful Lord (Lord, have mercy), the Lord who will speak to us in the Gospel (Gospel acclamation), the all-holy Trinity in heaven (Holy, holy, holy), the Lord Jesus Redeemer (memorial acclamation after the consecration), the Triune God who has saved us (the Great Amen acclamation), and Jesus the Lamb who frees us from sin (the Lamb of God acclamation). When we feel, when we know that God’s abundant mercy has touched and transformed our lives, how can we not acclaim the Lord?
August 19, 2012
Kiss - As the priest comes to the altar and as he leaves it, he kisses the altar. After he proclaims the Gospel, he kisses the Book of the Gospels. Before Holy Communion, we exchange the Sign of Peace, which traditionally has been called the “kiss of peace.”
The altar is a sign and symbol of Christ. The priest not only expresses reverence for Christ by bowing before the altar, but also expresses affection and closeness by kissing it. So, too, with the words of the Gospel and with the sign of peace exchanged among ourselves, there is honor and reverence and, even more, there are deep bonds of affection. To kiss is to renew affection and attachment. In the Mass, our affection for and our attachment to Jesus and each other finds renewal - in a kiss.
August 12, 2012
Prepare - The gifts at Mass are prepared. Often, a family will walk up the church aisle with the gifts of bread and wine to be used in the Eucharist and offer them to the priest who, in turn, prepares them on the altar. In fact, other gifts are prepared well before the Mass begins.
At home, we prepare a check and put it into a church envelope. It is an offering, and we prepare it. By some dint of discipline, with a little prayer or a silent moment, we might even prepare our own hearts and souls for the Mass we will celebrate together. United with Jesus, we are part of the offering of the Mass. And we do need our own preparation.
The Mass has its rituals of preparation, and we have our own personal rituals of preparation for the Mass. But the Mass itself is a great preparation of God’s people to meet the Lord face to face. Our worship shares in the mission of John the Baptist which is described as making “ready a people prepared for the Lord” (Luke 1:17).
August 5, 2012
Deepen - “Get on with it.” We hear that all the time. We even say it to ourselves. We do something and then move on quickly. That’s our pace and pretty much the tenor of most of our lives. And how we live does not easily match what we do at Mass.
At Mass we stop and linger - at the beginning to reflect on our need for mercy, after the readings and homily to consider the Word we have just heard, and after Holy Communion to grasp more surely the mystery now within us. We linger in these moments to deepen our sense of the holy and living one whom we are meeting.
We keep returning to the same ritual at Mass. It really doesn’t change that much week after week.
Even the years of worship repeat the same cycles of Advent, Christmas, Lent, Easter, and Ordinary Time. Is it just going in circles? No, something else is at work. The cycles deepen the mystery’s hold on us and our hold on the mystery.
Unlike most of our life, at Mass we go not wide but deep. We stay, we linger, we come to know more.
July 29, 2012
Break - Because they are small or quick, some gestures in the Mass can easily escape our notice. One such action is the breaking of the host during the singing or recitation of the “Lamb of God.”
Breaking the bread or the host carries deep meaning. The gesture goes back to Jesus, as the words of consecration in the Mass tell us, “. . . he said the blessing, broke the bread, and gave it to his disciples . . .” In the early Church, the whole celebration of the Eucharist was often simply called “the Breaking of Bread.”
The breaking of bread symbolizes the suffering body of Christ broken for us. The breaking of the one bread to feed many symbolizes our unity in Christ. The breaking of bread for later distribution to the sick symbolizes our union with those who cannot be with us in the Mass. When the two disciples who were going to Emmaus returned to Jerusalem, they told the apostles how they had recognized Jesus in the breaking of bread. Even today, in this small gesture, we recognize his presence among us.
July 22, 2012
Quiet - No one ordinarily stands up at Mass and brashly says, “Quiet down!” The message, however, is right in front of us at Mass. After the proclamation of God’s Word, we hear “The Word of the Lord,” and it means “Be quiet and take it inside yourself, let it settle within you. Be quiet.” After Holy Communion, sitting down amounts to the same message, “Be quiet and realize the one you have received. It is the Lord. Pay attention.”
Besides all the music and words that draw us into active participation, the Mass also becomes for us a school of quiet, a place where we learn to quiet ourselves, where we learn to let the deeper things of life and faith settle in, and where we learn to pay attention to God’s movement in all of life.
July 15, 2012
Join - Strange as it sounds, the Mass is a continuous action of joining. We join ourselves to each other, we join ourselves to the heavenly worship of the angels and saints, and - most certainly - we join ourselves to Jesus in his self-sacrificing love. When we join ourselves we connect and unite ourselves. Our action of joining as we connect and unite ourselves so completely pervades and colors the entire Mass, that it can easily escape our notice.
We join ourselves to each other when we walk into church and take a position with other worshippers, when we sing, and when we make the common responses. We join ourselves to heaven when we praise and thank God, because that is exactly what angels and saints do in heaven. We join ourselves to Jesus when we offer ourselves with him and receive him in Holy Communion.
July 8, 2012
Forgive - No one enjoys freedom more than a forgiven person.
To be unburdened of a haunting past that we regret or to be released from earlier missteps that seemed to doom our future - that is a real sense of freedom that flows from forgiveness.
Make no mistake about it, every time we celebrate Mass together we meet the God who forgives us in Jesus Christ, “This is the chalice of my blood, the blood of the new and eternal covenant which will be poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.” At Mass, we know unmistakably and unforgettably that God forgives us.
The other side of forgiving belongs to us. Every Mass challenges us to forgive as we have been forgiven: “So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.” (Matthew 5:23–24)
July 1, 2012
Think - Of course, we pray at Mass. Maybe it’s less obvious, but we also think at Mass. Thinking means, first of all, perceiving and sensing what’s around us. And at Mass, we are surrounded by decorated spaces, by other people, momentous words, and by the harmonies of music.
Thinking also means that we move from perceiving with our senses to understanding with our minds. We come to understand that death and sin do not have the last word. We understand that eternal life and hope have grasped us. Finally, thinking moves us from understanding to making decisions and taking action. We decide we cannot live by old habits or other people’s expectations. We move freely, that is, with the freedom of the children of God.
We think at Mass. We perceive with our senses, understand with our minds, and decide with wise and free hearts. We think at Mass. We never leave quite the same as when we arrived.