Saturday, January 31, 2015

Let's Talk Liturgy: Part 8

This continues the series of reflections about the liturgy as requested by the Most Rev. John C. Wester, Bishop of Salt Lake City, for the education of the people of the diocese. This was read at the Masses celebrating the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time and printed in the Intermountain Catholic the following Friday.

The Liturgy of the Eucharist, Part II 
At the close of the previous talk, we spoke briefly about the presentation of the bread and wine and our monetary gifts for the poor and the Church. The priest has received them, and as the bread and wine are arranged on the altar, we can mentally place ourselves there as well, as an expression of our willingness to give ourselves to God. 
The rich symbolism of the Mass continues. The prayers are beautiful and the realities they convey, the Sacred Mysteries, are profound.  As part of our full, active participation in the Mass, we continue to pay close attention to the prayers and actions unfolding, and we respond wholeheartedly, entering into the sacred dialog and action. 
The gifts are now on the altar. At his option, the priest may incense the gifts, the cross and then the altar itself. When this occurs, the deacon or another minister would, in turn incense the priest, any concelebrating clergy, and the congregation. The incensing signifies the prayerful raising up of our offering of the gifts, our prayers, and ourselves to God.   
Just before the prayer over the gifts begins, we may notice that the priest or deacon pours a small amount of water into the wine, saying inaudibly, “By the mystery of this water and wine, may we come to share in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanity.” The mixing of water and wine is an ancient liturgical practice. It can represent the mingling of the divine and human natures in Christ.  It can also represent the union of Christ with the faithful. 
The Prayer over the Gifts begins. Notice the use of the personal pronoun we, which signifies the gifts represent all of us. The priest raises the Host and says: “Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation, for through your goodness we have received the bread we offer you; fruit of the earth and work of human hands, it will become for us the bread of life.” Then, as the priest raises the chalice, the prayer is repeated for the wine which will “become our spiritual drink.”   
This part of the prayer over the gifts affirms our dependence on God. We offer back to God some of what he has given us and give praise to God for all His gifts. The priest then says, “Pray, brothers and sisters, that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God, the Almighty Father.”  We then respond, “May the Lord accept the sacrifice at your hands, for the praise and glory of his name, for our good and the good of all his holy Church.”   
We continue actively in the sacred dialog as the Mass continues to unfold. When the Prayer over the Gifts has been completed, the priest washes his hands in further preparation, saying, inaudibly “Wash me, O Lord, from my iniquity and cleanse me of my sin.” The washing of the priest’s hands is a symbolic action expressing the celebrant’s need for inward purification. Then, the Mass moves to the richness of the Eucharistic Prayer. 
When we pay attention to the flow and progression of the Mass, listen to, participate in, and respond to the Mass prayers, the beauty and power of the liturgy becomes increasingly clear. We are not disconnected spectators on the sidelines. Rather, we are each an important, integral part of the proceedings.

I hate to nitpick, but I must. The incensation of the gifts comes after their preparation and before the priest says, "Pray, brothers and sisters...." I wonder if that was just an editorial gaff; that paragraph could easily be inserted in the proper place and would make much more sense. And did you notice the lack of "conscious" in the second paragraph? Another editorial oversight, I hope.

On a personal note, I have found the optional incensing of the congregation to be very meaningful to me. That I, a sinner, can still have "my prayers be incense before you; my uplifted hands the evening offering" (c.f. Ps. 141:2) is such a sign of hope that God will find me acceptable.

Again, basic information; but, perhaps what is needed. It certainly doesn't hurt to have a solid review.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Let's Talk Liturgy: Part 7

This continues the series of reflections about the liturgy as requested by the Most Rev. John C. Wester, Bishop of Salt Lake City, for the education of the people of the diocese. This was read at the Masses celebrating the Second Sunday in Ordinary Time and printed in the Intermountain Catholic the following Friday.

The Liturgy of the Eucharist, Part I 
The first major part of the Mass, the Liturgy of the Word, with the Prayers of the Faithful is completed. After the Introductory Rites, we have been fed by the rich fare of the Scriptures, carefully selected by the Church for each Mass, first from the Lectionary, then from the Book of Gospels. The meaning of the readings and the application of their message in our lives have been expanded for us in the homily. 
Now we enter the second major part of the Mass – the Liturgy of the Eucharist. Here we experience two ancient traditions – the Hebrew tradition of sacrifice offered to God, and the meal, or breaking of bread, which Jesus left as his memorial. We find that these two elements are woven together in the beautiful actions and prayers of the Eucharist. Today we will focus on preparations for the Eucharistic celebration and presentation of the gifts to be offered in that celebration. 
Up to this point, all of the actions at the Mass have taken place away from the altar, either at the priest’s chair or at the ambo. Everything now centers on the altar where the Eucharistic Sacrifice takes place. The altar is carefully prepared by the priest or deacon. We may recall the veneration of the altar, by a kiss, at the beginning of Mass. The care with which the altar is now prepared conveys appropriate reverence, indicating the importance of the actions about to occur. We see special linens: the corporal, upon which the Sacred Host and chalice are placed during the celebration of Mass, and a purificator used by the priest to purify his fingers, the chalice and paten after Holy Communion. We also see the Missal, which is the priest’s book of Mass prayers, and a cruet of water all carefully arranged in preparation for the presentation of the gifts. In parallel, it is now that we bring into clear focus our personal preparation – to link ourselves to Christ’s sacrifice, which is about to unfold, and to the Eucharistic meal. 
A key action is the procession, when members of the assembly bring the gifts of bread and wine to the altar, led by an altar server carrying a processional crucifix. These individuals represent all in the assembly, and their action in the procession calls all of us to prepare ourselves for the sacred celebration. This is very much a communal action. Its communal aspect is also reflected in the accompanying music. As the procession moves toward the altar, we all advance our hearts toward the Lord. We express our willingness to give of ourselves to God, and our monetary gifts presented along with the bread and wine acknowledge that everything we have is a gift from God. From our hearts, we offer our very selves to God at this time. 
Once the gifts have been placed on the altar, the priest begins the prayers by blessing and praising God, acknowledging that we have received from God’s goodness the gifts we offer to him. As he lifts the bread and then the chalice, the priest prays according to a formula modeled on a Jewish table prayer offered by the father of the family, praising God as the creator of the world. He reminds us that the gifts of bread and wine will become for us the bread of life and our spiritual drink. We all respond by saying, “May the Lord accept the sacrifice at your hands, for the praise and glory of his name, for our good and the good of all his holy Church.” We are not passive observers or mere spectators at this celebration.  Rather, each of us is an integral part of the action. We are invited to full, conscious and active participation in the celebration – at this point and throughout the Mass.


The last line of this reflection is awkwardly phrased, in my opinion. It almost intimates the congregation is now, at the Liturgy of the Eucharist, to begin its "full, conscious, and active participation" in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. It is as if during the Liturgy of the Word the congregation was not. And didn't St. John Paul II say something about listening being a mode of participating?

Still, an accurate description of what is happening to this point.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

As Time (Pro-Life) Marches On

A list of the "Marches For Life" that have, are, or will be taking place around the country this year (including, of course, the one which started it all).

A recap of the number of abortion clinics closed in 2013 (and wondering how many more will have the same fate).

Fading in memory (as evil should) but still a catalyst for continuing the work.

State legislatures proposing and enacting more pro-life legislation.

It seems the pro-life movement has gained considerable ground the past two years.

All well and good.

But (and I hope somewhere, someone else may have this thought)...

Is the pro-life movement just "treating the symptoms" or are they looking "for the cure"?

I ask not in a cynical manner. I ask not as a weary observer of the biggest cultural fight in this country since slavery. I ask because I want to know if this is the way this issue is going to be settled for the time being.

Forty-two years ago this day, both by a 7-2 vote, the United States Supreme Court decided in the cases of Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton that abortion will be legal throughout this country and framed their rulings in a way that do not allow for any restrictions to this so-called Constitutional right.

56,000,000+ abortions later, this great moral tug-of-war is still being contested.

It's being contested because the pro-(poor-)choice contingent makes this an issue based on emotions, a subjective stance which cannot be argued. They don't care about reasoned and rational conclusions like this. They don't even care about being rational.

They want, and for the moment have gotten, their way.

"Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."

I have faith this issue will be settled in my lifetime. I have hope the right to life will be victorious. And while the only thing I can do right now is pray (and, spiritually, I know I can do more), I do stand with the pro-life movement.

I just can't be in 89 places at the same time.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Let's Talk Liturgy: Part 6

This continues the series of reflections about the liturgy as requested by the Most Rev. John C. Wester, Bishop of Salt Lake City, for the education of the people of the diocese. This was read at the Masses celebrating the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord and printed in the Intermountain Catholic the following Friday.

The Liturgy of The Word, Part II 
Having proclaimed the Gospel, the priest or, in some cases, the deacon, takes up the important task of breaking open i.e., applying the Scriptures we have just heard. The homily is an integral part of the liturgy and “may not be omitted without a grave reason.” It is through the homily that the mysteries of faith and the guiding principles of Christian life are shared. A good homily is faithful both to the mystery being celebrated and the needs of the listeners. It should lead those present to celebrate the Eucharist actively. The best homilies are the result of prayerful meditation on the texts, careful selection of ideas and images, and a joyful presentation that is neither too long nor too short. It is concluded with a moment of shared silence during which all present may reflect on what they have heard. 
This brief sharing of silent reflection prepares us for the sincere response that follows, the Profession of Faith, or Creed. By this profession we agree to what we have heard in the homily and will experience in the Eucharist. This response of faith by the community of believers begins with the words, “I believe:” in Latin, Credo, whose root words mean to give your heart to something. The Creed is more than an intellectual assent to the mysteries of the faith expressed by Church councils many centuries ago; it is also our deepest expression of faith in the mystery of which we are a part. The Creed may be sung or recited by the priest standing together with the people. At the words, “and by the Holy Spirit … and became man…” we make a profound bow; at the Solemnities of the Annunciation and Nativity of the Lord we genuflect. Either the Nicene or the Apostles’ Creed may be used. 
Our response to the Word of God is further expressed in the Prayers of the Faithful.  These prayers have their roots in the ancient Jewish synagogue service when a series of blessings for individuals and universal needs were expressed. It is likely that Jesus joined in these prayers. They became a fixed part of the Mass during the mid-second century. They are spoken of as “Universal Prayers” or “General Intercessions” because they go beyond the needs of the local community. 
The Prayers of the Faithful begin with the celebrant addressing the people and relating the prayers to the particular mystery being celebrated or some particular aspect of the Scriptures. The deacon (or in his absence another minister) announces a series of intentions to which the people respond. After a brief moment of silence, the celebrant summarizes the intentions and asks God to look favorably upon the prayers that have been expressed. The people stand during the presentation of the intentions and respond at the end, “Amen.” Because the Church is both local and universal, the intentions usually include prayers for the needs of the Church, for public authorities, for the salvation of the world, for those oppressed by any need, and for the needs of the local community. The presentation of the intercessions is traditionally given to the deacon, who by his particular ministry is focused upon the sick, the poor and those in need. The dead may also be included in the Prayers of the Faithful.


If the Prayers of the Faithful/Universal Prayers/General Intercessions were "a fixed part of the Mass back in the mid-second century", then why are they not a part of the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite, which is the predecessor of the Ordinary Form? Was this a true restoration or another anachronism foisted upon us back in 1969?  And how is the general public to know this is accurate information? I admit this is based on what very little knowledge I have gained about this; but while become a skeptic by nurture, I raise a red flag. I would also bet whoever reads this has their own tales on how this part of the liturgy suffers abuses based on the "needs of the local community" and how those are proclaimed.

Basic information, but I wonder....

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Let's Talk Liturgy: Part 5

This continues the series of reflections about the liturgy as requested by the Most Rev. John C. Wester, Bishop of Salt Lake City, for the education of the people of the diocese. This was read at the Masses celebrating the Feast of the Epiphany and printed in the Intermountain Catholic the following Friday.


The Liturgy of The Word, Part I

In his writings on the Eucharist, Saint John Paul II often spoke of two tables that are involved in the celebration of Mass – the Table of the Word of God, where the scriptures are broken open for us, and the Table of the Bread of the Lord, on which the bread and wine are consecrated. It is from the Table of the Word of God that we receive the life-giving Word of God that sparks a burning hunger for Christ and prepares us to receive the life-giving Body and Blood of Christ.   
The life-giving Word comes to us in readings from the Old and New Testaments, from the responsorial psalm, and from the gospel. The first reading is almost always from the Old Testament, a sign that our roots are firmly planted in the Jewish tradition where the reading of the Law and the Prophets was a part of the synagogue service. Only during the Easter Season does this change, for then the first reading is from the Book of the Acts of the Apostles. The Old Testament reading is usually chosen to prepare for the theme of the gospel to be read that day.   
The person who proclaims the Old Testament reading is called a lector or reader, and the book used for the reading is called the lectionary. We sit while the lector proclaims the reading from the ambo, or lectern, listening attentively until we hear the lector say: “The Word of the Lord,” to which we respond, “Thanks be to God,” signifying our assent to what has been read.   
Our connection to the ancient form of worship in the Jewish synagogue continues when next we sing (or recite) together a responsorial psalm. Ideally, the psalm is led by a cantor who sings the verse, while we sing the response. In the absence of a cantor, the psalm may be recited, although singing is preferred. Singing the psalm is a wonderful way of praying. The more familiar we are with these ancient texts, the more aware we become of the Word of God speaking to us through them. 
The Word of God nourishes us as well in the second reading, taken from the New Testament. During certain seasons – Christmas, for example – the second reading may correspond with the mystery being celebrated. During other times of the liturgical year, the second reading may have no direct connection to the gospel but still can have great meaning, if we listen attentively. 
Once the lector or reader finishes the second reading, we prepare to welcome the Lord who is about to speak the good news expressed in the Sunday Gospel. The Alleluia is once again grounded in Jewish tradition, for “Hallelujah,” meaning, “Praise Yahweh” was used at the beginning and end of psalms intended for use in the Temple.   
The Alleluia is used throughout the liturgical year, except during Lent when it is replaced with an equivalent acclamation of praise. It is always sung, never recited, by everyone standing. The deacon (or the priest when there is no deacon present) elevates the Book of the Gospels and prepares to proclaim the Good News of the Gospel. 
Before the gospel is proclaimed from the ambo, it is shown further marks of respect by the signing of the cross on the text. We make the sign of the cross on our forehead, mouth and heart, signifying a readiness to open our minds to the word, to confess it with our mouths, and to safeguard it in our hearts. At the end of the reading of the Gospel, the deacon or priest reverences the text by a kiss. When the bishop is present this sign of reverence is reserved for him. These visual signs tell us that the Gospel is a special part of God’s word to be proclaimed and broken open for us at the Table of the Word of God.

While waiting for this to be published, I have come across some commentary discussing two aspects of this reflection. One is in reference to the first paragraph about another way of looking at how St. John Paul's "Word" is used. The other is about how the Responsorial Psalm "developed" and what its purpose is in the Mass. Might make for an interesting post script.

Thursday, January 01, 2015

January 2015 Morning Offering Prayer Intentions

Here are the intentions for this month when reciting the Morning Offering:
Universal Intention - Peace. That those from diverse religious traditions and all people of good will may work together for peace. 
Evangelization Intention - Consecrated Life. That in this year dedicated to consecrated life, religious men and women may rediscover the joy of following Christ and strive to serve the poor with zeal.
Reflections for these intentions are found here.