For the last couple of weeks, we’ve been considering some essential principles that exist to guide our worship as a community of faith, principles such as common-unity in our words of faith, and the principle of open submission to communal, universal worship instead of merely engaging in our own private devotion. One additional instruction should govern our rituals: if an element (be it a gesture or posture or words) is not provided for by the liturgy, it should not be introduced. When I was in seminary and as transitional deacons we were to practice celebrating Mass, there were times when a student would make a gesture that was not called for (for example, making the sign of the cross over the chalice prior to co-mingling the Body & Blood of Christ—a former practice, but one that was discontinued with the second edition of the Roman Missal). When asked why he was doing it, the student would inevitably say that he had seen it done that way before. Our professors were quick to correct us, reminding us that what is provided for by the liturgy is more than adequate for our spiritual health—we need not and should not remove or introduce any elements whatsoever that were outside of the liturgy and its goal.
A further illustration: in one of our parishes outside of downtown Albany, there is a local practice of having everyone present recite the doxological prayer, “Through Him, With Him, In Him…”. While that might sound very nice and inclusive, it still however is in direct opposition to the Church’s liturgy: it is the role of the priest presider to proclaim this summation of our redemptive, Eucharistic faith, to which all those present are invited to respond with full, active and conscious faith, “Amen”.
Practically speaking, this will affect us most dramatically when we consider our gesture during the Lord’s Prayer. While sociologically and/or psychologically there may be just reasons for us to take on a posture of open arms during “the Our Father”, maybe seen as a gesture of openness and submission, it is however not what the Church is asking of us as participants. Instead, united under the care of the priest presider as shepherd, the faithful are invited to unite their words with the one, common prayer Christ shares with us…without hands raised. It is fitting for the presider to maintain his particular gesture of orans, simply because he continues to gather and offer all of the prayer of this united people during worship.
Now this may not sound like a terribly difficult modification to our current practice; however, realize that for some, this will be a significant challenge. Again, I invite you consider opening yourself up to the greatest degree when we humbly gather in God’s presence during our celebrations of Mass. In the same vain, I would offer to you that I am not making up or fabricating what the Church is asking of each one of us: this is simply, and wholly, the universal prayer of the universal Church. For us to be in deeper communion throughout the Church, it is best signified by our universal postures, gestures and words.
So to carry these principles into our worship, let’s take a few moments today to consider how our liturgy will take shape beginning in 2 weeks time.
From the moment we begin to gather, we’re invited into this Sacred Space to renew our friendship with one another and with God. We bless ourselves with holy water, we may then continue to greet one another and share our care and our love with one another. We move toward a pew or seat, and we genuflect to the tabernacle and/or make a profound bow to the altar. We may kneel for a few moments as we gather our thoughts and prayers and intentions. Our Cantor (who will also take on the role of “commentator” or director of worship during our ritual) will introduce the liturgy with words of welcome and reflection (and, if necessary, brief announcements).
After a few moments of settling our spirits into our ritual, we are invited to stand for our introductory rites. As we stand, the default posture we usually maintain is one of hands folded in prayer. Consider how you will stand: will it be an attentive posture, or will it be one of exhaustion or distraction or boredom? will you slouch or will you stand erect, offering honor to the person of Christ who is in our midst? Finally, throughout these introductory rites, I invite you again to engage yourself fully in the prayer and overall ritual: sing to the best of your ability, respond with one voice, together—not racing ahead of others, but looking to maintain an actual ‘single prayer’ with your sisters and brothers. If the penitential rite calls for us to do so, strike your breast once as we recall our own fault. And by all means, be willing to offer a full voice to our acclamations, like “And with your spirit” and “Amen”.
Our lectors (and, by the way, our Extraordinary Ministers of the Eucharist…at the appropriate times)—as they approach the sanctuary, will make a profound bow at their waist, to signify not only the holy space that they are approaching, but also to honor the altar of sacrifice where Christ will come to feed us with His Body and Blood. As we hear the Word of God proclaimed in our assembly, we are seated, but again, with an attentive posture, ready to accept this Word as “a living Word”, breathed into our midst and our very selves. Our responsorial is exactly that, our living response to the saving word that has been proclaimed in our hearing.
For the gospel acclamation, again we rise and sing with full voice. We listen attentively and actively to the gospel proclaimed, and we are seated for the homily. (now, if you needed a time to fall asleep for a bit, I might suggest that this is a perfect time!)
After the homily, we generally rise to proclaim our faith. Again, we join in a universal truth that is expressed now in our midst as a single profession, our voices in good cadence together. After this, we are then invited to formulate our own particular, local prayers. During this rite, it is so appropriate for us to pray for our own particular intentions all while offering our greater, communal intentions for the Church and the world…and all our inhabitants. At the conclusion of this prayer, we are then seated as the offertory is received and the altar is prepared.
And thus begins our most immediate preparation for the implementation of the new Roman Missal in just two weeks. Next week, we’ll continue to consider the second half of our ritual worship and further adjustments to our words, our postures and our gestures.
Finally, please be most open to modifications, to adjustments and to changes. If we can only relax in the blessed work of our Saving God, only then can we be truly engaged in, and affected by, the great and awesome acts of God in our celebrations of the Sacred Liturgy, the Mass.
Let us be a people of great peace and joy this week and always.