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  • Writer's pictureImmersed in Christ

Experiencing the Mass: Hallowed by They Name

Monday, January 23, 2023

by Fr. David M. Knight

View readings for today:

Dear Readers: Since the Church is presently engaged in a Eucharistic Revival, we thought it would be helpful to post excerpts from his booklet called Experiencing the Mass, for the next few weeks. (This is not a sales pitch. However, the booklet is available for order on this website for $5 per copy if you would like have a copy.)

The Second Focus of Celebration:

Enlightenment by the Living God

When the Sacred Scriptures are read in the Church, God himself speaks to his people, and Christ, present in his own word, proclaims the Gospel. Therefore, all must listen with reverence to the readings from God’s word, for they make up an element of greatest importance in the Liturgy.... For in the readings, God speaks to his people, opening up to them the mystery of salvation...and Christ himself is present in the midst of the faithful through his word.... The Liturgy of the Word is to be celebrated in such a way as to promote meditation, in which...the word of God may be grasped by the heart. [1]

The Liturgy of the Word should be a mystical experience.

We may think of the Liturgy of the Word as a time to sit back, listen to the readings, and hope perhaps to learn something.

And, except for the sitting back, it is that. Actually, we should be sitting — mentally, at least — on the edge of the pew, intent on learning something. We listen to the readings, not as an “audience,” but as disciples. The word means “students,” not “followers of Jesus.” And we are disciples of Jesus Christ only as long as we are students of his, seeking him out to be taught, sitting at his feet, listening to his words and reflecting on them. Jesus described a disciple as someone who “comes to me, hears my words, and acts on them.”

Three characteristics:

1. We come to Jesus, confront his words, read them or call them into memory. At Mass we listen. With attention.

2. We hear what he says. Jesus reproached his apostles: “Do you have eyes, and fail to see? Do you have ears, and fail to hear? And do you not remember?” To really “hear” the word of God it is not enough to listen with attention; we have to reflect on what we hear. Otherwise the seed of his word falls on “shallow ground,” gets a superficial reception, goes in one ear, out the other and blows away.

How much do you remember of the last reading or homily you heard at Mass? Was it out of your mind before you were even out of the church? “Shallow ground.”

3. We act on what we hear. This means we have to reflect on his words until we take a stance toward them. Until we come to choices. The seed of God’s word does not take root in our lives until it reaches the level of choices.

Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away.[2]

So far so good. But still not enough for a mystical experience.

There is an aspect of the Liturgy of the Word that… is deeper than the aspect of instruction…. It is, above all else, a service of communal prayer, a celebration of God speaking to us…. To be an authentic liturgical event, it has to evoke a sense that God is speaking to us.[3]

That is a mystical experience!

It is, first of all, the experience of encounter. In listening to his word, we don’t just “come to” Jesus; he comes to us. His “real presence” is in his words. “He is present in his word, since it is he himself who speaks when the holy Scriptures are read in church.”

The Church has always venerated the divine Scriptures just as she venerates the body of the Lord, since, especially in the sacred liturgy, she unceasingly receives and offers to the faithful the bread of life from the table both of God’s word and of Christ’s Body….

For in the sacred books, the Father who is in heaven meets his children with great love and speaks with them, and the force and power in the word of God is so great that it stands as the support and energy of the Church, the strength of faith for her sons and daughters, the food of the soul, the pure and everlasting source of spiritual life.[4]

That is why, Keifer continues,

True celebration of the Word is not simply a matter of putting across what the Lord has said… but first of all communicating a sense that we are privileged and graced and blessed by his very speaking to us…. The point of the Liturgy of the Word is not merely to inform people about a message, but to bring them into communion with the God whose message is proclaimed.

In other words, a mystical experience of encounter with God.

It is significant that the liturgy deliberately gives a parallel form to the two expressions that accompany the “offering of the bread of life” as God’s word and as Christ’s Body: “The Word of the LordThe Body of Christ.”

Getting down to practice

How do we make this mystical experience happen — for ourselves and others?

The basic principle for simply avoiding boredom at Mass is: Pay attention to the words. The words are exciting — if we listen, and ask ourselves what they mean.

To make Mass a mystical experience we should add: Pay attention to what you see. The Mass is designed to speak to us through gestures and symbols as well as words.

For example, in the entrance, the Book of the Gospels is carried in ahead of the presider, held aloft for all to see, and placed with reverence on the altar. This is to signal the importance of the word of God in the liturgy we are about to celebrate. We should let it move us to interior reverence, expressed in some bodily gesture, if only an inclination of the head. Just as we never enter church without genuflecting to the Blessed Sacrament or bowing to the altar, we should never be consciously in the presence of the word of God without some act of recognition. This puts us in the mode — and mood — of prayer.

We should notice that the book used for the readings is specially bound and beautiful, as is worthy of the word of God. The lector does not read from a throwaway leaflet missal. And before the reading of the Gospel, the Book of the Gospels is carried from the altar to the lectern with the kind of reverence given to a chalice, accompanied by altar servers with candles. Before reading the Gospel, the deacon “makes the Sign of the Cross on the book and on his forehead, lips, and breast.” We can do the same, being aware as we do of what we are expressing.[5]

We should notice that the lectern is used only for the proclamation of the word of God, just as the altar is used only for offering the sacrifice. Songs are led and announcements made from another place, just as vessels for water and washing hands are placed on a “credence table,” not on the altar. This sends a message.

We should let all of this draw us into mystery and prayer, into the mystical experience of encountering God during the readings. That is what the Liturgy of the Word is designed to do. It “is to be celebrated in such a way as to promote meditation, and so any kind of haste that hinders recollection must be avoided. During the Liturgy of the Word it is also appropriate to include brief periods of silence... in which, at the prompting of the Holy Spirit, the word of God may be grasped by the heart and a response through prayer may be prepared.” “By their silence and singing the people make God’s word their own.” [6]

[1]General Instruction on the Roman Missal, 2002, nos. 29. 55-56. [2]Luke 6:47-49; Matthew 13:55-6, 20-21. [3] Ralph A. Keifer, To Give Thanks and Praise, Pastoral Press, 1980, p. 117. Emphasis added. Pastoral Press is the publication division of the National Association of Pastoral Musicians, “musicians and clergy dedicated to fostering the art of musical liturgy.” This puts the weight of informed experience behind their publications. [4] See the documents of Vatican II, On the Sacred Liturgy, no. 7; On Divine Revelation, no. 21, reprinted at the beginning of the New American Bible. [5] The presider should not read any of the readings, including the Gospel, unless no other appropriate minister is available. The Instructions are clear. All of the participants at Mass should do “all and only” what their role calls for. “The celebration of the Eucharist is an action of the whole Church, and in it each one should carry out solely but completely that which pertains to him or her” (no. 5). “The function of proclaiming the readings is ministerial, not presidential” (no.59). Knowing this makes us aware that the Mass is a communal prayer, not something the ordained priest does and the people just share in. The presider’s role is as limited as any other, and it is just as inappropriate for him to add to it by proclaiming the Word of God as it would be for the altar server to distribute the Body of Christ in Communion. [6]General Instruction on the Roman Missal, 2002 (henceforth GIRM), nos. 55, 56.

Reflections brought to you by the Immersed in Christ Ministry

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