COLLECTED FROM FATHER JOHNSON’S WEEKLY COLUMNS EXPLAINING THE HOLY MASS
FROM THE PASTOR
I can’t think of anything that gives me more joy than to write about the Source and Summit of our Faith. However, nothing of what I say will really be new. What can one say that is truly new about the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, which has been nourishing us for almost 2,000 years? Most of what I have to say will be based upon a wonderful little book written by Msgr. James Moroney called “The Mass Explained.” If you find my little pieces interesting, you may want to purchase it and study it more closely. At any rate, I hope my poor efforts will answer a desire to know and love the Mass ever more deeply.
Where did the Mass come from? From Jesus himself, at the Last Supper. When he said, “This is My Body” and “This is My Blood,” he gave the Eucharist to his disciples. When he said, “Do this in memory of Me,” he gave it to us, all the faithful in the Church, down through the centuries. The Consecration is the very core and center of the Mass that we celebrate; everything else prepares for this moment or refers back to it. Given the holiness of this divine act, we prepare even before it begins. As we enter the church, we bless ourselves with Holy Water. We may stop to pray at the statues of the saints at the entranceway. Before we enter the pew, we genuflect in reverence toward the Blessed Sacrament, looking directly at the tabernacle. Having entered the pew, we kneel in prayer for a few moments, turning our minds and hearts to God. All this is a gradual preparation for our participation in the Mass, a slowing down of our usual pace, which can be so harried and distracted. We need to focus all our attention on what is about to be accomplished in our midst.
The very first moment of our preparation for this great moment of Eucharistic Sacrifice is the Entrance Hymn or Introit. If the Mass is simple, as on an ordinary weekday, the priest processes in alone or with a server, usually without any singing. For a Sunday Mass, there is a more solemn procession: incense (if used), cross bearer, altar servers, possibly a deacon, and then the priest. And of course, there is music, because this is to be a joyful though solemn celebration. The music is, if possible, a setting of the entrance antiphon, which is given in the missal for every Mass. The text of this antiphon is specially chosen and many have been in place for over a thousand years. If this antiphon cannot be sung, a hymn is chosen which will accord with the feast or the texts of the Mass. Whatever hymn is sung, it should be directed to God and his Saints and not at us. The assembly of the faithful is there to worship the Lord, not itself. (This is a pet peeve of mine about some modern church music!) The procession passes down the center aisle of the church, passing right through the midst of the people as a way of gathering their attention and lifting their hearts for what is to come. We are One Body in Christ. Even those who don’t sing well should participate as best they can. God doesn’t want or need all opera singers to praise him well.
The priest begins the Mass with the Sign of the Cross, in this one short prayer reminding us of the two most basic and important doctrines of our Catholic faith: the Most Holy Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; and the Saving Cross of Jesus. How beautiful that in such a short text we confess the Trinity and the Redeemer’s love. This is the sign of our redemption, the sign of victory, and the sign of glory. We should make the sign of the cross in an unhurried and deliberate way, as the mystery that sanctifies the whole of us: thoughts (we touch our head), feelings (we touch our breast), body and soul (shoulder to shoulder). Then, for the first time, the priest greets the people: “The Lord be with you.” This is actually a prayer: “May the Lord be with you.” Nothing is more desired by any priest than that the Lord be with his people, in church, in the world, through all their lives. Just as this is no ordinary greeting but a prayer, so there is no ordinary response. The people say, “And with your spirit.” This is very ancient, going back to at least the 3rd century. From Msgr. Moroney: “This response recognizes the unique reality of the priest, who has been anointed to act in the person of Christ by addressing the spirit he has received in sacred ordination….This spirit is given to every priest at his ordination that he might offer the sacrifice of Christ in union with the faithful and for their nourishment. This dialogue will be repeated by priest and people each time the priest is about to pray or bless or proclaim on their behalf.” It is a dialogue of love and service between shepherd and flock.
After greeting the people, the priest then invites them to a conversion of heart: “Let us acknowledge our sins, and so prepare ourselves to celebrate the sacred mysteries.” There are several forms for this important act of penitence for sin. The holiness of the Church consists precisely in the fact that she recognizes herself as sinful in order to be able to welcome the forgiveness and then the holiness of God. We are about to receive the All-Holy One in our midst under the appearance of bread and wine, so it is right to confess our faults. The very fact that we confess that we are sinners is what prepares us to “celebrate the sacred mysteries.” What a paradox at the very center of our Catholic faith! When we tell God we are sinners, he then makes us worthy to offer the Eucharistic Sacrifice. After this confession, which priest and people make as equals before God, the priest says a prayer of absolution: “May Almighty God have mercy on us, forgive us our sins, and bring us to everlasting life.” This is not a substitute for Confession, of course. Only the Sacrament of Reconciliation takes away our sins definitively.
The acknowledgement of our sins is followed by a joyful acclamation of Jesus’ merciful Lordship: Kyrie eleison (Lord, have mercy) and Christe eleison (Christ, have mercy). This is in Greek, of course, and it is one of the oldest and most treasured prayers of our Catholic faith. Greek is the language in which the Gospels were written, so it is what the two blind men cried out to Jesus, as well as Bartimaeus and the Canaanite woman who was asking him to heal her little daughter: Lord, have mercy. Whatever language we may use, the request is always the same, for the loving kindness of God. Not only was the New Testament written in Greek, however. For the first two centuries, the Mass, even in Rome itself, was celebrated in Greek and not Latin, because Greek was the language understood by the greatest number of people in the Roman Empire, both East and West. Also, the New Testament had not yet been translated into good Latin, so they had to use Greek. The change from Greek to Latin began in the third century and was complete in the fifth, by the time of Saints Jerome and Augustine. However, the Kyrie eleison prayer was so loved by all that it was kept in the original Greek. When we pray it, we are in unbroken contact with the very earliest Church..
Gloria! Originally in Greek and used at Morning Prayer, it was translated into Latin by Saint Hilary (c. 350 AD) and was first used only at the Pope’s Mass on Christmas Day, because the opening phrase is what the angels sang to the shepherds on the first Christmas. (For this reason, the Gloria is sometimes called the Angelic Hymn.) In using the words of the angels, we ask for two things: glory for God and peace for us. We then bluntly state our purpose: to praise, bless, adore, glorify and thank God the Father, who is our heavenly and almighty King. Giving God glory has another effect for us: it brings us peace! The rest of the Gloria is addressed to Christ, the Lamb of God. As Msgr. Moroney states, “There is a wonderful parallel here between this Gloria hymn at the beginning of Mass, and the Lamb of God (Agnus Dei) hymn we will sing just before Holy Communion.” Holy Mass is all about Jesus, the Lamb who was slain for us. When we pray it devoutly, we join with the angels in the Heavenly Liturgy who are worshipping with the very words we are using: “You alone are the Holy One, you alone are the Lord, you alone are the Most High Jesus Christ!” Worthy is the Lamb who was slain!
After the Gloria has been sung, we are ready to pray even more intensely. The COLLECT (also called the Opening Prayer) does what its name implies: it collects the prayers of all those present at Mass. The Priest collects them into one, saying, “Let us pray,” followed by a brief silence in which we make known our needs to God. He then offers our gathered petitions to the Father in one voice, using prayers that are among the most ancient and rich in the treasury of the Church. He opens his hands in imitation of the Cross of Christ, and, acting in the person of Jesus, begins to pray in the name of the whole Church, especially those present. The Collect has three parts: the opening lines praise God, the middle lines ask him for something, and the concluding doxology of praise sums up the prayer by glorifying the Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Finally, the people make the prayer their own by answering, “Amen.”
We have made the opening prayer (or collect) our own by answering, “Amen,” a Hebrew word which means, “So be it.” Now we sit to listen to the Word of God. It is hearing God’s word that elicits the response of faith, because as Saint Paul says, “Faith comes from hearing.” Our reading, proclaiming and hearing Sacred Scripture is an intimate encounter with God. The power of the Word is nothing less than the power of Christ, so we should listen not with our ears, but with our mind and heart as well. Usually the first reading at Sunday Mass is from the Old Testament, except in Eastertide, when it is from the Acts of the Apostles.
LITURGY OF THE WORD
The responsorial psalm follows the first reading. It is most usually taken from the Old Testament Book of Psalms, though very rarely a Canticle is used. The singing of a psalm at this point after the Reading goes all the way back to the synagogue of Jesus’ day, when it was already customary. The psalm is meant to present, for our meditation, some aspect of the reading we just heard. A reading about repentance will be followed by something like Psalm 50 (“Have mercy on me, God, in your kindness”) while a reading about God’s goodness to his people will be followed by a psalm of praise, especially psalms 148-150 (“Sing a new song to the Lord”). On Sundays, the responsorial psalm is usually sung, as is proper for a psalm, but on weekdays it is most often recited. Its purpose remains the same, however: to give us a moment to reflect on what we have just heard. On Sundays, we then hear a second reading, this time from the New Testament, most commonly from the letters of Saint Paul. The second reading, like the Gospel reading, is done consecutively, starting at the opening verses of the book and going through all the chapters, week by week. The first reading, from the Old Testament, is not consecutive but is chosen to illuminate in some way the subject of the Gospel reading.
The high point of the Liturgy of the Word is, of course, the proclamation of the Gospel, taken from one of the four New Testament accounts of the life of Jesus, by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. While we hold all the scriptures in the highest esteem, the Gospels have always held first place in the mind of the Church because they contain the very words of the Lord Jesus. The Gospel is read publicly only by a deacon or priest, a sign of its special importance. It is preceded by the great shout of praise to God, the Alleluia. We are so used to this word Alleluia, we don’t realize perhaps that it is a foreign language. It is Hebrew and means, “Praise to the Lord!” In the Bible, the word appears most frequently in the Book of Psalms, as we might expect. Before the Gospel is read, there is often a procession with candles and incense to the ambo, another sign of the importance of what we are about to hear. We had sat down to hear the first two Readings of the Mass, but we stand in reverence to hear the very words of Jesus in the Gospel. When the deacon or priest announces the Gospel reading, we say “Glory to you, Lord,” and use our right thumb to make a cross on our forehead, lips and chest; this is a sign that we want the words of the Gospel to bless our thoughts, words and emotions. All these outward signs of special solemnity are to help us realize what an awesome moment this is, when we are about to hear the very words that Jesus spoke and the very deeds he accomplished for our salvation. When the Gospel is ended, we thank Jesus by saying, “Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ.”
The Homily: In the homily, the bishop, priest or deacon seeks to explain and elucidate some aspect of the spoken word of the Mass. The text chosen is usually taken from the Gospel, since the words of Jesus are obviously the most important in Sacred Scripture, but the homily may be a reflection or teaching on any part of the Mass: the first or second reading, the responsorial psalm, even the entrance or communion antiphon or one of the three major prayers of the Mass. Whatever the message of the homilist, however well or poorly he preaches, we should remember that the homily is not his, not even the Church’s, but God’s message to us. It is a good practice to choose one part of the homily, whether a word, phrase or sentence, and reflect on it during the day. In that way, the homily can nourish our life of prayer.
The Creed: On Sundays and the greater feasts, the homily is followed by the Creed, in which we respond to God’s Word by professing our belief in the great mysteries of our faith. We do so by using one of two ancient formulas. One is the Apostles’ Creed, which is so old that it was thought to have been written by the Apostles themselves, each one of the Twelve composing one of the 12 tenets of the faith that are proposed in the text. The other Creed, also very ancient, is called the Nicene Creed and was formulated by the Council of Nicaea in 325 in response to questions about the divinity of Jesus. This is the Creed we normally recite at Mass. Both Creeds proceed in an orderly fashion through the dogmas of Christian belief, from God the Father, to God the Son incarnate in Jesus, to God the Holy Spirit, to the Church, to the forgiveness of sins, to everlasting life. At the mention of Jesus’ incarnation (“born of the Virgin Mary and became man”) we bow our heads in reverence. We recite the Creed so often, we may not really think of the words we are saying, but it is worth the effort to try to concentrate on its beautiful and solemn language. It is no coincidence that we solemnly stand and say the Creed in unison, as we draw ever closer to the very source and summit of our belief, the Eucharistic Sacrifice.
Prayers of Petition: We respond to God’s Word by making our needs known to him. Once we have professed in the Creed our trust in his love and faithfulness, we feel confident to bring our needs before him. This turning to the Lord in prayer was already in place at the time of Saint Augustine (c. 400 AD). We pray for our individual, family and local needs, for our parish and diocese, for those who govern us, and for the whole world, especially for the poor, the sick and the dying, as well as for travellers and prisoners; in a word, for those in any need of wisdom, strength and healing. We ask for the blessings of peace, for an end to wars, for the freedom and growth in holiness of the Church. There is often a moment of silence for the needs and petitions in the depths of our hearts, and many add a prayer to Mary, our heavenly Mother, who can speed all our requests to her Son. Finally, the priest sums up all the petitions just offered in a final prayer addressed to the Father through the Son in the Holy Spirit. We are now ready to move from Word to Eucharist.
LITURGY OF THE EUCHARIST
Sacrifice and Sacrament: At the Last Supper, on the night he was betrayed, our Savior instituted the Eucharistic Sacrifice of his Body and Blood. He did this in order to perpetuate the sacrifice of the Cross throughout the centuries until he should come again, and so to entrust to his beloved spouse, the Church, a memorial of his death and rising: a sacrament of love, a sign of unity, a bond of charity, and, as Saint Thomas Aquinas said, “a paschal banquet in which Christ is eaten, the mind is filled with grace, and a pledge of future glory is given us.” The Liturgy of the Eucharist has three main parts: the Offertory or Preparation of Gifts, the Consecration or Eucharistic Prayer, and the Communion. After the prayer of the faithful, we sit for the preparation, and the gifts are brought up.
Procession and Offering: The altar is then prepared with the Missal (the Mass book), corporal (the square or rectangular cloth on which the gifts to be consecrated are placed), purificator (a kind of liturgical napkin the priest uses at Mass), and chalice. On weekdays, when the congregation is small, the altar server alone may bring the gifts to the altar. On Sundays, however, there is usually a procession with the gifts, in which some of the faithful (usually two), bring forward offerings of bread and wine and present them to the priest, usually accompanied by a chant or song. This offering has a profound meaning, for at this moment the faithful are giving not just bread and wine, but the spiritual sacrifices of their lives, all their joys and sorrows, to be joined to the Eucharistic Sacrifice the Priest is about to offer, the unbloody memorial of Christ on Calvary. As Msgr. Moroney says, “at this moment, the faithful are like the Magi bringing gifts to the Christ Child; but these gifts are of an even greater value than gold, frankincense and myrrh, for these are the gifts of our lives.” The deacon or priest receives the gifts and then places them upon the altar in the same way that Christ placed his body on the Cross, in a perfect sacrifice for the expiation of our sins. The hosts for Mass must be of unleavened wheat bread and the wine (either red, white or rose´) must be unadulterated and made from grapes. In most parishes, the Offertory is also the moment when the faithful offer monetary gifts for support of the parish.
Offering the Gifts: The priest raises the bread slightly off the altar and says the prayer, “Blessed are you, Lord, God of all creation…” and the people respond, “Blessed be God for ever.” Then, if the Deacon has not already done so, he pours wine and a little water into the chalice, saying quietly, “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.” This prayer invites us to see the wine as a symbol of Christ’s divinity, and the drops of water as signifying the humanity that he took to himself at his Incarnation. Like some of the other prayers at this part of the Mass, it is spoken, but only inaudibly, because it is one of the priest’s private prayers. The priest then offers the wine with a formula similar to the offering of the bread: “Blessed are you, Lord, God of all creation…it will become our spiritual drink,” and places the chalice on the altar. The priest then offers another prayer inaudibly as he bows profoundly: “With humble spirit and contrite heart may we be accepted by you, O Lord, and may our sacrifice in your sight this day be pleasing to you, Lord God.” He asks in all humility that God accept us and the sacrifice we are about to offer. If the Mass is a solemn one, the priest then makes this prayer, as it were, visible by the clouds of incense that surround the gifts, the altar, and all those present, both ministers and people. What a perfect symbol of our Christian worship: the smoke of the incense fills the sacred space, as God does, and rises to heaven, his home.
Lavabo: The next action of the Mass takes its name, the lavabo, from the Latin, “Lavabo manus meas in innocentia,” meaning, “I will wash my hands in innocence.” The priest’s hands are already physically clean (although there may be some dust or ash from the incense), but this is a request for an inner cleansing. Morally, of course, only God can make us clean. So as the water is poured over his fingers by the server, he prays quietly, “Wash me, O Lord, from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.” Again, as with the incense, the liturgy gives us an outward action to signify an inner one: the pouring of water and drying with a finger towel is a sign of our need for interior cleansing by God. This is the genius of Catholic worship, appealing to every level of the human person. What our senses experience we pray may be given us inwardly as well. The priest then returns to the center of the altar and prepares to end the Offertory portion of the Mass.
Pray, brethren! Pray, brothers and sisters! The priest concludes the preparation of the gifts by two prayers. First, he asks the faithful to intercede that “my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God the Almighty Father.” Why does he ask this? Because the sacrifice of the priest is the one only he can offer, as an ordained priest. Our sacrifices (those of the people, including the deacon) are the ones we have presented with the gifts of bread and wine, and that are now joined to the perfect sacrifice of Calvary. So the people respond by standing and praying for the priest: “May the Lord accept this sacrifice at your hands, for the praise and glory of his name, for our good and the good of all his holy Church.” This is the one instance during the Mass when the priest stands silent as the people respond, praying as a Royal Priesthood that God will accept the Eucharistic Sacrifice at the hands of the priest, for their good and the good of the entire holy Church of God. The priest then offers the Prayer over the Gifts, the second proper prayer of the Mass (the Collect being the first one). The offertory prayers often display the irony of the human state: everything we are offering to God here has first been given us by him. Here is an example from Christmastide: “Receive our oblation, O Lord, by which is brought about a glorious exchange, that by offering what you have given, we may merit to receive your very self.”
Dialogue and Invitation ~ From Msgr. Moroney:
The center and summit of the whole Mass now takes place. The Prayer of Consecration (or Eucharistic Prayer) begins with a dialogue between priest and people by which all prepare themselves for the great moment of sacrifice and communion. This dialogue dates from about at least the year 215 AD and has remained unchanged throughout the centuries. It is a part of every liturgy, Latin, Greek, Aramaic, Syriac, Coptic, Armenian, or Ethiopian. It begins as the Mass began: “The Lord be with you! And with your spirit!” The priest then lifts up his hands and invites the people to life up their hearts and join them to Christ, with him preparing to offer a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving to God the Father: “Lift up your hearts! We lift them up to the Lord!” The Fathers of the Church frequently commented on these words. They are like a call to all creation, especially to mankind, to every creature whose heart has grown heavy with the cares of this world, calling them to reach within and lift their whole heart up to the Lord, joining in the perfect sacrifice of Christ’s praise on the altar of the cross. The final step of the dialogue is part Jewish and part Roman. “Let us give thanks to the Lord our God” is taken from the synagogue service in use at the time of Jesus. The people’s response is pagan, from an ancient Roman juridical formula which “sealed the deal,” as it were; it approved the intent of any formal agreement: Dignum et justum est. It is right and just. Next week: Getting closer and closer.
The Preface: The dialogue before the Preface had ended with the people solemnly saying that it is “right and just to give thanks to the Lord our God.” This gives the Preface of the Mass its main subject, no matter what season or saint is being celebrated: Thanksgiving. Eucharist is from the Greek word, eucharistia, that means just that, “thanksgiving.” Whatever season or saint is being celebrated, the Preface gives thanks to God for the mystery of our salvation, the source and summit of which is the Eucharist we are celebrating. In the Preface, we are caught up in a never-ending circle of praise and thanksgiving. Here is a sample of one of the oldest Prefaces in our liturgy: “It is right and just, our duty and our salvation, always and everywhere to give you thanks, Lord, Holy Father, almighty and eternal God, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Through him the angels praise your Majesty, Dominions worship it, and Powers stand in awe. Heaven and the Virtues of Heaven, with the Blessed Seraphim, rejoice to sing their joy. With them, we sing the hymn of your glory, as without end we acclaim: Holy, holy, holy.” The great message of the Preface is that we at Mass are participating in the heavenly liturgy, that we are one with the angels in heaven as we worship. Therefore, all our liturgy must be done with awe and reverence. Next week: A Liturgy worthy of God.
Worthy is the Lamb. Halfway through our journey through the Mass, and just before beginning the very holiest part, it would be well to step back a minute and quietly consider a few things. If the Mass is truly God’s most important gift to us as Catholics (after our eternal salvation, of course), what kind of liturgical music should we use to express our reverence and thanks? What kind of vestments and vessels of the altar? When we are present at Holy Mass, Jesus gives us his greatest gift, his very self. How should we respond? I would say that the answer is obvious: our liturgy must be beautiful and reverent, expressing in the best way we can the Mystery of our Catholic Faith. We must worship with reverent joy, using only the words and music that will lift us up to God, helping our minds and hearts to focus on him and the mysteries of the Catholic faith, on his Blessed Mother, and on his saints. Our liturgical music should make us think immediately and unmistakably of where we are and what we are about. It must be truly “uplifting,” so that when we leave church, we feel we have been put in communion with God and with the rich tradition of Catholic worship that has come down to us through the centuries. It’s a lot to ask of ourselves, our clergy and our choirs, but nothing else is really worthy of the God we have come together to adore and serve. The music can be chant or chant-like, polyphony or hymnody. It really doesn’t matter as long as it helps us, for the hour we are together in church, to worship God as a Catholic parish. That is the way the New Evangelization will begin, the only way it can really be grounded and nourished and spread throughout the world that needs it so tlinebadly. Next week: Consecration.
Sanctus! Holy! The preface has ended, and we now sing an acclamation taken originally from the sixth chapter of the Prophet Isaiah. (So much of our Mass comes from the Bible itself.) The prophet Isaiah himself cries out: “I saw the Lord seated on a high and lofty throne. Seraphim were in attendance before him; each had six wings. One called to the other and said, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” We sing “holy” three times because God is a Trinity in Unity. The Sanctus reached its present form with the addition of the words of the crowds who welcomed Jesus at his entry into Jerusalem: “Hosanna in the Highest! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the Highest!” The singing of the Sanctus makes us realize that we are about to be present in an extraordinary event. The death of Jesus on a hill outside Jerusalem centuries ago is about to become present in this Mass in our own parish church. We are even now blending our voices with the choirs of angels and saints. The Lord Jesus is about to come to us in his Body and Blood, just as he will at the end of time. We should assist at this act of divine love with all reverence and love. Next week: The fount of all holiness.
At the Holy of Holies. The Eucharistic Prayers follow the Holy, Holy, Holy. The present Mass has six different Eucharistic Prayers; the first is often called the Roman Canon, because it is the prayer (or canon) that the Roman Catholic Church has used for centuries. It begins, “To you, therefore, most merciful Father, we make humble prayer and petition through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord.” The Christian is never afraid to ask for even the greatest gifts of our heavenly Father, but the petition is always made humbly, never rashly or boldly. The first request is simply that God will accept what we are about to offer on the altar. The second request is that the offerings cause God’s favor and protection to be upon his Church: “Be pleased to grant her peace, to guard, unite and govern her throughout the whole world.” The prayer then immediately mentions as in need of special aid the shepherds of the Church, the present pope and the bishop of the place, “and all those who, holding to the truth, hand on the catholic and apostolic faith.” That is, all faithful Catholics. We are all of us, clergy and laity, called to hand on our beloved faith to a world that is ever more in need of it. Next week: Commemoration of the Living.
Commemoration of the Living. The prayer now gets more specific. Just before the Consecration, the priest prays, “Remember, Lord, your servants (N. and N.), and all gathered here, whose faith and devotion are known to you.” The priest at this point may either name people aloud, inserting actual names at N. and N., or remember them silently. The Church has always taught that this moment is an especially effective moment to remember our loved ones who are still living and commend them to God’s loving care. He then goes on: “For them, we offer you this sacrifice of praise, or they offer it for themselves and all who are dear to them.” The priest offers the Eucharistic Sacrifice in a unique way, but all the faithful are invited and, in fact, called to offer it themselves, in their given role as God’s priestly people. And so, what are we really asking God for? That comes next: “For the redemption of their souls (heavenly blessings), in hope of health and well-being (earthly blessings), and paying their homage to you, the eternal God, living and true (the source of all blessings).” Only the Liturgy could put all the intentions of our hearts so beautifully, simply, and succinctly! Next week: Clouds of Witness.
Clouds of Witness: The Catholic is never alone in worshipping God. Besides the priest and other ministers, besides all the other faithful who are present at Mass, there is a host of saints and angels, a cloud of witnesses, who are adoring God with us. We have already said that the Mass is an earthly image of the liturgy of heaven; now we name some of the saints who are at that liturgy in heaven and are also with us on earth, as we near the Consecration. First, of course, we name the greatest saint of all, Mary the Mother of God, and her spouse, Saint Joseph. Then we name 12 apostles (Saint Paul included, Mathias left out for now) and 12 martyrs, mostly of ancient Rome (but Cyprian and Cosmas and Damian are not). The prayer says that we are “in communion” with them: that means we have a sacred fellowship and sharing with them, which will soon be renewed sacramentally when we receive Holy Communion. This Holy Communion of the Mass makes the Communion of Saints a reality, a reality that will be perfected when we (please God) join them in perfect heavenly communion. Knowing this to be true, we call upon the Lord to let the aid and merits and prayers of all the saints preserve us: “We ask that through their merits and prayers, in all things we may be defended by your protecting help.” Next week: What we really need.
What we really need: After the commemoration of the living and the invocation of the 12 apostles and 12 martyrs, we begin to ask for what is most important to us at this moment of oblation (offering). First we ask that the Lord accept what we and the whole family of believers are offering. This may seem obvious, but God is God, and He needs to be humbly asked to accept our service. Then we pray, “Order our days in your peace.” We ask to be granted peace in our days, one of the deepest desires of the human heart, and not just any peace but the peace that comes from God: “Your peace!” We then look to our final destination and pray to be saved from hell and brought to heaven: “Command that we be delivered from eternal damnation and counted among the flock of those you have chosen.” O Lord, grant salvation! We think of the parable of the sheep and the goats before the eternal king in Matthew 25: He says, “Depart from me!” to the goats and “Come, blessed of my Father” to the sheep. We pray to be among the latter. Then, there is one final plea that God receive our offering of bread and wine; we ask him to “bless, acknowledge and approve them,” making them spiritual and acceptable as they become the Body and Blood of Christ. We are now ready to hear what Jesus did at the Last Supper. Next week: What happened in the Upper Room.