Saturday, November 26, 2016

Liturgical Postures #6 - Excerpts from Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe

This is the Solemnity, or great feast, of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. It is true, He is King of the Universe, but is He King of our hearts? By calling ourselves Christians, we are saying we are followers of Christ, thus making Him our King.

We are in the midst of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass worshiping the Father, in Jesus as the King of the Universe, through the Holy Spirit in the way He showed us He wants us to worship Him. We have been examining the profound meanings of the gestures, postures and non-verbals of Holy Mass, so we pick up today where we left off last time.

We were standing getting ready to lift up our hearts to the Lord in the Eucharistic Prayer, which is the center and summit of the entire celebration. Because it is the ultimate prayer of thanksgiving that sanctifies us, and because it is the prayer that offers the Sacrifice of Jesus Himself to the Father, the prayer itself demands that all listen to it with reverence and in silence. (General Instruction of the Roman Missal)

In the Preface, the priest offers the prayer of thanksgiving to the Father in the orans posture. Once again, this is a reminder that the priest is offering the prayer to the Father on behalf of the people, and gathering their prayers to his. This is the prayer that usually begins with the priest saying: “It is truly right and just…” At the end of it, everyone joins the angels and the saints in singing "Holy, Holy, Holy" to the Lord, God of hosts. In this song, we are praising God and showing our unity in worship.

After this, all the faithful kneel in adoration of the Lord who is about to be made present on the altar. If we can’t kneel, we are supposed to stand in adoration. Sitting would not be a correct posture unless standing would become burdensome. Then there is also the issue of the people behind the person who would have to stand, so such a person would probably have to stand near the back. Even though it is not a correct liturgical posture, some people will sit to blend in better with those who are kneeling so they don’t stick out like a sore thumb. If we can kneel, we should kneel. If not, we should stand, without being overly conspicuous. If we cannot stand, we can sit. It is good that we are here. My goal is to present the profound meanings of our common posture thus encouraging the faithful into a deeper experience of encountering the Lord in these sacred mysteries.

After the priest consecrates the bread and wine and they become the Body and Blood or our Lord, by the power of God, he elevates them to show them to the people. The server rings the bells the remind us of the substantial presence of Almighty God. He is present in His substance: Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity. Some of the faithful have gotten in the habit of striking the breast at this time. This is an acknowledgement of the fact that I am in the presence of God, and I am not worthy to be in His presence. As the Eucharistic Prayer continues, we hear language about offering Jesus, the Spotless Victim,  to the Father. The Second Vatican Council tells us there is more: that the faithful would also learn to offer themselves, and so day by day to be consummated, through Christ the Mediator, into unity with God and with each other, so that at last God may be all in all (1 Cor. 15;28). We could write a doctoral dissertation just unpacking the meaning of that sentence.

At the end of the Eucharistic Prayer, the priest holds up the sacred elements, expressing glory to God. This in confirmed and concluded by the people’s acclamation: Amen. The Amen is usually sung, showing that it is an act of praising God, it is a sign of unity, and it shows that the people make it their own.

After the Amen, the people stand for the Communion Rite. This posture of standing is meaningful because we are about to encounter and greet someone very important, the most important person ever, Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. Unpacking these mysteries today gives us the excellent opportunity to ask ourselves today: Is He King of my heart? How can I praise him and live my life this week to secure His throne right there in my heart where He belongs?

Friday, November 25, 2016

Liturgical Postures #5 - Excerpts from the Homily on the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Universal Prayer ends the Liturgy of the Word with the people standing. Now, everyone sits for the Preparation of the Altar and the Presentation of the Gifts. This used to be called the Offertory. This is an essential part of Holy Mass but the danger exists that it may just be seen as a practical or pragmatic way to get things in the right places so Mass can continue. We will notice that the spiritual significance is profound.

We are singing the Offertory chant which shows our unity and shows that we are praising God. The faithful are waiting for the ushers to come around with the baskets for the collection. This is actually a gesture with great spiritual significance. St. Justin Martyr talked about the importance of taking up a collection on the Lord's day. Certainly it shows we are supporting the operations of the parish, but it also shows we are supporting the poor and needy. In ancient times, people would have brought the produce from their land, thus showing that their support for the parish comes from their own toil. Nowadays, the monetary collection shows the exact same thing.

Also at this time, the bread and wine are brought forward. There is profound spiritual significance here. It should be noted that they are brought forth by the people from the people. Moreover, it takes hard work and patience to make bread and wine. It shows that human beings can take the fruits of the earth, which are God's gifts, and with human ingenuity, also God's gift, offer them back to Him. We should also notice these are the exact same elements Jesus used at the Last Supper.

The Prayerful opportunity continues. We know what is going to happen to the bread and wine. They will be consecrated, made holy, set apart. We know God will change them into the Body and Blood of Christ, using the priest as His instrument. We further know that they will be offered to the Father. As the bread and wine are brought forward to become our offering, we are invited to offer ourselves with them to the Father. We can prayerfully place ourselves on the altar with the bread and wine: our hopes, dreams, desires, sufferings, joys, talents and all that we are, to become an offering to the Father.

It is also appropriate, as much as possible, to have one vessel for bread, signifying the one loaf; and one chalice of wine, further signifying our unity in Christ. Individual cups would greatly diminish the idea of unity in Christ.

At this point of Mass, the altar has become the centerpiece and focal point. It is a symbol of Christ, and it is set apart for one specific purpose, nothing else. The priest can incense the altar along with the cross and the bread and wine. The General Instruction on the Roman Missal (GIRM) states that this is "to signify the Church's offering and prayer rising like incense in the sight of God."

The GIRM continues: "Next, the priest, because of his sacred ministry, and the people, by reason of their baptismal dignity, may be incensed by the deacon or another minister." This reminds the faithful that by virtue of our baptism, we are set apart to be God's own. We are consecrated to Him. 

Since the priest invites all to pray that "my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God" we know that we are offering all that we are to the Father. The people stand for the priest to offer the Prayer over the Offerings to God. He does so in the orans position. This shows that the priest is collecting the prayers of the people and offering them to God on their behalf. They make the prayer their own with a resounding "Amen."

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Liturgical Postures #4 - Excerpts from the homily on the 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time

As the Liturgy of the Word begins, we sit for the first time. First of all sitting is the common posture of all gathered so it shows our unity. Secondly, sitting is a posture of being receptive. Hopefully we know we are being receptive to Jesus himself in the Word proclaimed. God is speaking to His people and we are receiving spiritual nourishment.
The Second Vatican Ecumenical Council reminds us that we are not passive spectators at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. All the faithful are called to full and active participation. Sometimes the word "active" is translated as "actual." In the Liturgy of the Word, we participate well through active listening.
It should also me pointed out that the person who gets up to proclaim the sacred text does not participate more or better by doing this task. All the faithful are capable of participating fully from the pews.
At the end of the reading, we reply, "Thanks be to God." This shows our unity in thanksgiving. Our thanksgiving will build until its climax in the Eucharistic Prayer which it self is a prayer of thanksgiving acknowledging the "Good Gift" (eu-charis in Greek). The General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) says the faithful are "honoring the Word of God they have received in faith and with grateful hearts."
A period of silence after each reading and the homily is good for enhancing meditation. The GIRM says: "By their silence and singing, the people make God's Word their own." This singing happens during the Responsorial Psalm which is also Sacred Scripture and thus cannot be substituted for some other poem or literature. A person waiting to read the second reading should never be standing and waiting, but joining all the faithful in the seated position of being receptive to the Lord. Singing shows our unity in faith as we sing with one voice. It also fosters meditation and praises God. I think it was St. Augustine who said, "He who sings prays twice."
There are many non-verbals associated with the proclamation of the Gospel at Holy Mass. This shows its elevation from all other texts because it is the life of Jesus our Blessed Lord and His very words. First we stand because we are meeting our Blessed Lord in His words. We always stand to greet someone. As we stand we sing the Gospel acclamations, Alleluias at this time of year. This shows we are praising God who is about to speak to us in the Gospel. The Gospel has its own book, known also as the evangelary. Perhaps this could remind us we are hearing the words of Christ who is God in human flesh. The Gospel has to be proclaimed at Mass by an ordained minister. This shows it is the high point of the Liturgy of the Word. That ordained minister can also incense the book of the Gospels as it is open to the page. We incense things that are holy. It is certainly holy as it contains the words of Jesus himself. Many regions have adopted the gesture of making three crosses, one each on the forehead, lips, and breast. Some will even pray to the Lord: "May your Word be on my mind, on my lips and in my heart" as a sign to continually meditate on it, share it with the world, and ponder these things in our hearts in imitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. At the end of the Gospel, the ordained minister kisses the page to show his affection for the sweetness of the words of Christ.
In the homily, the faithful return to the seated position, being receptive the to Word as it is unpacked. The silence after the homily is the perfect time to ponder how one might put these exhortations into one's own life in the coming week.
In the Creed we stand to show that we are declaring our faith, giving witness to God's goodness. We recite the Creed together to show our adherence to our faith in the Lord and our unity in doing so. The Creed is the perfect thing to launch us into the Liturgy of the Eucharist. We have just been nourished with God's Word and had these Mysteries unpacked for us. We claim their as our own in the Creed and then look forward to the Mysteries Incarnate in the Liturgy of the Eucharist.
But first, we remain standing for the Universal Prayer, offering our petitions for the good of the Church, the world, and ourselves. Responding "Lord Hear Our Prayer" in unison make the prayers our own and shows our unity in doing so.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Liturgical postures and gestures #3 - Excerpts from Homily of 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time

When the hymn begins, we all stand together. Of course, some people are unable to stand for whatever reason so they may stay seated because of physical limitations. But our gesture of standing speaks volumes. First, it is a common gesture for all. We are showing our unity as we stand together. Plus, standing is a sign of welcoming. We are not only welcoming the priest and ministers into the room, but we are preparing ourselves to welcome Christ.

At the same time, we sing together the entrance antiphon or hymn. Not only does this hymn open the celebration, but singing together also fosters and signifies our unity. Hopefully we notice unity is a big deal. We’ll see many more symbols of unity throughout Mass.

As we ministers reach the sanctuary, we genuflect to Jesus who is present in the tabernacle. We recall from last week that genuflecting shows that Jesus is our king and we believe that he is truly present: Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity in the Blessed Sacrament that is reserved in the tabernacle. If the Blessed Sacrament is not present, we would make a profound bow to the altar. This is because the altar is a symbol of Christ. Furthermore, the altar is consecrated for the sole purpose of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. In case it is not clear how sacred the altar is, the priest also kisses the altar.

There is also the option of incensing the altar. We incense things that are holy to show reverence for them (including the human body at a funeral). The smoke of the incense rising also reminds us of our prayers rising to the throne of God in Heaven.

Then the priest leads everyone in the Sign of the Cross. Recall from last week how the Sign of the Cross speaks volumes. The Cross is the instrument Jesus used to save us from eternal death, and offer us new life in Him.

Then, there are some words spoken by the priest in greeting, and the people respond together, in one voice, once again showing unity. The General Instruction on the Roman Missal (GIRM) says: “By this greeting and the people’s response, the mystery of the Church gathered together is made manifest.” So, our little signs of unity here also point to the unity of the Church throughout the world. That is some 1.2 billion Catholics worldwide.

Even our moments of silence speak volumes. As the priest invites all gathered to call to mind their sins, there is a moment of silence to do just that. Furthermore, we can consciously call to mind that we are in God’s presence.

In the Confiteor, we strike our breast when we say: “through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault,” just like the tax collector in today’s Gospel. What does that mean? This is an ancient sign of humility that shows we are sinners, we need God’s mercy and we are unworthy to be in His presence. Striking the breast can be done very lightly. It is a symbolic gesture. We are not trying to hurt ourselves.
In some places, the faithful have made the Sign of the Cross when the priest says: “May Almighty God have mercy on us, forgive us our sins, and bring us the everlasting life.” This is a pious action that speaks volumes, but the Sign of the Cross is not called for here in the liturgical norms. If it were mandated, it might create confusion with absolution from the Sacrament of Penance. The GIRM reminds us that this sentence spoken by the priest “lacks the efficacy of the Sacrament of Penance.” We are required to receive the Sacrament of Penance at least once a year and any time we are conscious of mortal sin before we consider receiving Holy Communion. In my opinion, people who make the Sign of the Cross here should continue to do so.

It is also appropriate for the priest to sprinkle the people with holy water, especially in the Easter Season. This gesture speaks volumes in reminding us of our Baptism and all the rich implications that come with being made sons and daughters of God.

Finally, to finish up the Introductory Rite, the priest invites all to pray. Before the prayer, we observe silence once again to consciously remind ourselves that we are in God’s presence. And we can formulate our own mental petitions of prayer. The prayer the priest says is called the Collect. Collect looks exactly like the word collect, and it means the same thing. As the priest is praying it on behalf of the people gathered, all their individual prayers, hope and desires are collected and offered to God also.

The priest prays the Collect in the orans position, which is the ancient prayer position with hands held open and slightly out to the side. Since the priest is representing the people and collecting all their prayers into one with the Collect he is praying, it would not be appropriate for any of the faithful to pray in the orans position at that time. It would diminish the symbolism of all the prayers of the faithful being collected into one by the priest’s prayer to the Father.

And the people acclaim together: “Amen.” This shows they unite themselves to the prayer the priest just made to the Father. And it shows they make the prayer their own, once again, showing their unity. 

Liturgical posture #2 - Excerpts from Homily on 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time

As we walk into the church, men remove their hats but women can keep their hats on. Men remove their hats for respect just like entering a courtroom as a sign of respect. It has always been good manners for men to remove their hats as they enter buildings especially important buildings like the church. Women, on the other hand, can keep their hats and veils on in Church. We veil things that are important. The Holy of Holies in the Temple was veiled. The tabernacle, the Holy of Holies of the New Covenant, is veiled. A bride veils herself before she gets married.

As we walk into church, the first thing we find is the holy water font. We dip our right hand into the holy water to bless ourselves. The holy water reminds us of our baptism. This is important because it is in baptism that we received new life in Christ. We were creatures of God, but in Baptism, we became sons and daughters of God.

With the holy water, we make the sign of the Cross with our right hand. Of course, if someone does not have a functioning right hand, the left hand could be used. The Sign of the Cross is super important because the Cross is the tool Jesus used to bring us out of eternal death and into eternal life. He transformed the Roman instrument of torture and death into the ultimate instrument of new life. Sometimes we get lazy and make the sign of the circle, or the sign of the triangle.

When we make the sign of the Cross, we usually say the prayer: In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. We are saying that everything we do, we are doing by God’s authority. How dare we pray at all, but because God loves us, we can dare to pray in His name.

Next, we walk to a pew, of course as close to the front as we can get. As we are walking, we spy out the tabernacle. We should also notice the sanctuary lamp. This is usually a red candle that indicates that the Blessed Sacrament is in the tabernacle. The Blessed Sacrament is reserved there so that Holy Communion can be taken to the sick at some other time. If the tabernacle is at center axis, behind the altar, we genuflect to Jesus, who is present in the tabernacle. What does that mean? Back in the olden days, people used to genuflect to kings. Jesus Christ is King of the universe, so people started genuflecting to the King of Kings who is present in the tabernacle. When we genuflect to Jesus, we put our right knee to the floor. When we do gesture, we are speaking body language that says “Jesus is king of the universe. He is my king. I want him to be the king of my heart.”

This gesture is also body language that says: I believe Jesus when he said at the Last Supper, “This is my Body.” And since Jesus Christ is not divided, that has to be the whole Christ: Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity.

Of course, if someone is unable to genuflect, he or she can do a profound bow to show reverence to the Lord. Or, if the tabernacle is not in the church but in some separate adoration chapel, we would make a profound bow to the sacred altar because it is a symbol of Christ.

Then we walk into our pew, kneel, and begin our preparation prayers. The posture of kneeling is a sign of humility. So, kneeling in humility, we are saying to the Lord: You are God and I’m not. Kneeling is also a sign of adoration. It shows the Lord that we believe He is the Awesome God and we love Him. The posture of kneeling can also be a posture of petition or supplication, which means asking the Lord for His blessings.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Liturgical posture and non-verbals from last Sunday’s homily

It all begins before we even leave the house to come to Mass. First, we have to remember to keep the Eucharistic Fast by abstaining from food and beverages for at least an hour. Water and medicine are OK. Gum and coffee do break the fast. We should leave these sorts of things at the house. This is a small way to prepare to receive the most awesome Gift of Jesus himself into ourselves. This reminds us that everything we do is ordered toward and directed to this encounter with Christ.
How do I dress for Mass? Do I dress like I am going to encounter the living God? How would I dress to meet the most important human being, whoever we might think that is: the pope, the president, some other politician, the queen of England, the person interviewing me for a job? I have heard other Christians make comments that we sometimes dress for Mass like we are going to the beach. We have air conditioning. Shorts, tank tops and beachwear are not respectful enough for the King of Kings.
Remember the book by Matthew Kelly, Rediscover Catholicism?
He talked about reading the readings ahead of time and even bringing a journal. He challenged us to be ready to hear at least one thing that was going to improve my life this week.
Another non-verbal that speaks volumes is arriving early. This gives us time to prayerfully prepare to enter into the sacred mysteries where we will encounter the living God.
Once we arrive at the church in our cars, we should leave our cell phones in the car unless we are expecting an emergency. This is a good reminder that the time we spend in Church is meant for God and His people.

Our non-verbals are already speaking volumes and we have not even arrived at the door of church. We’ll pick up there next week.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Respect Life Sunday Homily

“Destruction and violence are before me.” These are the words of the prophet Habakkuk in today’s first reading. On this Respect Life Sunday, we draw attention to the destruction and violence that continues against innocent human life. It’s a reminder to us that God’s commandment against murder is absolute and non-negotiable.

And sometimes we may feel like the prophet Habakkuk as he cries out: “How long, O Lord?” In this country, it has been legal to end the life of the unborn child for 43 years. And, in some places it seems like things are getting worse. For example, the aged are more and more vulnerable to euthanasia. But as Christians, our actions are to show the unique and priceless value of every human life.

Pope Francis just canonized St. Teresa of Calcutta a month ago. We knew her as Mother Teresa. She became well known when she won the Nobel Peace Prize for caring for the poorest of the poor and the dying. Do you remember what she said about peace when she visited the United States in 1994? “The greatest destroyer of peace today is abortion, because it is a war against the child…”

One of the ways we can support the unborn is by supporting their mothers who are afraid, scared and worried about the unknown. Crisis pregnancy centers help these women and girls know that we will help make life as easy as possible for them during this temporary situation. We are called to Christian generosity to give them everything they need so they can choose life.

And sometimes the obvious needs to be pointed out: Nobody stays pregnant forever. It’s only temporary. A temporary inconvenience can never warrant the death of an innocent person. But people overcome by fear and anxiety make rash decisions every day.

It is also very important to point out that there is great hope for healing for those who have made these decisions in the past. There is no longer any need to carry around these secrets that cause overwhelming regret and emotional pain. All people who have been complicit in abortion can get the healing they need in Project Rachel or any number of apostolates for healing the Church offers. These apostolates reflect the compassionate heart of Christ. And of course, they are confidential. Our loving God desires to forgive and heal everyone who turns to him. His offer of forgiveness and healing remains constant no matter what we have done.

We Christians have an important role to play as citizens. Our responsibility is to engage the culture as Christians. No matter how we decide to get engaged, let’s remember the words of St. Paul that we heard today: “God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control. Do not be ashamed of your testimony to our Lord.”

Our bishops continually remind all the Faithful that we must express our Catholic faith and morals in the public square whether it’s done in the voting booth, contacting elected officials, raising awareness, organizing events or whatever.

In order to vote, we must have a well-formed conscience. Conscience is not feelings, but a product of the intellect. We have to be informed about the policies of the candidates who are currently asking for us to give them governing power over us. And as Christians, we form our conscience by having an understanding of the teachings of Christ, and find out what the Church teaches and why. For example, right now, we have to know about the vacancy on the Supreme Court. The first thing the next president will do is appoint someone to fill that vacancy. Then the senate will approve this person or not. What kind of people has the candidate promised to put on the Supreme Court? Since the Supreme Court decides the constitutionality of laws that have to do with protecting the unborn, this will literally have life and death consequences. What’s going to happen to the Little Sisters of the Poor who don’t want to participate in the distribution of abortion-inducing drugs?

We have to find out: What have the candidates and parties said about the Hyde Amendment that makes it illegal to pay for abortions through Medicaid with our tax dollars. It has passed every year since with bipartisan support. But this year, it has come into question. Where do the candidates and parties stand in keeping our tax dollars from paying for evil?

The other thing we have to do as a Christian people is pray. October is the month of the Rosary. This is great opportunity to reinvigorate our prayer lives and beg the Lord to change hearts in the culture. Pray for our country. Pray for our world. Pray for all who have chosen abortion in the past that they will seek God’s forgiveness, healing and loving embrace. As we pray for the conversion of hearts, we recognize more and more the awesome dignity of all human beings at every stage of development, the pinnacle of creation, wonderfully made in God’s image. His plan always leads to life.