Sunday, January 15, 2017

Sanctity of Human Life Sunday Homily

Here we are back in Ordinary Time. Many people active in the Church will often be heard saying: “There is nothing ordinary about Ordinary Time.” It gets its name from the ordinal numbers, the numbers that show an order, such as first, second, third, fourth, fifth, and so on. One problem is that in English, the word “ordinary” means plain, normal, mundane.
We just came out of the Christmas season where we focused on Jesus’ birth and the Mystery of the Incarnation. During Ordinary Time, we do not focus on just one aspect of the Paschal Mystery but on the fullness of the Mystery of Christ.

Today in the Gospel, we hear St. John the Baptist say: “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” Behold love. Behold the one who offers himself as a gift so that we may have life and have it abundantly. That is the definition of love. St. John the Baptist and all the saints have been imitating the love of Christ for 2,000 years. They realized that love is sacrificing one’s own comfort for the good of another, and they imitated that love. That sacrificial love of the Lamb of God is the Good News for us.

You and I are also called to imitate that sacrificial love. Parents make sacrifices every day, so their children may have life and have it abundantly. There is nothing more beautiful. There’s also some bad news today. Love’s opposite runs rampant in our land. Some who get the news they are parents ask the child to sacrifice her life for the comfort or convenience of the parent. This is the opposite of love.

Many pro-life groups observe today as Sanctity of Life Sunday in our country. It gives us the opportunity to acknowledge the precious gift of human life. President Ronald Reagan designated January 22, 1984 as the first National Sanctity of Human Life Day. That date was the 11th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton Supreme Court cases that legalized abortion in all 50 states through all nine months of pregnancy. Now we are up to 44 years since this national disgrace has been legal. And it happens over 3,000 times a day in our land. Meanwhile, many married couples waiting to give sacrificial love through adoption continue waiting.

Today the words of Isaiah from our first reading have special meaning. “Now the Lord has spoken, who formed me as his servant from the womb…” He also adds the line: “I am made glorious in the sight of the Lord…” Isn’t it amazing that we are glorious in the sight of the Lord before we even get a chance to do anything, just because we exist, and are made in His image.

Isaiah also mentions we are dedicated to specific tasks in the Kingdom. But, if I am not allowed to live, my specific tasks in the Kingdom will not be accomplished. The Lord formed all of us to be His servants from the womb. All of us have a unique task to serve the Lord and each other, no matter if we are wanted or unwanted in the womb.
No reason will ever justify taking the life of the child in the womb. Some may say:  The mother is poor.  She can’t afford a child. We don’t fight poverty by killing the poor. Sacrificial love demands that we generously support mother and child. It is up to us to actively change the culture of death into a culture of life. We can’t be shy about speaking up. We have to get engaged in the battle for God’s most precious gift of life. If we don’t know what to say, we can find out what to say. We can ask someone engaged in pro-life work how to get trained. We have to let our politicians know we are pro-life, and killing the unborn is not acceptable. It is our duty to let them know with our voice and with our vote. Now is the time to pray and act.

Please pray for our parishioners who are traveling to Washington for the March for Life on the 27th. We have a group of 11 brave souls. We will brave the winter weather to give a voice to those whose voice cannot yet be heard. We will make a small sacrifice so that others may have life. Every year, I see the hundreds of thousands of youth, in great joy, showing this great love, and it gives me great encouragement.

If the anniversary of Roe and Doe is on January 22nd, why is the March for Life going to be on the 27th? The 22nd falls on a Sunday, and the organizers of the March always make sure it happens on a weekday when the Congress in is session. A new congress took office earlier this month. Some have started working on pro-life legislation. And some have started to fight it. It is up to us to let them know we are pro-life and hold them accountable as the ones charged with protecting the public whenever someone tries to kill the public.

Most importantly, we must always remember to pray for the healing of those who suffer the wounds of past abortions. Many of them were told lies. They were tempted into despair. Many of them were convinced they had no choice, that there was no hope. The burden of regret is becoming more well-known for both men and women. Nobody needs to carry that burden. The Church has many excellent healing ministries. You and I can show the open arms of the loving mercy of Jesus Christ. He will bring them to healing through us. We can be God’s instruments of hope for the world.

Speaking of hope, it is a major theme of Ordinary Time. We wear green vestments because green is a symbol of hope. The color reminds us of renewal, rebirth, immortality, generosity of spirit, and eternal life. It reminds us to focus on the One who is truly life giving. In hope we remember that God has not abandoned us. He is active in our lives. He loves us more than we love ourselves. He invites us into eternal life with Him.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Liturgical Postures #8 of 8; Excerpts from Second Sunday of Advent

Did you know the Sign of Peace is actually optional? The missal says: “If appropriate, the Deacon or the Priest, adds: Let us offer each other the sign of peace.” So don’t be alarmed if you go to Mass somewhere else and the priest leaves it out. Mass is still valid and perfectly licit, or legal, without it. When I was in high school work, there were many times we had to invite the students to offer the sign of peace before Mass even started. In certain situations, the liturgy could easily get off the rails. It could lead to the tendency to completely forget about Jesus and the mysteries being celebrated. We are here to worship Him.

So what is the meaning of the Sign of Peace? The missal reminds us this gesture “expresses peace, communion, and charity.” We could spend years unpacking each of those. It is good for us Christians, to join ourselves to the Lord Jesus in this act of worship of the Father, who is the origin of peace, communion and charity. Jesus is our peace, we don’t manufacture it ourselves. Jesus is the source of our communion, we could not manufacture it ourselves no matter how much we tried. Since we are in communion with him, we are in communion with each other by association. He is the one that makes our communion real. Our communion with Him is the only reason we can signify it with the sign of peace in the first place.

The liturgical books further remind us that the sign of peace is not focused on the reconciliation of brothers and sisters. All of that was already signified earlier in Mass. In the Penitential Act, we said: “I confess to Almighty God and to you my brothers and sisters that I have greatly sinned.”

The important thing is that we keep in mind the Sign of Peace is a symbolic action. By making the sign of peace with the people next to us, we are saying we are at peace with everyone, not only everyone present in the building, but also with everyone in the Universal Church, and hopefully everyone in the world. Because of this symbolism, it is not necessary or proper to try to offer the sign of peace to as many people as possible.

The General Instruction of the Roman Missal reminds us: “It is, however, appropriate that each person offer the sign of peace only to those who are nearest and in a sober manner.” The people nearest us are the people on either side of us. If it’s not in a sober manner, we could be distracted from the sacred mysteries we are celebrating.

The appropriate form of the sign of peace in this country is a hand shake. Some people who are closer may embrace or even kiss each other if it is appropriate.

Looking at the big picture, we should keep in mind at that time of Mass that Jesus is exposed, and present, on the altar: Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity. Some of the faithful in some parts of the Church would be scandalized that the faithful would turn their backs to the Lord who is present in the Blessed Sacrament. This Advent season is a special time to long to be in the Lord's presence.

Since our beginnings 2,000 years ago, Catholics have always been very good at fostering community. We have always had better community building than any other faith-based group in the world. The important thing is that we remember we are at Mass to worship God.

All this being said, it is never appropriate to walk around, away from one’s place in the pews. I especially ask parents to be vigilant in keeping your children of all ages in your care. Since reconciliation between brothers was already signified at the Penitential Act at the beginning of Mass, it would not make sense to go seek out our enemies at this time, let alone our friends or the people we like the best.

Another reason for a sober sign of peace, is because of what is going to happen next. We should long to witness the liturgical action of the priest breaking the sacred host. It reminds us that Jesus’ body was broken for us in His death on the Cross. The one who is fully God and fully human went to a horrible gruesome death so we could have eternal life. That is good news, and we should desire to witness it.

This also signifies that the many faithful are made one body by receiving communion from the one bread of life which is Christ. This leads us to our ultimate sign of unity: Holy Communion.

The faithful are invited to receive Holy Communion. The word “communion” means “one with.” We are made one with Jesus because He makes us one with him. When we receive the Body and Blood of the Lord Jesus, we are one with Him if we receive in the state of grace. And if all of us are one with Him, we are one with each other. It is a unity that Jesus makes real, not one that we can fabricate, manufacture, or invent on our own.

In receiving Holy Communion, our body language is speaking volumes. We are saying our union with the Church is real. We are saying we believe everything the Church teaches. We are saying the pope is our spiritual father. We are saying we are in the state of grace and have prepared ourselves to receive. We are saying we are not conscious of any grave sin since our last confession. If these things are not true, we are telling a lie with our bodies and committing a sacrilege, treating something holy in an unholy way. If these things are not true, we should never receive communion just because everybody else does.

How do we receive? The universal, worldwide practice is to receive Holy Communion on the tongue while standing. The United States and some other countries have received special permission to receive Holy Communion in the hand, but this is not the universal practice. Other countries use the posture of kneeling for Holy Communion. So, we should be careful when traveling to other countries. We don’t want to scandalize or offend the faithful.

Holy Mother Church also asks us to make a gesture of adoration before receiving. In 2002, the bishops of this country asked us to make a bow of the head that symbolizes our adoration of the Lord who we are receiving. I think we do a really good job with that. Even though this is the preferred gesture in our country, some people genuflect or receive while kneeling. These are also acceptable.

The things I have shared with you over these past couple months are in no way exhaustive of the fullness of the mysteries being celebrated. The Lord invites all of us into the mysteries more fully in order to worship Him and encounter Him more fully. We can never finish learning this no matter how long we live.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Liturgical Postures #7: Excerpts from First Sunday of Advent

Happy New Year! Today we begin the new liturgical year on this First Sunday of Advent. If we are beginning a new year, and we are in Advent, why is our Gospel reading from the end of Matthew’s Gospel? The Lord reminds us the world is passing away. So He invites us to rethink being invested in the world. Advent reminds us: The King is coming. We don’t know the day or the hour. The Lord invites us to faithful service for the Kingdom. We have the opportunity to prepare to meet the Bridegroom, the Master, the King of all the nations.

The closest we can get to the King this side of Heaven is the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. So let’s unpack the sacred mysteries. When I first thought about doing a series on liturgical postures, I was going to call it this: “Should we hold hands during the Our Father, and everything you ever wanted to know about liturgical postures, gestures, and non-verbals”. And I thought about holding the series once a week in the evening. As I continued to pray about it, I realized it is much too important for only a handful of people to hear. So I decided the Sunday homily would reach more people with this important topic. If we were in a classroom setting, I would ask the question: In what ways do we show our unity at Mass? I could write all the answers on the board.
People might answer with some of the things we have already covered: Common posture like sitting and standing; Some might say: responding together, singing together, maybe the sign of peace, which we haven’t covered yet. Some might even mention the most awesome and ultimate way we show our unity. And it’s not holding hands at the Our Father, it’s receiving Holy Communion.

We’ll finish with that next week. Today we pick up where we left off at the Our Father, or the Lord’s Prayer. The priest gives the introduction with his hands closed and then he opens his hands to the orans position as he says the words: “Our Father”. From what we already covered about the orans position, we know it is one the priest uses at Mass to collect the prayers of all the faithful into one as it is presented to the Father in Heaven. I already mentioned that the orans position is an ancient prayer posture and it is appropriate for people to use in their devotional lives of prayer. However, at Mass, it could confuse the meaning of our common posture especially if people are doing different things, since unity is one of our goals. 

So we might ask: What are the people to do? We already covered the priest: he has to hold his hand out in the orans position because he is collecting the prayers of all in his role of leadership. We can explore this question more deeply if there is a deacon present. Actually, in two weeks, we will have a deacon here to preach at Mass. You will notice that at the Lord’s Prayer, the deacon will have his hands closed in prayer the whole time. He is not permitted to open his hands in the orans position during the Lord’s Prayer. So we might ask: If a deacon, who is an ordained minister, serving at the altar during Mass, in an official capacity, prays the Lord’s Prayer with his hands closed, why would the lay faithful open their hands like the priest does? It would be more appropriate for the faithful to imitate the deacon, rather than the priest. 

What about the other question: Should the faithful be holding hands during the Our Father? I would answer with another question: Why just during the Our Father? Why did we not hold hands during the opening hymn, the Collect, during the readings, during the Gospel, during the Eucharistic Prayer? So my answer would be, it would only make sense liturgically if we were holding hands during the whole Mass. And I’m sure we would all agree that would be strange. Some people have wondered how holding hands crept its way into the liturgy over the past few decades. I heard one person guess that people were imitating the priest in the orans position and then they started to bump their hands into each other and then they just decided to grab each other’s hands. My theory is that some families hold hands during grace before meals and they have tried to introduce it into the sacred liturgy.
And then, after the Our Father, why do some people raise their hands really high when we say: For the Kingdom, the power and the glory are yours now and for ever.”? I have no idea where that comes from. But we can learn something from concelebrating priests. That’s when there is more than one priest offering Mass at the same time. After we say: “Deliver us from evil,” the concelebrating priests have to close their hands. Only the one main celebrant can keep his hands open showing his role of leadership in prayer.

Several years ago, Bishop Foys across the river had all his parishes in the Diocese of Covington do catechesis on why is would not be proper to hold hands during the Our Father at Mass. He actually asked the faithful of his diocese not to do it. I’m not here making a rule today. But I am trying to unpack what is proper and improper at Holy Mass and why we are doing what we are doing.

I have always wondered: how prayerful can it be to hold hands during the Lord’s Prayer? I am thinking more about the prayer or am I distracted by the other person’s hand? When I was teaching high school, I would see students use it as an opportunity to mess with each other. I remember two seniors rubbing each other’s fingers trying to get the other one to giggle. Even since I’ve been pastor here, I have seen children using it as an opportunity to misbehave.

So we have this opportunity to ask ourselves this question: In this liturgical new year, how can I, or how can our family, celebrate these mysteries with greater devotion? How can we understand more and more why we do what we do as a Church? How is the Lord drawing me into His presence?

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.