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.