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.