Archive for the ‘Liturgy’ Category

March 28th

March 28, 2010

This Sunday is known as Palm Sunday and it marks the beginning of Holy Week.  Palm Sunday commemorates Our Lord’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem shortly before His Passion.  On Palm Sunday, we all receive blessed palms, which remind us of the palm branches that the people spread on the road before the Lord as He processed into the city amidst the acclamation of the crowd.  At the Palm Sunday liturgy, there may also be a more solemn entrance procession, which, is yet another external reminder of our Lord’s solemn procession.

The entire purpose of the liturgical year is to help us to walk with our Lord in the various events of His earthly life.  During all of Lent our focus has been directed to the Passion of Our Lord in a general way.  Holy Week focuses us in a particular way on each of the last days of Our Lord’s life before His Passion, death and Resurrection.

Wednesday in Holy Week was traditionally called “Spy Wednesday” because on that day the Gospel reading recounts how Judas began to conspire with the Pharisees to put Jesus to death.

Holy Thursday is a day in which we remember the Lord’s Last Supper as well as the institution of the ordained priesthood.  In the morning there is a Mass at the Cathedral with the Archbishop.  At that Mass priests are invited to renew the promises that they made at their ordination.  It is also at that Mass that the Sacred Chrism will be consecrated.  That Chrism will be used to anoint the hands of the men who will be ordained this coming May.

In the evening of Holy Thursday, we commemorate the fact that Our Lord washed the feet of His Apostles.  At that Mass, the priest liturgically re-enacts that sacred event by washing the feet of twelve men from the parish.

Good Friday is the only day of the entire year when we do not celebrate Mass.  On Good Friday we remember the day Our Lord died for us and was buried.  We have a liturgy in which we are all invited to come forward and venerate the cross.  We also have a Communion service, but Mass is not celebrated on that day as a reminder of that day that Our Savior spent in the tomb.

Easter Vigil (Saturday evening) is one of the most important (and my favorite) liturgical celebrations of the entire year.  It begins with the blessing of the Easter Candle and a candlelight procession.  There are many beautiful prayers and the Gloria is sung while the bells peal and ring out as a sign of our joy.  There are several readings from the Old Testament, which recount Creation and Salvation history.  During the Vigil the candidates who have been in the RCIA will be Baptized, Confirmed and receive first Holy Communion.  It is truly a extraordinary celebration.  If you have never attended an Easter Vigil, I highly recommend you come and experience it for yourself.

God bless,

Father White

March 7th

March 5, 2010

After the priest finishes his own preparation prayers, and the congregation has finished singing the Lamb of God, the priest holds the consecrated Host aloft and says: “This is the Lamb of God . . .”  We all respond to this proclamation with the prayer “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed.”

This prayer that we all recite together is a reminder that none of us is worthy, on our own, to receive our Lord: God’s grace and mercy are always a freely given gift.  We can not earn them, we can only receive them.

Reception of Holy Communion is the high point of the Mass.  After we receive Our Lord, we should spend time with Him thanking Him and telling Him all the other things on our hearts.  It is also good to just sit still and be aware of His Presence within us after we have received Him in Holy Communion.  We should avail ourselves of the time that it takes for everyone else to go to Communion as well as the time it takes the priest to purify the vessels.  That is time that we can spend with our God, Whom we have just been intimately united with in Communion.

The Concluding Prayer usually asks that the grace that we have received will strengthen us and keep us faithful as we go out into the world.  The priest then blesses the people and dismisses them.  The dismissal is really a sending forth.  It is not just “It’s over, you can go now.”  It is more of a commissioning: “Go and share with the world the grace that you have received.”

The exit hymn is a chance for us to praise our God, in song, for all the great things that He has done for us: especially for giving us the gift of Himself in the Holy Eucharist.

I hope these reflections on the Mass have been helpful.  I know that it has been a long series, but I think it is important for all of us to be reminded of why it is that we do what we do in the Sacred Liturgy.

God bless,

Father White

February 28th

March 2, 2010

After the conclusion of the Eucharistic Prayer, the Mass continues with the Communion Rite.  This rite includes our immediate preparation and reception of Our Lord in Holy Communion.

To prepare ourselves, we together pray for our daily bread in the prayer that Our Lord taught us: the “Our Father.”  Towards the end of the Lord’s Prayer, we pray that God forgive us, as we forgive others.  This conclusion of the Lord’s Prayer leads very naturally into the sign of peace.

When we exchange with one another the sign of peace, we should call to mind Our Lord’s teaching that we ought to be reconciled with others before offering our gift at the altar.  (cf. Matthew 5:23-24)  The significance of this gesture is more than just our wishing peace to those in our immediate proximity at church.  The sign of peace is meant to be a reminder to us that we are called to forgive everyone and not to hold any grudges.  We cannot harbor hatred against others and receive God, Who is love, into our hearts at the same time.

Following the exchange of peace, the Lamb of God is sung.  This ancient invocation calls upon Our Lord to grant us mercy and peace.  The term “Lamb of God” should call our minds back to the Old Testament, where lambs were offered in order to atone for sins.  By saying that Jesus is the “Lamb of God” Who takes away the “sins of the world” we are reminding ourselves that Jesus died to save us and through His death on the Cross, we are able to obtain mercy and true peace from God.

While the congregation is singing the Lamb of God, the priest bows and prays his own prayer of preparation.  The words of this prayer are quite beautiful, so I thought I would reproduce them for you here: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, by the will of the Father and the work of the Holy Spirit your death brought life to the world.  By your holy body and blood free me from all my sins and from every evil.  Keep me faithful to your teaching and never let me be parted from you.”  [This prayer is the first option of preparation prayers for the priest, which are found in the Sacramentary.]

We will conclude our reflections on the Mass next week.

God bless,

Father White

February 14th

February 15, 2010

In the final part of the first Eucharistic prayer, there is a prayer in which the priest acknowledges his own sinfulness.  The priest proclaims himself a sinner and that proclamation is accompanied by an action: he strikes his breast.  The striking of the breast is a sign of acknowledging one’s own sinfulness and is also a sign of repentance.  It is an action that is taken directly from Scripture.  (Luke 18:13)

It is certainly a good thing to call to mind the fact that we are sinners in need of God’s mercy, but this might seem like a strange part of the Mass to be pointing out one’s sinfulness.  If we remember, however, Saint Peter himself had a similar reaction to Our Lord’s presence when the Lord manifested His power by enabling Peter to catch a miraculous super-abundance of fish.  At recognizing Who Jesus is, Saint Peter fell to his knees and asked the Lord to depart from him because of his own unworthiness.  (cf. Luke 5: 1-11)  The priest, in the Presence of the same Jesus Christ, acknowledges his sinfulness and instead of asking the Lord to depart, asks for forgiveness.

The priest then recalls that God gives us all good gifts, especially the gifts of the body, blood, soul and divinity of Christ present before him upon the altar, which God has blessed and made holy.  The priest then takes the host and the chalice and lifts them up and offers them to the Father.  While doing so he says (or sings) the “doxology.”  At the doxology, the priest prays that all honor and glory forever be to God, through Christ, with Him and in Him.

This doxology is a good reminder that the bread and wine that were presented at the offertory exist no longer.  They have been wholly and completely transformed into Christ.  That is why the priest does not pray “through it” but “through Him”.

The doxology and the “Great Amen” conclude the Eucharistic prayer.  Next week we will continue by looking at the Rite of Communion.

God bless,

Father White

February 7th

February 7, 2010

Following the prayer that we looked at last week, there follows a prayer which has a pause in the middle of it.  This prayer is known as the “Commemoration of the Dead.”  In this prayer, the priest commends the faithful departed to the Lord and then pauses for a moment in order to call to mind those for whom he wishes to pray.  This pause in the Eucharistic prayer is an opportunity for all of us to call to mind our departed loved ones and commend them to the loving mercy of God.

After this short pause for silent prayer, the priest prays that all those who sleep in Christ may enjoy the presence of Christ in Heaven.  This prayer beautifully asks that those who sleep in Christ find “light, happiness, and peace.”

The next prayer asks that all of us have some share in the communion of Saints and another group of Saints is invoked.  All of these Saints are martyrs of the early Church.  After Saint John the Baptist is named, there are seven male Saints and seven female Saints: some of them are well known, some of them we know very little about.

The point of this list is not to list the most popular Saints, or the most recent, for then this list of Saints would be constantly changing.  This list of martyrs is meant to connect us with the early Church.  It is said that the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.  Those early martyrs shed their blood and thus gave witness to their faith.

By calling upon these Saints who died so long ago, we are reminded of the unity of the Church: not just the unity of the Church in the present day, but the unity of the Church throughout the ages.  We belong to the same Church as those martyrs of the first century.  Through their example and sacrifice the Christian faith flourished.  We honor them because they were early witnesses to the Faith; and they continue to pray for us from Heaven.

This prayer concludes by asking all the Saints in Heaven to pray for us.  Let us not forget to seek often the assistance of the Saints, for their intercession can gain for us many graces from the Lord.  All holy men and women, pray for us!

God bless,

Father White

January 31st

February 1, 2010

As we continue to look at the first Eucharistic Prayer, we come to a prayer which asks that God look favorably upon the gifts that we are offering and to accept them. We ask God to accept them just as He accepted other gifts that Scripture tells us that God was pleased to accept: that of Abel, of Abraham, and of Melchizedek. Another reason that these three Old Testament sacrifices are mentioned is because they foreshadowed the Sacrifice that Jesus would make of Himself upon Calvary.

The next prayer is rather mysterious: the priest asks that an Angel take the sacrifice to the altar that is in Heaven. This prayer reminds us that in Heaven all the Angels and Saints ceaselessly adore and worship God; our earthly liturgy is a participation in that Heavenly worship.

The priest then prays that we may be filled with every grace and blessing as we receive the Body and Blood of Christ from this altar. When we receive the Body and Blood of the Lord we receive “every grace” because we receive the Author of all grace. The priest makes the Sign of the Cross at this point to remind Himself that all grace comes through Christ, Who died upon the Cross in order that we may share in His divine life.

“Grace” can be difficult to comprehend: we talk about ‘grace’ in many different ways. Fundamentally, ‘grace’ is a participation in the very life of God. When we say that we are in a “state of grace” we mean that we are not in mortal sin, we mean that we continue to have that divine life, which we received at Baptism, within us.

It can be easy to think of grace as a thing, but grace is not a thing: it is a relationship. When we say that we share in the divine life of God, we really mean that we are in relationship with Him. When we are in a state of grace, He dwells within us. Could there be a more intimate relationship? God loves each one of us so much, He wants to be united to us; and He is communicates Himself to us ever more fully each time we receive Him in the Most Holy Eucharist.

God bless,
Father White

January 24th

January 21, 2010

The prayer that immediately follows the memorial acclamation is a prayer by which the priest offers to God the sacrifice that has just become present upon our altar. The prayer says that from the many gifts that God has given to us, we offer this holy and perfect sacrifice back to God: the bread of life and the cup of eternal salvation.

There are two points within this prayer that I would like to reflect upon. First: all things are a gift from God. What do we have, that we have not received? (cf. 1 Corinthians 4:7) Every good gift comes to us from the hand of God. (cf. James 1:17) God gives us so many blessings in our lives; it is only fitting that we offer something back to Him, in order to show our gratitude and our love.

By virtue of our Baptism, each and every one of us shares in the priestly office of Christ. We are all to make of ourselves an offering to God. The ordained priesthood was instituted specifically to serve and assist all members of the Church. At Mass, the priest offers back to God the greatest gift that He ever gave to us: the gift of His Son. The priest offers the Sacrifice that Jesus made of Himself to the Father and we are all called to unite ourselves with that sacrifice and offer ourselves with and through Christ to the Father.

The second interesting thing about this prayer is the language that it uses to refer to the recently consecrated Body and Blood of Our Lord. The prayer refers to the Body of our Lord as the “bread” and the Blood of Our Lord as the “cup”. The Church teaches us that after the Consecration, the only part of the bread and wine that remain are the appearances (taste, smell, etc.). Why, then does the prayer (given to us by the Church) talk about “bread” after the Consecration and focus on the “cup” instead of on the Precious Blood?

The Church reminds us that we often refer to things by their appearance. (cf. CT 2200) In the book of Genesis, Abraham encountered three Angels. After the author of Genesis tells us that they are Angels, they are subsequently referred to more than once as “men”. (cf. Genesis 18) The Angels are called “men” because they have the appearance of men.

The same thing can easily happen when we speak of the Body of the Lord. It continues to have the appearance of bread and therefore the prayer refers to the “bread of life”. So, too, we speak of the “cup” because that is what we see; we know, of course, that the cup is not what is important, but That which the cup contains: the Precious Blood of Our Lord.

God bless,
Father White

January 17th

January 17, 2010

Last week, we looked at the Epiclesis and what happens during the Consecration; this week, we shall look at the Consecration itself.
The Consecration begins with what is known as the “institution narrative”: the narrative tells what Jesus did at the Last Supper and the priest imitates what he describes in the narrative. For example, the priest says that Jesus took bread and looked up to Heaven while giving the Father thanks and praise. As the priest says these words he, himself, takes the bread and looks up.

This acting out, as it were, of the institution narrative is meant to convey to us that the priest is “standing in” for Jesus. During the Mass, the priest stands in persona Christi: in the person of Christ. It is Jesus Christ Himself Who acts through the priest during the Mass. That is why the priest says: “This is my body” and not “This is the body of Jesus.”
After the words of institution, by which the bread has been changed into Christ’s body, the priest holds the Lord’s body up high so that all can see and adore Him. He then replaces the consecrated Host onto the paten and genuflects as a sign of his own adoration.

The Consecration of the wine takes place in much the same way. As the priest narrates the fact that Jesus took the cup at the end of the Last Supper, he takes the chalice into his hands. He bows and repeats the very words of Jesus over the chalice and then holds it aloft for all to adore. He sets the chalice down and then makes his own act of adoration towards the Precious Blood.

The priest then invites all of us to “proclaim the mystery of faith.” This part of the Mass is known as the “memorial acclamation” and it is meant to commemorate three things: it should remind us of what Christ has done for us, what He is doing for us, and what He will do for us.
This acclamation calls to our minds that Christ has died for us. Almost two thousand years ago, Christ became a man and died in order to free us from sin and death.

Beyond just remembering the past, we further call to mind, by this acclamation, the fact that the offering that Jesus made of Himself continues to be offered upon our altars. The Eucharist is the same offering that was made upon Calvary: it is the un-bloody re-presentation of the one Sacrifice that Jesus made of Himself to the Father.
Finally, the memorial acclamation has us recall the fact that we are still waiting for Christ to come again. The Mass is only a foreshadowing of our eternal destiny: Heaven, where, we will be united with Our Lord forever. We are all waiting for Our Lord to come in His glory.

God bless,
Father White

January 10th

January 8, 2010

As we continue our look at the first Eucharistic Prayer, we arrive now at the Epiclesis.  Epiclesis is a Greek word which means “invocation”.  At this part of the Mass the priest stretches out his hands over the gifts and invokes the Holy Spirit.  The priest calls upon the Holy Spirit to descend upon the gifts that they may be miraculously transformed into the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.

The Epiclesis immediately precedes the Consecration (in the Roman rite).  The Consecration is the part of the Mass where the priest takes the bread and the wine and pronounces over them the words spoken by Our Lord at the Last Supper.  At the words of institution the bread and the wine cease to exist: the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ are made truly present under the appearances of the bread and the wine.

This transformation (known as Transubstantiation) that takes place at every Mass is a great mystery, yet we know that it is true because Jesus told us that it was true.

Towards the end of the sixth chapter of Saint John’s Gospel, Jesus taught the crowds that He, Himself, was the Bread that came down from Heaven.  He taught the crowd that they had to eat His flesh and drink His blood in order to have life within them.  The crowd murmured at His teaching.  Jesus did not back down; in fact, He repeated Himself again and again.

Eventually, the crowd could bear it no more.  Many of His disciples followed Him no more.  Instead of stopping them from leaving Him, He let them go.  He then turned to the Twelve, those who had been with Him from the beginning of His ministry; those upon whom He was to build His Church.  He asked them if they would leave Him also.  Saint Peter spoke up: “Master, to whom shall we go?”  In other words: What you are saying is hard to understand but if you said it, it must be true; you have the words of everlasting life.  (cf. John 6:35-69)

Further proof of the True Presence of Christ in the Eucharist comes from the Last Supper itself.  Jesus Christ is God and therefore His words are effective.  When He told the paralytic to “Get up and walk” the paralytic was healed.  (cf. Mark 2:1-12)  When Jesus told the man with the withered hand to stretch it out, the man’s withered hand was restored.  (cf. Matthew 12:13) At the Last Supper, Jesus took bread and said “This IS my body.”  What a wondrous gift: that Our God would feed us with Himself!

God bless,

Father White

January 3rd

January 3, 2010

The General Instruction recommends the First Eucharistic Prayer be used on Sundays and major feasts. (cf. General Instruction of the Roman Missal # 365)  The First Eucharistic Prayer addresses the Father through the Son.  The priest then blesses the gifts and asks that the Father accept the gifts that we offer.

The priest then prays for the Church throughout the world.  We pray for our Holy Father, our bishop, and for all “who hold and teach the catholic faith that comes to us from the Apostles.”  It is important that we pray for all the members of the Church; we are all members of the mystical body of Christ and it is good for us to lift the other members of the body up in prayer.  This prayer is also a beautiful reminder that our Catholic Faith is Apostolic: it can be traced back to the Apostles and through the Apostles to Jesus Christ.

The next part of the Eucharistic Prayer is called the “Commemoration of the Living”; there is a brief pause which gives us a moment to call to mind those for whom we wish to pray for in a special way at that Mass.  The Mass is the most efficacious prayer that we can offer to God.  It is good for us to remember our family and friends during the Mass, and ask God to assist them with His grace.  The priest then prays for all who are gathered together at that Mass, and for all our loved ones.

Following the commemoration of the living the Saints are honored and we beseech their prayers, that through their intercession we may constantly be assisted and protected.

The first Saint to be mentioned is Our Blessed Mother.  Mary is the Mother of God and Queen of all Saints and therefore is always mentioned first.  Immediately following her, Saint Joseph, the foster-father of Our Lord, is named.  The twelve Apostles (Saint Paul is listed instead of Judas Iscariot) are then named.  They come right after Our Lady and Saint Joseph because they are the foundation upon which the Lord founded His Church.  Saint Peter and Saint Paul are listed first because of their importance: Saint Peter was the first Pope and Saint Paul was the great Apostles to the gentiles.

Following the twelve Apostles, there is another list of twelve martyrs of the early Church.  The first five of them were Popes, then a bishop (Saint Cyprian), a deacon (Saint Lawrence) and five laymen (including two sets of brothers).  All of these martyrs lived virtuous lives and died heroic deaths bearing witness to their faith in Christ.  Their lives so greatly inspired the early Christians that their names were included in this ancient Eucharistic Prayer.

God bless,

Father White