These past few months have been frustrating, annoying, difficult, and bat-*** crazy (no pun intended), but I need to remind myself that not everything was bad.
My kids do listen. I need to exercise more patience. The good news we get a chance to take the test again the next day.
I will be keeping this memory for the rest of my life. 👇
Jenny: “Noah, what day do you want to pick to have your First Communion on?”
Noah: “June 14th! Because it’s close to my birthday and the Eucharist is the best present I can ever receive. Not even parents can give a better present than God can.”
Source and Summit
Nothing is more precious and valuable than the Blessed Sacrament. My parents taught me this truth first through how they lived out their faith. Sunday Mass was important. I don’t recall hearing any lectures about why we need to go. We just went every Sunday (or Saturday night).
Experiences in college and my twenties confirmed that truth— that at the end of the day Jesus is everything. Love. Sacrifice. Obedience. Hope. Suffering. Sadness. Grief. Triumph. Joy. Truth. The Eucharist embodies all those qualities.
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 1407,
The Eucharist is the heart and the summit of the Church’s life, for in it Christ associates his Church and all her members with his sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving offered once for all on the cross to his Father; by this sacrifice he pours out the graces of salvation on his Body which is the Church.
Jesus told his followers in the Bread of Life Discourse, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world” (John 6:51). This is a scandalous claim. Eat his flesh?! Come on! Certaintly, Jesus misspoke. Or the Apostles misunderstood. Many left him because of this teaching.
Truth is not always Popular
Jesus wanted to provide us access to him after his return to the Father. His institution of the sacraments, specifically the Eucharist and Holy Orders, is a gift. We can technically live without knowing God. Eat. Sleep. Exercise. But we can’t thrive without God’s graces.
Truth is scandalous. At least to those unaware of the Good News of Christ or those living in sin. Witnessing events first hand leaves an impression on us. Saint John the Apostle followed and learned from Jesus for three years and from Mary, the Mother of God for the remainder of her earthly life. He definitely had an inside scoop on Jesus’ teachings and what they meant. The evangelist tells us, “For God so loved the world that he gave* his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life” (John 3:16).
Longing for Jesus
We all are suffering the pains of disconnect from receiving Jesus in the Eucharist. The Good News is God is always with us. Continue to find joy in viewing the Mass via television or streaming. Call your parish priest to schedule a time to receive Confession. Read the Scriptures or spiritual works by the saints. St. Anthony of Padua would be an excellent choice. Not only is he the saint who helps you find lost items, but he is a Doctor of the Church. My son Noah loves Anthony because his feast day lands on his birthday. 😊 May God bless you today and always!
Our car’s digital clock reads 9:27 A.M. I am thinking to myself, “Great, maybe we will be able to make it on time to Mass this week…finally!” [we only live 2 minutes away from our parish.]. After we pulling into a parking spot and turn off the ignition, my wife and I rush to get our three children into the church before the entrance hymn starts.
Thankfully, we made it in time. I thought myself, “Please let us be able to make it through at least the first part of the Mass without me having to take any one out!”
Let the Battle Begin
My prayer was almost answered. Two minutes into the first reading, my 18 month old son, started to lose focus and wanted to escape the premises. The granola bar and sippy cup of water were not enough to appease him long enough for me to finish the reading. Perspiration glinted on my temples and forehead from having to hold a squirming and twisting toddler.
I gave up the battle. I left my oldest son in the pew by himself for a couple minutes until my wife came back—she had to take our daughter out for a bathroom break five minutes into the liturgy!
“What is the point, I thought. Should I even continue trying to bring the kids along? Sometime people stare at us as if we have an extraterrestrial being dancing behind them in the pew? My kids are insane!” I lamented to myself. Mass ended fairly decent, considering the crazy start, but I felt inspired to write about my inner struggles about balancing family life with my Catholic obligation for Sunday worship. Here are three reasons why I cannot stop bringing my children to Mass despite the enormous “inconvenience” or “stress” it seems to bring.
Because I Experience Truth
Someone once asked my wife, “Why did you convert to Catholicism?” Her reply is probably the shortest apologetic statement in history, “Because it’s true!” The conviction and strength of faith of that level is something I have yet to achieve. I oftentimes feel myself providing caveats and further clarifications for why I am Catholic or why I continue to follow the faith.
At the end of the day, I continue to go to weekly Mass on Sundays because the Apostles—the first friends and followers of Christ—started that tradition 2,000 years ago. Jesus informed the Twelve to celebrate the “breaking of the bread” weekly.
I need to persist in taking my children to Mass because Jesus is “The Way, the Truth, and the Life” and we receive the gift of the Eucharist! Truth is not always easy, but without truth I am nothing. Humans long for truth and the truest explanation for the wonders and strangeness of reality I find in the Catholic Church.
Eucharist is Source and Summit
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church number 1324, “The Eucharist is ‘the source and summit of the Christian life.’136 “The other sacraments, and indeed all ecclesiastical ministries and works of the apostolate, are bound up with the Eucharist and are oriented toward it.” Because of the peak of the Catholic faith is found in the Mass, I am willing to deal with face the difficulties of bringing young children to church. The path toward Truth is not always easy to follow but it is always worth it in the end.
Peace Be with You
A Catholic priest once described the liturgy as a theological GPS that orients us back to the correct path when we fall away. This image always stuck with me. I seem to wander from the path of holiness frequently. My patience wears thin, I struggle with charity of speech, and I act rashly at times. Frankly, I think weekly attendance of Mass is far, far too infrequent for me! If it were not for my familial obligations as a husband and father along with my work duties to my employer, I would go to weekday Mass as well.
Peace is the gift we receive at Mass from the Holy Spirit. The first words that Jesus said to his Apostles in the Upper Room relate to the gift of peace too. In John 20:19 and 21 Jesus says, “’Peace be with you.’… ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’” Utilizing my favorite reference book—my trusty Thesaurus—the two synonyms for the word peace that stand out most to me are restfulness and calmness.
From my previous posts, you will know that I am not necessarily a calm person. I struggle with anxiety and RESTLESSNESS. Growing up with ADHD and being a father to hyperactive children, I crave peace. I long for rest.
The Mass provides me that chance. Not every moment, because I do have to protect my somersaulting son from danger! Still, I found moments in the liturgy where I acquire genuine peace and calmness of heart. The best place on Earth where I have discovered true peace is within the sacrament of the Eucharist during Mass.
My Primary Role as Dad
My main role as a father is getting my children to Heaven. I am called to be a saint maker—growth in sanctity occurs in this life. According to the Catholic Church,
The family is the original cell of social life. It is the natural society in which husband and wife are called to give themselves in love and in the gift of life. Authority, stability, and a life of relationships within the family constitute the foundations for freedom, security, and fraternity within society. The family is the community in which, from childhood, one can learn moral values, begin to honor God, and make good use of freedom. Family life is an initiation into life in society (CCC 2207).
How may I expect my children to love God if I did not establish a habit to visit the Divine Presence and rest in His grace? How do I lead my family on the path of true freedom if I do not experience freedom myself?
The answers are incredibly simple—visit God and visit frequently! My father was [and still is] an amazing example of holiness. He is patient, slow to anger, and consistent in his faith. Looking by at how he accomplished the tremendous feat of raising my siblings and I, I realized that the biggest constant is his life [besides my mom] was the Eucharist. God fed my own biological father through this sacrament.
The Holy Spirit increased my father’s inherent gift of patience to a profound and loving level—I need to follow that example.
My youngest child still has not called me “daddy” nor even uttered the word! Somedays I struggle to cope with this developmental delay. I noticed that my 18 month old will immediately fold his hands in prayer when I begin the Prayer Before Meals blessing. Seeing those little fingers crossed together humbled me. This small act has made me prouder than anything else.
Life is not about how smart, or beautiful, or successful you are. Life is about love and truth. The Holy Spirit sent me a reminder through the person of my toddler.
Do not be overwhelmed when it comes to raising your children in the faith. Even if you are a single person without children and struggle with motivation to go to Sunday Mass, I encourage you to still go.
The joy and peace I experience at the end of the Eucharistic celebration is worth it. I wish that every Sunday Mass felt as good as the above picture looks—but that is not always the case in the reality of life.
I need to continue to trust that my apparent feelings of failure and seeming ineptitude of corralling my children at Mass are distinct from the truth we experience every Sunday—that Jesus graces us with the ability to partake of His body, blood, soul, and divinity! No amount of Sunday Sweat, Stress, and Shenanigans will change this truth!
To the Curious, Doubting, Lukewarm, or Unbelieving Catholic Laity,
When we attend Mass, we are entering a holy place in which a miracle takes place. Not only are we present when the basic elements of bread and wine are transubstantiated to the body and blood of Christ, but those at Mass are transported in a mystical way to a heavenly banquet. Though the reception of communion happens a few prayers after the Canon is complete, it is vital from a theological and catechetical perspective. With Christ present with his church, the Bridegroom has come for His bride.
After commingling of the body and blood the Priest tells those present to behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. This is the praise of the angels and those in Heaven as seen in Revelation 19. In Revelation 19:9 and Angel told St. John. “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb” (NRSV).
At this point in Mass the priest is passing on this wedding announcement from Heaven. Like a groom at a wedding, our Lord calls to us and wants to have an intimate relationship with his bride. He does this by giving himself, his own body and blood, as a way to show his eternal commitment to us. Like a bride we process down towards our groom to be united with him.
In the Eucharist we are united with Christ not only spiritually, but physically. Being united with the flesh of Christ is the most personal thing we will be able to experience (Augustine 469).
The Old Testament book of Song of Songs has very vivid imagery between a man and wife symbolizes the love that Christ has for His church. One passage that is particularly relevant to the Wedding Supper of the lamb is Song of Songs 1:2 which states, “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth” (NRSV)! This is exactly what St. Ambrose says happens during the reception of the Eucharist (Ambrose 354).
The second person of the blessed Trinity has forgiven us of our sin and unites himself with us with his very body. The Wedding Supper of the Lamb is a taste of the heavenly worship that we will experience in eternity and unites us with the church suffering and church triumphant in heavenly praise.
Next time you are at Mass take that extra moment to thank Christ for the very gift of himself. Take the time to realize that we are worshiping the King of the universe alongside those who have gone before us in the faith.
There is much more happening at Mass than meets the eye. It is a place where a true miracle happens, ordinary bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ. Let us not merely go through the notions, but truly understand what is happening.
Do you want to transform the church? It begins with understanding what is happening at Mass and who we are receiving in the Holy Eucharist. I leave you with the following quote from St. Ambrose for further meditation:
Perhaps you will say “I see something else, how is it that you assert that I receive the body of Christ?”
And this is the point that remains for us to prove. What evidence shall we make use of? Let us prove that this is not what nature made, but what the blessing consecrated, and the power of blessing is greater than that of nature, because by blessing nature itself is changed.
God bless you all!
Your brother in Christ,
About our guest blogger:
William is aconvert to the Catholic faith. Before entering the churchhewas ordained as a Baptist and Lutheran and earned a Master of Divinity from Liberty Theological Seminary. William liveswith his wife and four children in Tucson, AZ and teaches religious education for children and adults. Check out hiswebsite/blog atwilliamhemsworth.comfor more great and informativeCatholic content!
Augustine of Hippo. “Ten Homilies on the First Epistle of John.” St. Augustin: Homilies on the Gospel of John, Homilies on the First Epistle of John, Soliloquies. Ed. Philip Schaff. Trans. H. Browne and Joseph H. Myers. Vol. 7. New York: Christian Literature Company, 1888. Print. A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series.
Ambrose of Milan. “Two Books Concerning Repentance.” St. Ambrose: Select Works and Letters. Ed. Philip Schaff and Henry Wace. Trans. H. de Romestin, E. de Romestin, and H. T. F. Duckworth. Vol. 10. New York: Christian Literature Company, 1896. Print. A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, humans are considered the only mammal that willingly delays sleeps. For more interesting facts about sleep here is a link: https://sleepfoundation.org/sleep-news/25-random-facts-about-sleep. Sleep is an issue that pervades all of human life. As a father to four young children, I oftentimes determine the success [or failure] of a day over whether my children successfully or unsuccessfully take their scheduled nap!
The stresses of life, dealing with sick family members, and limited sleep due to my new work schedule drain me on a daily basis. The exhaustion last week became so overwhelming that I almost gave up hope. But the thing about tiredness is that is oftentimes causes people to forgot and lose strength to continue.
On the verge of wallowing in a lake of lassitude, I suddenly remembered the words of Bishop Paul Swain that he said at a confirmation Mass. Specifically referring to the sacrament of confirmation, but I believe his words apply to the rest of the sacraments as well, the successor of St. Peter said, “Sacraments [the sacrament of confirmation] are not the end or graduation of the Catholic life, rather sacraments act as theological rest stops to give us strength.”
In the past, I associated the sacraments as offensive weapons against sin, however, recently I have come to view the sacramental system as a means to shield and sustain oneness from the endless assault of the Enemy’s attacks. Below I wish to explore my experience with how the sacraments of confession, Eucharist, and marriage help provide spiritual rest for my pilgrim journey.
Growing up I remembered the summer vacations my family and I went on involved a ton of driving. If the rambunctious nature of sons is any indication of what I was like as a kid, I imagine my parents looked forward to taking a pause in the long drive to allow my siblings and I to run out our energy. As a parent, I learned that a periodic rest stop sometimes solves a fussy situation in the car. Pope Francis once declared, “Always remember this: life is a journey. It is a path, a journey to meet Jesus. At the end, and forever. A journey in which we do not encounter Jesus is not a Christian journey.”
Too many times I forget that life is more of a pilgrimage—toward Heaven. Life is not simply a tourist attraction for me to amass as much pleasurable and exciting experiences as possible.
Without Jesus as the focus of my journey I lean toward being a tourist of the world instead of a pilgrim in the world. Confession is the sacrament that provides me an opportunity to rest and receive God’s graces. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “This sacrament reconciles us with the Church. Sin damages or even breaks fraternal communion. The sacrament of Penance repairs or restores it” (CCC 1469.
Recently, I received the sacramental graces of the medicine box. I felt a large burden lifted from me and have the strength to be able to encounter the busyness of life with a calm assurance that God will sustain me even during tough situations.
Eucharist— Fuel for the Road Ahead
While Confession heals the wounds of my sins, the sacrament of the Eucharist provides me nourishment and strength for the journey for the rest of the week. In the book of Exodus, God listened to the plea of his people, traveling in the wilderness, a plea for food to sustain them during the tumultuous journey. As amazing and unmerited the gift of manna in the Old Testament, Jesus instituted the sacrament of the Eucharist as a fulfillment of this prefiguration in Exodus. Jesus decisively teaches us in John 6,
Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life.48I am the bread of life.49Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died;z50this is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die.51I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.
After receiving the body and blood of Jesus Christ every Sunday Mass, I gain the strength to make it through the trials of this world. According to the Catechism paragraph 1391, “The principal fruit of receiving the Eucharist in Holy Communion is an intimate union with Christ Jesus. Indeed, the Lord said: “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.”226 Life in Christ has its foundation in the Eucharistic banquet: “As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me.”
Reading this passage makes me reflect on the popular adage, “you are what you eat”—receiving Jesus in this sacraments helps transform us into the best [i.e. most Christ-like] versions of ourselves!
Matrimony—Momentum for the Journey
G.K. Chesterton is considered a king of wit and satire—especially among Catholics. His quotes on marriage frequent social media. Ironically, I actually shared the below memes on Instagram recently!
Wait! “I thought this article was about theological REST STOPS for our pilgrim journey—not holy hand grenades,” one might say. I agree with Chesterton, oftentimes marriage is like going to war—sins of pride, impatience, anger, lust, greed, and sloth [to name just a few]—become casualties. However, war does not always involve active or constant movement. Rather, a large part of war entails strategizing against the enemy—and that involves resting and planning. The sacrament of marriage is a gift from God that allows spouses to acquire the graces of rest and perseverance.
Marriage as a sacrament involves total commitment towards one’s spouse. Husband and wife do not split responsibilities as in a 50/50 contract. Instead, marriage is a covenant—an oath that involves 100/100 dedication of the husband toward the wife and vice versa. Honestly, I sometimes struggle to view marriage this way. Throughout periods in my wife and I’s marriage either she or I would have to “more time and effort” than the other “put in”. Keeping a tally sheet and IOUs does not lead to a fruitful marriage. Only by donning a servant mentality did I truly receive the sacramental graces of matrimony to acquire true peace and rest.
Rely on the Sacraments for Rest!
To close, I wish to again ponder the words of Bishop Paul Swain, “Sacraments [the sacrament of confirmation] are not the end or graduation of the Catholic life, rather sacraments act as theological rest stops to give us strength.” Do you take advantage God’s oasis’ for holiness? If you are married do you take time to see God work in your spouse? Is there any ways you may be able to deepen your participation in the sacrifice of the Mass? Let us use the rest of Lent as a time to grow in holiness and thank God for the gifts of the sacraments—theological rest stops for our pilgrim journey!
Ecumenical councils mark an important time in the Catholic Church’s life. They occur in response to heresy, revolt, confusion of doctrine, or reform outdated ecclesial structures. While the Council of Trent was a more defensive reaction to Protestant polemic, the Second Vatican Council sought to bring aggiornamento, an updating, to the Church. The “walls” constructed by the Church over the centuries were to be dismantled.
Tearing Down of Frivolous, Cumbersome Traditions
The most visible sign of reform ushered in by the Second Vatican Council regarded the liturgy. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “the liturgy as the sacred action par excellence is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed and it is likewise the font from which all her powers flow” (CCC 1071-1075). Appropriately, The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosantcum concilium, was the first document issued by the Council Fathers. Promulgated on December 4th, 1963, this document set the tone for the rest of the council. The Roman Rite Mass, said completely in Latin prior to the Council, was in need of updating. Superfluous elements had accumulated into its rubrics and a wide gulf existed between the clergy and the laity.
From the onset of the document, Sacrosanctum concilium reiterates the importance of the liturgy: “The liturgy daily builds up those who are in the Church, making of them a holy temple of the Lord” (SC art. 1). Seeing it as the activity that transforms men into the house of the Lord is significant. Too many times, Catholics complain about going to Mass on Sunday because it either interferes with sleep or other events in their life. But if they knew about the life-altering effects the liturgy can have, a change in mentality might occur. The Council advocates an active participation within liturgical worship on the part of the People of God.
Mass is the Source and Summit of the Christian Life
An appreciation for the liturgy cannot occur without learning about its aim and purpose and how it relates to other aspects of the Church. A wonderful passage from the Constitution on Sacred Liturgy, succinctly states the liturgy’s importance, “the liturgy is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; it is also the fount from which all her power flows” (SC art. 10). This line provided great insight to the Church’s view of liturgy for me. The image of water flowing from a fountain is such a beautiful way to describe the relationship between the Mass and its outpouring of God’s grace upon humans.
The word “summit” in that phrase also invokes another profound image─ a mountain or peak. To speak of the Mass in that way, demonstrates that the purpose of a Christian’s life is to reach to top of the summit, which is done through participation in liturgical activity.
Eucharist and Priesthood Intertwined
Though the fount and summit depict the liturgy in a profound way, it is only through seeing the connection of the liturgy to the priestly office of Christ and the Eucharist that these images can be fully realized. Through the action of Christ the High priest the sanctification of men are accomplished (SC art. 7). When the priest offers bread and wine to God, he is not acting on his own behalf, but rather Christ’s.
The connection between the priesthood and the Eucharist is necessary in explaining the liturgy. If the Mass had an exclusive human element, it would become a mere frivolous activity. However, the Council Fathers stress the point of Christ’s presence within the liturgy. “But he also willed that the work of salvation which they preached should be set in train through the sacrifice and sacraments, around which the entire liturgical life revolves” (SC art. 6). The reason these signs aid us in salvation is through Jesus’ constant presence within the Church’s liturgical celebrations (SC art. 7).
What is the Purpose of the Liturgy?
While the liturgy’s prime objective is directed towards the sanctification of man, it does possess an educational and pastoral nature as well (SC art. 33). Through the visible signs and prayers proclaimed during liturgical worship, the faithful gain a greater understanding of Catholic doctrine. Yet, because of unnecessary wordings and phrases picked up through the centuries preceding the Second Vatican Council, the rites within the liturgy became long and difficult to comprehend. According to the conciliar document, “The rites should be distinguished by a noble simplicity. They should be short, clear, and free from useless repetitions. They should be within the people’s powers of comprehension, and normally should not require much explanation” (SC art. 34).
Ignorance of Scripture, Ignorance of Christ
A second norm expressed by the Council Fathers advocated a closer link between the rite and words in the liturgy. Ways to implement this standard included greater variety of reading from the sacred scriptures and having the sermon’s content stem from the theme of that particular Sunday’s liturgy (SC art. 35). It was not until I attended an Extraordinary Form Mass that I realized how much reform went toward the restoration of sacred scripture in the liturgy. I took for granted what was lacking in the pre-Vatican II liturgy─ diversity in scripture readings. It is quite amazing how the Council Fathers meticulously delved into the sacred scriptures and developed specific motifs for Sundays and feast days. Such a restoration in the rites and readings helps Catholics better understand and participate in their liturgical experience.
Increasing Active Participation
Besides simplifying rubrics and making scripture more varied, permission to use the vernacular on a wider basis aided in the faithful’s ability to actively participate in the Mass. While Latin remains the norm for the Latin rites, Sacrosanctum concilium emphasizes the importance of incorporating the language of the faithful in the Mass. “But since the use of the vernacular, whether in the Mass, the administration of the sacraments, or in other parts of the liturgy, may be frequently be of great advantage to the people, a wider use may be made of it”(SC art. 36.2).
The document specifically mentions the readings and prayers in which the mother-tongue may be used. Having the liturgy proclaimed in a language the laity is accustomed to increases their ability to comprehend the Sacred Mystery. As stated in the previous paragraph, my experience with the Extraordinary Form Mass affected how I viewed the Novus Ordo Mass. In the former it was a struggle for me to follow the prayers said in Latin by the priest, while the latter has all the prayers in English the language I grew up learning. Despite, my limited knowledge of the Latin language, I still appreciate its beauty especially when sung.
The Mass Foreshadows Heavenly Worship
Another aspect of the liturgy expounded upon early on in the conciliar document is the eschatological nature of the liturgy. “In the earthly liturgy we take part in a foretaste of that heavenly liturgy which is celebrated in the Holy City of Jerusalem toward which we journey as pilgrims, proclaim the Council Fathers” (SC art. 8). After reading this, my view of the liturgy greatly deepened. I always knew the importance of attending Mass weekly and its connection to the other sacraments. I just never stopped to ponder how the liturgy went beyond temporal activity.
All our actions in the liturgy anticipate our participation in the Heavenly worship before God. My understanding before seeing the link between worship of God in earth and heaven was elementary. The liturgy does not only affect humans in their daily lives, but gives them a glimpse of the Heavenly Banquet. Article 8 also depicts Christians as a pilgrim people. Stated in that way, I gained a deeper appreciation for the Eucharist. For each and every Mass can be seen as providing food and strength along life’s journey.
Where are all the Catholics every Sunday?
Such significance of the Eucharist calls to mind an urgent question: why is not every Catholic readily attending Mass on a weekly basis? Well, I think that a prominent problem occurring today in the Church regards the status of one’s participation within the liturgy. Growing up, there were times I felt that the Mass was boring and that I got “nothing” from the experience. I have heard many other Catholics express similar feelings about the liturgy.
The Second Vatican Council stated the importance of active participation during the Mass (SC art. 30). However, the word active does not refer to merely external action. “To promote active participation, the people should be encouraged to take part by means of acclamations, responses, psalms, antiphons, hymns, as well as by actions, gestures, and bodily attitudes. And at the proper time a reverent silence should be observed,” declare the Council Fathers (SC art. 30). Notice that even through silent moments people can participate in the liturgy.
Importance of Sacred Music
Without a proper disposition towards the Mass, a person lacks an authentic liturgical experience. Sacred music provides an invaluable role in developing a proper mindset toward the liturgy. The decree on Sacred Liturgy has an entire chapter dedicated to this subject. Music throughout the Church’s tradition is of immeasurable value─ greater than all other art forms (SC art. 112). To quote the conciliar document, “So have the Fathers of the Church and the Roman pontiffs who in more recent times, led by St. Pius X, have explained more precisely the ministerial function exercised by sacred music in the service of the Lord” (SC art. 112).
In secular society, music tends to have a sole purpose─ entertainment. Concerning the liturgy, sacred music is not sung in order to save people from boredom. Instead, the Mass acts as a service of the Lord to draw us closer to God. Sacred music is considered to be more holy, the more intimately its connection to the Mass (SC art. 112).
Worship Not Entertainment
Growing up I never thought of the function of music going beyond entertainment. Many newer churches have the choir located at the front and center. I have experienced liturgies in which people would applaud after a mass if they thought the choir sang well. Although the choir gained constant recognition for their singing, it became commonplace for that congregation to lack participation in song. The choir is not supposed to be the most memorable part of the Mass. This is not what the Second Vatican Council called for. Rather, the choir’s aim is to invite the faithful into active participation in the liturgy (SC art. 114).
Great Gregorian Chant
Furthermore, the Council Fathers echoed the long tradition of Gregorian chant as the liturgical norm in music, “The Church recognizes Gregorian chant as being specially suited to the Roman liturgy. Therefore, other things being equal, it should be given pride of place in liturgical services” (SC art. 116). The document also continues to state that other types of sacred music may be used such as polyphony, but they must foster active participation among the people. Not until I started attending a church that implemented Gregorian chant on a regular basis did I develop a sense of understanding and appreciation for that musical form.
From my experience, I know that Gregorian chant creates active participation because it allows everyone to take part in the liturgy. Though not a popular style of music, Gregorian chant transcends culture and time and demonstrates universality. Catholics have been chanting parts of the Mass for centuries and this practice continues today. Through this particular musical form, Catholics today can be connected to peoples from various ages and cultures.
Along with Gregorian chant, Sacrosanctum concilium gave directives on the proper musical instrumentation used in the liturgy. The preferred instrument for liturgy is the pipe organ. Sound produced by the organ greatly enhances church ceremonies and powerfully lifts men’s minds to God (SC art. 120). An appreciation towards organ music in the Mass cannot be gained until a person experiences it. I have noticed a huge difference in the tone of the liturgy when a piano is played versus when an organ is used. The organ can sustain notes for a much longer time and its sound will not be drowned out by a large congregation singing.
Pianos lack the capability to adjust volume levels based on the size of the congregation. When sitting in the back of a church, there were times that I had difficulty in hearing the piano. The Council permitted use of other instruments in the liturgy, but they had to be approved by the territorial authority (SC art. 120).
Liturgy of the Hours
A major area of liturgical reform called for by the Second Vatican Council pertained to the Divine Office. According to the document, the office of readings was part of ancient Christian tradition. It is designed to incorporate prayer throughout the day. Article 85 states, “Hence all who take part in the divine office are not only performing a duty for the Church, they are also sharing in what is the greatest honor for Christ’s Bride.”
As the official prayer of the Catholic Church, clergy are required to pray five “hours” per day. The Council Fathers sought to renew the divine office in order to follow tradition better. First, they called to change the hours of the divine office back to fit the schedule of the practices of the early Church (SC art. 88). The two chief hours were Lauds, Morning Prayer, and Vespers, Evening Prayer.
While I have only prayed Liturgy of the Hours a few times, I am most familiar with Compline, Night Prayer. It was wise for the Council Fathers to restore the hours back to their original times. I found it calming to mediate on particular psalms and prayers in Compline relating to sleep and rest. Having prayer linked with specific hours of the day helps draw my attention from the mundane events occurring in world. The Divine Office leads me to a deeper connection with God’s time.
Public Prayer of the Church
Because the divine office is a communal prayer of the Church, personal prayer is nourished and grown out of it (SC art.90). Liturgy of the hours is strongly encouraged to be prayed preceding Eucharistic celebrations. “Pastors of souls should see to it that the principal hours, especially Vespers, are celebrated in common in church on Sundays and on the more solemn feasts”, states the conciliar constitution (SC art. 100). Upon reading this article, I realized how far off the ideal the implementation of liturgical action in the United States was.
If asked which type of prayer should precede the Mass, a common answer would be the rosary. Up until a couple of years ago that would be my response as well. However, through both a friend and my parish priests, I slowly became introduced to the beauty of the divine office. Now, I am a strong proponent of bringing back traditional prayer such as Vespers to precede Sunday liturgies.
When carried out as recommended by the Council, liturgy of the hours has a powerful effect on a person both externally and interiorly. The constant back and forth proclamation of the psalm by the congregation demonstrates the communal aspect of the prayer. Also, the Council prefers to have the office sung or chanted (SC art. 99). Saint Augustine once said, “A person who sings prays twice”. As previously stated, Gregorian chant allows for greater participation due to its ease of learning. In addition to reflecting on psalms, Catholics are further united in the singing of the divine office.
To sum up, the Council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy has set forth guidelines in which the Church must obey regarding liturgical practices. The Council Fathers desired to restore lost elements of the Mass, while at the same time abolish frivolous accretions it gathered from the centuries after Trent. As the wellspring of the Church’s activity, liturgical reform must be taken seriously. All regulation of the liturgy passes through the magisterial authority of the Catholic Church. “Therefore no other person, not even a priest, may add remove, or change anything in the liturgy on his own authority,” state the Council Fathers (SC art. 22). This statement might be the most overlooked sentence in the entire document. I have witnessed on several occasions pastors and even lay people who tamper with the liturgy. Perhaps the worst abuse occurred when a priest added and changed words to the Eucharistic prayer.
Currently, the liturgy is a topic on the forefront of many Catholics’ minds since the new translation of the Roman Missal is coming out during Advent 2011. Pope Benedict XVI’s fervent advocacy of the New Liturgical Movement continues to show the relevancy of the reforms called for by the Second Vatican Council. Through prayer and guidance by the Holy Spirit we can hope that all the liturgical reforms in Sacrosanctum concilium may come to perfection in the ensuing age.